February 7, 2012

Early Impressions: Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning

Don't let this picture fool you: Reckoning is full of color!
I've been anticipating this game since the day it was announced. Every piece of information they shared, every screen shot and video they released, make it look like my dream RPG. Action combat! Open world! Color! Now that I've finally gotten a chance to play it... well, it's not quite the perfection I was hoping for. Don't get me wrong, I think it'll be a solid game and a great new IP but it's not the ultimate RPG I was hoping for based on what I played.

Before I get into what doesn't work, let me explain what I like. First of all, this game is really damn beautiful. I don't know why more games don't look like this. Colors are bright, vibrant, and varied. In fact, this is probably one of the brightest games I've ever played. Even the tutorial cave was quite well lit. All the dungeons and underground ruins were filled with glowing mushrooms, streams of light, and color at every turn. But when I got outside into the world... wow. It was a sight to behold. I've seriously never seen a more beautiful magical wood. Everything about the game is beautiful and full of life. Creature designs are varied and pretty cool. There as a rather strange buffalo-yak thing that looked like a creature right out of Avatar (the show, not the movie) and these crazy midgets made out of wood, evil sprites and goblins, crazy tree monsters and, of course, bears. The humanoid characters aren't quite as interesting and imaginative, but the character creator lets you make some truly goofy looking heroes.

So let's talk about the game's features, then. There are only four races to choose from, but the choice is mostly aesthetic. Each one gets a small boost to non-combat skills from the start, but you can invest points in these anyway when you level up. It's not like TES where your race can actually have passive skills and special abilities. After you choose your race, you get the option to choose a patron god which is where you get your passive bonuses from. I believe all four races have different gods to choose from, but they all provide similar benefits. Then you get dropped into the tutorial dungeon. Well, sort of. See, your character has died and been brought back to life by the Well of Souls, a crazy dwarfs science experiment. As such, you're now a blank slate with no "fate". This is basically the game's way of getting around the character creation thing not usually making any sense. The tutorial dungeon is pretty interesting in that it give you one of each type of class weapon and lets you figure out what you like. You get a sword almost immediately, then a bow, knives, a staff, and a lightning spell. Once you fight a giant troll and make it outside, you level up. When you level, you can add one point to your skills and three to your combat abilities. There are three ability trees: warrior, mage, and rogue. Depending on where you spend your points, you'll unlock classes called "destines" which give you new bonuses and abilities based on what types of skills you favor. You can be a pure warrior, mage, you can mix two, or go for all three.

The developers touted this as a revolutionary system that fixes the traditional class-based system of most RPGs. I will admit that I had a problem with the class system playing ME2. Not knowing how any of them played, I had to choose one I thought I would like and I ended up being stuck with it for the whole game. The fact is, though, it's not that revolutionary. The Elder Scrolls has done something (kind of) similar for years. Trying out how the different "classes" play during the tutorial dungeon is nice because then you know where you'll want to invest your skill points down the line. And if you end up in a path you don't like, you can reset everything at a "fate weaver". They're not lying when they say you don't have a set class, but you still have one and you can swap it at will. Honestly, I think TES does a better job with this than Reckoning does. It's a more dynamic system, but it's not revolutionary.

The combat, then. At it's core, it doesn't completely suck. However, there are a few issues that popped up for me even during my very brief time with the game. It mostly has to do with the camera. The camera isn't bad, per se, but it's almost too good. When you're simply running around in the world, it has a tendency to pan behind you with the slightest change of direction. It's kind of dizzying. In combat, however, it just kind of fixes itself in place for some reason. I'm used to lock-on systems in RPGs that essentially center the camera behind your character at all times when you're fighting. The way that the camera is handled in Reckoning forces you to actually face the enemy you want to hit with the left stick. You can block, and in fact it's important to do so, but you can't move while blocking which wouldn't be so much of a problem if the camera was behind you. You can dodge but the camera won't follow you. I was attacked from behind a lot because enemies would charge at me from off screen and I couldn't see them. Overall, the lack of a targeting system ruins a lot of the combat for me. Even a lot of action games, where Reckoning gets it's primary inspiration, have lock-on cameras.

I'm only scratching the surface here and haven't even dug into the full game yet. I want to stress that any of these opinions could change by the time I review this game. For now, it's just alright.

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