It seems that one of the most time-honoured traditions in any fantasy RPG, since the dawn of videogames, is to choose one real-world mythology seemingly at random and draw names, terminology and themes from there to help build that world. This allows the viewer to easily pick up on how they should view a specific thing or person, seeing as hundreds of years of cultural sharing have made some ideas near-universal. And yet, for every ten games that have an afterlife named Valhalla, and a Tolkien-esque conflict between elves and dwarves, there comes one like Kingdoms of Amalur, which despite following a similar formula, manages to be engaging and inventive with its background, while still providing a solid core of familiarity for the player.
PUBLISHERS: 38 Studios & Electronic Arts
GENRE: Fantasy RPG
PLATFORMS: Microsoft Windows, PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on: PlayStation 3)
AGE RESTRICTION: PEGI 18
What KOA has gone with for its mythological background is an interpretation of Celtic mythology, and they don’t waste any time letting you know about it. From the very first moment you select New Game, a bombardment of lore is thrust at the player. It might seem terribly unnerving at first, and raise all sorts of questions like: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? What’s the difference between the Seelie and Unseelie Fae? But once the opening sequence is completed, and the player steps in to his custom-made character’s shoes, it becomes a lot more approachable as a story.
You are the Fateless One, able to manipulate the strands of destiny and who is the only one who can stop an evil king and his mighty army who are ravaging the land. So while this main driving quest is not especially original, it blends with the originality of the setting to create a very unique experience.
But the main quest is by no means the only thing to be done in Amalur. Like any good RPG, KOA provides countless distractions for the Chosen Hero of Destiny to engage themselves in, rather than saving the world. These are found as single side-quests for NPCs, as well as longer quest-chains as a result of your actions, or specific storyline chains for one of the six guilds.
These quests largely manage to overcome the trap becoming too repetitive, by making the storylines in each quest interesting or motivating. It is also very pleasing to have a follow-up quest emerge because of a decision you’ve made, which makes the player feel as though they actually have some relevance in the game.
As for the world itself, it is incredibly huge, containing several themed areas, such as a forest, desert, and plains sections, as well as a required number of cities and towns to make the world feel alive. These are all stylized in a beautiful array of colours and textures. Simply getting across the map will take some time, and if you aim to do every quest along the way, gameplay can extend between 20 and 50 hours, depending on your style of play.
Now, onto the section which really defines KOA: the gameplay. As you level up, you receive points which can be placed into one of three categories, in a classic-RPG rogue, warrior and mage system. You are free to spread these points however you please, and are by no means forced to stick to one route. So if you want to be a sneaky thief who occasionally summons fiery death from the skies, this is acceptable and available as an option.
There are nine categories of weapons, ranging from broadswords and bows, to the more exotic flying Chakram discs and Faeblade curved daggers. The player can equip any two of these at a time, and change them in the menu at any point. The weapons (and the armour as well) make no attempts to be realistic, but this is definitely not a downside, as the aim is to provide a very satisfying cool experience for the player as they pull off a different attack.
Combat is incredibly visceral: every hit and attack feels like it is physically connecting with the enemy, and watching your character twirl and leap or call down magic in between sword slashes is one of the most enjoyable videogame experiences in the last little while.
Combat is assisted by some of the other activities available to the player, such as blacksmithing, gem-crafting, and potion-making. These provide additional enjoyable distractions as you attempt to power yourself up, and the range of what you can do depending on what appeals to you is very pleasing. However, these do lead to one of KOA’s over-riding problems: by the midpoint of the game, very little difficulty remains, as your character is able to slay all in it’s path very effectively, especially when using it’s “super form” that is charged over a period of time and is able to be unleashed at your choosing.
At the end of the day, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning may not reinvent the wheel, but it does enough new things with it to show that it can still be a lot of fun. While the difficulty may slip, and some of the quests may feel repetitive at times, the combat and the world around you, as well as the amount of time it takes to see it all, definitely makes KOA worth buying if you are a fan of Fantasy settings, and still worth a bargain bin buy if you are less sure.