Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PC)
Developer: 38 Studios / Big Huge Games
Released: February 2012
Played: 21 hours including partial story and Teeth of Naros DLC
The world is changing. The time of the immortal fae is passing and magic is fading, all while the Winter Court of the fae has been taken over and corrupted when that should be impossible. You died in the war against the Tuatha sect... and then you woke up. Somehow you have been freed from fate and are now able to alter the destiny of the people and the world.
KoA:R earned average review scores of 81%. Reviewers praised the character options, visuals, and story, but complained of minor technical issues. Some said the game felt generic and lacked innovation, but was good at what it did.
Later reviews of the game were more polarized, with some highly positive and some quite negative.
Two major DLC packs were released. The Legend of Dead Kel and The Teeth of Naros each add major new environments and stories as well as side quests and equipment.
The Weapons and Armor Bundle adds a few unique items to help out low level characters.
Before I get started on the review, I should make it clear that I didn't finish the game. I completed the first major zone and the Teeth of Naros DLC before getting bored and deciding to quit. Since this is one of my few negative reviews, it's probably worth reminding readers that this is my opinion and you may feel differently about the game than I do.
I was a little worried before starting Kingdoms of Amalur because I'd heard it did poorly and wasn't particularly well regarded. I'd also heard it was originally designed as an MMO so I was concerned about repetitive quests. I'll admit that the graphical style kind of turned me off on starting the game - the vivid cartoony style reminded me of games designed to run on all hardware by compromising on visual quality.
When I actually started playing, I was pleasantly surprised. Fluid action combat with both dodge and block buttons? Yes please! I was also happy that I could equip anything in any combination, and had fun with the tutorial mission. And the distance effects in the forest, especially looking up into the trees, made the place feel old and mysterious.
But that joy faded as I played with the system more and started to feel constrained by the usual fantasy RPG conventions and the warrior/rogue/mage archetypes. Skill trees require you to sink certain amounts of points into them before you can buy certain upgrades and items have skill tree requirements to equip them, so if you want to build a strong character you're better off focusing on one tree as opposed to two or three.
To be clearer about what I want and where I was limited: I wanted to build a spellcaster in plate armour. To use heavy armour you need to spend points in the warrior skill tree, but to cast spells you need to spend points in the mage skill tree. Nothing stops me from doing that, but if I split my points, I feel like I'm limiting my potential more than broadening my options. To the game's credit, there are destinies (bonuses) you can earn for focusing on two or three skill trees, but since they focus on a perfectly even division of your points, they're not great. I would have much preferred if you could unlock abilities simply by having spent X points in total, rather than having spent X points in Y skill tree. And again to the game's credit, the warrior and rogue trees each have one or two options that feel magical if you're so inclined, so you can play a pure warrior who raises stone spears by stomping the ground.
But equipment design is also constraining. Heavy armour inherently provides bonuses to shield blocking, while mage armour provides inherent bonuses to mana regeneration. Since I didn't want to use a shield at all, I'd be wasting a core ability of any warrior armour I wore. But if I wore mage armour, I get neither the look nor the defensive bonus I want. The blacksmithing skill mitigates this somewhat in that you can build mana regeneration into warrior armour, but the difference is drastic - I can build in 1 or 2 points of mana regeneration into a chestplate vs. the +30% regeneration inherent in the mage robes alone.
All of this, plus the limited number of uninteresting abilities, small range of item properties, and incremental character upgrades made me feel like I was being ushered into an archetype and progressing slowly as opposed to building the character I wanted to play. Plus most of the optional quests are generic and add little to the world. You've got the standard array of "kill monsters here", "fetch that item there", "empty that dungeon" quests without much meaningful lore attached.
This all a real shame, because the setting and the story and many of the characters are genuinely interesting. The core of the story, and your character's story, is about how fate is an unchanging thing that can be seen but not avoided, except for some reason, you alone are not bound by fate and can change what is meant to happen. The immortal fae tell their history through songs and stories that are repeated in cycles through the ages, but the ballads aren't unfolding as they should. The unchanging fae in an unchanging world are reluctantly noticing that they and the world are beginning to change, and that frightens many of them.
That's good stuff, and the reactions of many of the characters to the changing world are also interesting - they range from denial to fear in those who can't understand change in a static cyclical world, while others are intrigued, joyful, or concerned with the possibilities of an individual who can alter fate as they see fit.
And for a gameplay function that ties into the good stuff there are the lorestones. These are sometimes like audio logs, but many of the lorestones recount fae history or legends. The cool thing about them is that every time you find a complete story in a set of lorestones, you get a minor permanent bonus to your character stats, often one that ties in to the tale you put together.
In the end the unimaginative and often constricting gameplay got in the way of my interest in the world and the story. After a little over 20 hours of completionist-style play I felt like progress was a chore and just stopped playing. Plus the still-present minor technical issues didn't help either.