Friday, March 16, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012 ea, elder scrolls, fable, Ken Rolston, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, microsoft, Oblivion, pc, playstation 3, R.A. Salvatore, rpg, skyrim, sony, Todd McFarlane, video games, world of warcraft, Xbox 360 Review
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a title has been in my sights ever since I stumbled onto it via trailer at IGN that I shared here. It was a flashy trailer that caught my eye with its visual style and everything I saw about the fast-paced combat intrigued me. I continued to follow it, posting about it here and there, until I finally got a chance to try the demo and share my impressions.
Well, this game turned into a pre-order for me at that point and I have had a lot of time to sit down and get to know this new fantasy RPG title over the last 100+ hours. Before I get into the specific technical breakdown I usually do, I figure a game I have sunk this much time into deserves a bit more of an overview first. One word really comes to mind for me when I think about KoA and describe it to others:
Why do I pick that term? Well, it's neither good or bad inherently but it can be descriptive and it does apply to several aspects of this game. As I noted above, I spent over 100 hours playing through it. There are so many quests you can do, many of them repeatable, that there is no excuse not to have enough money or experience if you really want to stockpile either or both. There is a ton of history here too. As has become the norm in some many RPGs now, you will find tons of books and notes a page to several pages long that help add some color and context to the world you are apart of.
You can interact with anyone on a very base level, and the majority of the characters have a canned response or two, but there are hundreds more with a variety of dialog options that serve as parts of quests, quest givers or just unique personalities that, like the books, try to add depth to the world for you.
There are also various crafting systems, a branching leveling system, factions you can join and lots of secret items and areas to be discovered as well. If you like the game and its formula, you definitely get your money's worth out of it then. I probably put in about 75 hours before doing hardly any of the main quest. There were some side quests you could not complete until getting further through the main quest, because that would unlock areas of the world for you, but there was tons to do all the same.
Graphics - 8:
This is an interesting topic right off of the bat. I absolutely loved the user of vivid and varied colors. I have seen the artistic direction compared to both World of Warcraft and Fable, and I can see those comparisons because of the third person perspective and the colorful way the world is presented. Artist Todd McFarlane was in charge of the design, and overall I really liked it. My wife even commented on how pretty some of the caverns were I traversed where waterfalls cascaded down rocks, flowering plants gave off a pleasing sparkle or leaves would drift down form overhead. The world feels vibrant and alive visually. Characters animate well and I almost never noticed any sort of slowdown, even when I was battling eight or nine enemies while occupying a landscape that had a lot of animation in the background.
However, on a technical level, it is not nearly as detailed as the painting-like world of Skyrim. Character models have a slightly cartoonish look to them, and the audio did not sync well with lip movement much of the time. There are occasional issues where you see things tear/pop through where they should not - such as the sword on my back poking through my shoulder armor or swings that do not even come close to actually landing on an enemy's model causing them to flail back from the impact. These do not happen often and you really almost have to be looking for them, but they are there.
Perhaps the biggest technical issue I noticed was the way textures popped in and out. In the over world landscapes I did not seem to notice it as much, but the caverns in particular seemed like they struggled with things like lightning effects, or rock textures as they suddenly popped in and marred the otherwise very pretty scenery.
Another small glitch which could go under graphics, sound or just overall tech, is that a lot of times if a character was triggering to say something, and you passed through a door, there would be a loading screen with voice work cutting in earlier than it was meant to. And there are a fair number of loading screens, though not as many or as long as I recall say, Fallout: New Vegas being.
Sound & Music - 8:
I will start with the sounds, which are fairly varied. Weapons clank, creatures groan and roar nicely, and magic has an appropriate crackle or burst to it that keeps combat feeling fresh and authentic. In the demo, there were a lot of odd issues where sound would cut out, or the quality would suddenly take on a tinny quality, and thankfully that was largely remedied in this game. There were still a couple of times I would talk to a character, and their voice work was muffled to the point of being almost completely inaudible, but it only happened a handful of times. Considering the absolutely massive amount of voice over provided in this game, that is more than acceptable in my opinion. The voice acting is generally pretty good, and really helps to add some flavor to the characters you interact with, though some are certainly more enjoyable than others.
The music is excellent and memorable overall. I went out and listened to several of the tracks independently of the game and could easily envision some of Amalur's more interesting scenes in my mind when hearing them - a good show of staying power in my mind. I am one of those people who really likes music, or likes to have the option to keep music playing in the background on games like this. World of Warcraft gives you an option to listen to the msuic play once, or to loop it - and I always choose to loop, and would have here as well, because while the soundtrack is very good, it does not really play very often. You can go fairly long periods of time with no music at all, and just sound effects.
While those sound effects were good, as noted above, they do not provide nearly enough meat to the experience to make up for the lack of music. In a game like Call of Duty, the sound effects really add to the experience because they can actually assist you in a firefight. Here they might let you know that you've stumbled onto a grumpy critter in the woods, but truth be told I was usually aware of them anyway because of my mini map.
Gameplay - 9:
The first thing everyone noticed was the combat in this game's trailers early on. It looked fast and fluid, but no one was quite sure how it would handle. Would the combat be a dressed up turn-based system like Dragon Age or DC Universe used? Or would it be high-action like God of War? Or something in the middle, like Fable? In my mind, it is closer to Fable's. The speed and sheer brutal impact of your weapons does somewhat remind me of God of War, but it is not quite that fluid - largely because in this game you are rooted to the ground. You do not jump around and have air born attacks, and that does slow the pace and cut back on the variety a bit. Still, the combat is a very important part of this game, and incredibly satisfying as well.
There is a large variety of weapons you can choose, and you have two equipped at any given time, which allows you to bounce back and forth between styles at the press of a button. Some people were concerned that combat would be too simplified, but I do not believe that was the case. Certainly there are limits to what you can do with it at a glance, but you can unlock combos to go with your varied weapons. There is also magic which is easily mapped to your face buttons on the controller, and they help add some nice ranged combat to the primarily (but not exclusively) melee feel of the weapons.
I usually play a warrior in games like this, but I actually took a rogue this time because I enjoyed the feel of the daggers complimented by the range of a bow. It gives you a nice balance in styles and also adds the perk of assassination attacks (stealth behind your target, and you have a chance with daggers or faeblades to unload massive amounts of damage that often prove immediately fatal). I was able to take on just about anything head-on by the end, but I still found myself stalthing around looking for these stylish, brutal assinattion strikes.
The one complaint I could make is that combat is not terribly hard, or when it is, it is at the wrong times. In playing on hard, you can find yourself outmatches pretty easily early on, but not so much at the end (even though the game does employ the type of leveling world around you that games like Elder Scrolls and Fallout have made popular). On easier difficulties, it's possible to go the whole game without dying. In large part, that is due to Reckoning mode, which is a timed burst of energy that slows down everyone around you while granting your character boosts to damage. Save it for boss fights and what was probably meant to be a challenging battle is over without breaking a sweat most of the time.
There are other aspects to the gameplay that I enjoyed as well. The menus were easy to get around, quests were easy to keep track of and the leveling system is simple but fairly deep (broken up into might/fighter, finesse/rogue or sorcery/magic). There are even Fateweavers throughout the game that, for a price, can let you rebuild the character the way you would like. Ken Rolston is well known for the elder Scrolls III and IV and his fingerprints are all over this game in the leveling and crafting systems.
The crafting systems are pretty fundamental, but man I picked up a lot of garbage. This is a loot drop heavy game - and I have no problem with those. I loved Diablo and similar games over the years. By the time I was done, I had over 2,535,932 gold, and was just salvaging all of my gear for parts.
Intangibles - 9:
You could almost argue there is too much to do here, that the game is - to use my prior adjective - dense. I thought the tutorial did a good job of showing you how things worked, and the world does sprawl out logically from the game's starting point. That being said, I think there would have been some merrit to starting your character off in a very small town with a limited number of quests and places to interact with. I absolutely ate up the information I was given, read every book I saw, talked with anyone I could encounter, but my son had a tough time with the amount of content coming his way and at one point lamented that he did not even know where to begin he had so many quests.
For people who like achievements/trophies there's plenty here that are easy to get. I got 46 of 50 before beating the final boss, and prompting picked up 2 more shortly afterward. Like Oblivion Skyrim Fallout and other fairly open RPGs, once you beat KoA, you can continue exploring the world, playing to gather up more items and finish quests. I do hope the upcoming DLC raises the level cap though, as I did max it out at 40.
One source of criticism I have seen since KoA released was that the world and storyline were generic. I suppose I can see that to a degree - the world has a sort of feel and style that does feel like we have been here before through games like Fable or World of Warcraft. You have a lot of fetch quests and kill the creature quests and those exclamation marks and question marks over the heads of quest-related subjects feels both comfortingly familiar and at the same time 'been there and done that' to me, though in the end I appreciated the feeling of accessibility it afforded me.
The story, that the world is fated and you are a sort of tear in this fabric that can change everything that has been foreseen? I felt like that was a perfectly good backdrop for the game's storyline. Of course, you are starting as the blank slate/amnesiac hero that RPGs have been using and often been lampooned for over the years, but it makes sense in a game that wants to give you freedom to create your character (or rebuild your character without restarting the game anew) as you see fit. I wonder if in this case, the problem is people expected a bit more from a famous and beloved author such as R. A. Salvatore? While I found the world and its story decent, it certainly lacked the emotional, invested impact of R. A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'urden books, or one of my personal favorites, the DemonWars Saga.
One area that feels just a bit lacking are the decisions you make. Along the way, many of your quests give you a chance to take one of two forms of action. These do tend to affect how the immediately following cut scenes play out, and may even affect what kinds of follow-up quests are presented to you. Yet, they do not resonate with the sort of impactful decisions that titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age tend to nail, and that really hurts the replay value in my opinion.
Part of it could be the core design. There are quite a few people who have said this title reminds them of an MMO in design, which makes some sense since it is more action-oriented than strategically positioned, and you travel as a solo character more often than not. Even when you have a companion with you, they are mostly just fodder to keep enemies busy and used to further the storyline of a specific quest. They offer very little in the way of actual muscle to your combat, and since they are only there for the short haul, you never have a chance to become invested in them either. This is of course a personal preference, but I feel much more ownership over a storyline that has a party of characters that you become regularly involved in, such as Dragon Age, Mass Effect or Neverwinter Nights, than a game where much of the time is a solo effort like Fallout, Elder Scrolls or Kingdoms of Amalur.
And yes, I know you can have companions in Skyrim, but really they just tag along and hit things. They really do not carry storyline threads with them that weave into the game's primary narrative
Whether you are trying out new weapons in combat, upgrading one of your homes, creating magical gems, crafting armor to set the gems into, picking locks, dispelling magic wards, carrying out hundreds of quests or just following the storyline to its conclusion - there is a lot to do in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I did not grow tired of the formula, though I did finally streamline my efforts in the last dozen or two hours of the game as I decided to reach the conclusion so I could move onto another title (Mass Effect 3 did just come out, after all). Already there is talk of the first expansion coming out (a DLC with a decided pirate theme to it).
Some people compare the style of play and some of the game's mechanics (like the fact you don't need to stock arrows, though they do need to reload after so many shots) to MMORPGs, which is actually a fair observation in my opinion. No doubt the visual similarities to games like World of Warcraft help perpetuate those comparisons as well. There was talk when this title was released that 38 Studios was going to create an MMO based on this game, and their developers have said they would love to make a sequel as well if this title sells well enough.
No doubt this title will be compared to Skyrim for awhile as the two RPG's do have quite a bit in common with one another (given their related roots to Ken Rolston, that really should not come as any kind of a surprise). I think that they are similar, but also very different games when you look at them. They are both western RPGs with an action/combat mechanic in place. Depending on what you are looking for, I feel Skyrim (which will be getting reviewed soon as well) has a much more open feel to the world you are exploring. It is true that KoA is somewhat more limited in terms of exploratory scope. It is like a series of corridors linked together, which drew some comparisons to Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2. Those are fair, but there is a feeling of openness that KoA does better than those two titles, while failing to be as truly expansive as Skyrim.
That said? I think the combat here is much, much better than Skyrim's. That is not to say I don't enjoy what I can do with my character in Skyrim, but there is a more satisfying, fluid feel to what KoA does than the sort of slash/step back/slack/block mechanics most commonly employed by Skyrim players. In the end I found Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to be a deep, enjoyable game. It won't go down as my favorite RPG title ever, but it certainly felt like time well-spent for me personally.
I hope you enjoyed (and made it through!) this particular review. I think it's safe to say this is one (if not THE) longest post I have written for this blog so far. As always, I appreciate comments. Thanks again for stopping in!
End game stats for those who are interested:
I beat the main storyline on Day 88, 2:07 PM with 2,535,932 gold to my name.
Time Played: 107:4:30 (though obviously not all of that was active playing - I did things like cook meals and such with the game paused, though there were more than two dozen side quests left once I beat the game that I could complete to lengthen my journey).
Enemies Killed: 3,745
Attacks Blocked: 380
Critical Hits: 4,216
Damage Dealt: 6,774,265
Highest Damage: 98,518
Fateshifts Performed: 61
Enemies Fateshifted at Once: 8
Chickens Slain: 20
Lifetime Gold Earned: 4,510,524
Lifetime XP Earned: 1,948,445
Quests Completed: 144
Quests Failed: 0
Lifetime Fate Earned: 48,640
Locations Discovered: 110
Wards Dispelled: 109
Locks Picked: 313
Hidden Treasures Found: 201
Traps Disarmed: 155
Secret Doors Found: 5
diseases Acquired: 52
Curses Acquired: 0
Reagents Harvested: 1,153
Potions Crafted: 10
Gems Crafted: 19
Weapons Salvaged: 315
Weapons Crafted: 3
Armor Salvaged: 413
Armor Crafted: 6
Current Bounty: 0
Largest Bounty: 24084
Lifetime Bounty: 218,873
Lifetime Theft: 1,610,172 (note: in this game, crime totally pays, just like in Skyrim)
Characters Pickpocketed: 49
Warsworn Rank: Truesworn
Travels Rank: Chariot
Scholia Arcana Rank: Archsage