Underappreciated: Kingdoms of Amalur – Reckoning

By: - 1st Sep 2013
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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is widely only known due to the headlining fiasco that followed it last year.

However, what about the game that preceded these unfortunate circumstances? As a open-world action-RPG, it deserves more than being pushed under the rug and forgotten about, for many reasons.

Sure, the game certainly didn’t completely fail – it sold some copies, and split its community in two. Some people hate the game and see it as a bland, generic Tolkien-esque RPG, and the other half love it, and have embraced the fantastic lore that the game is stuffed with.

I won’t lie – at first, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning seemed like the typical run-of-the-mill RPG that developers have been churning out for years. Hell, the name itself is the perfect example of such! But once you delve into the world of Amalur, you suddenly find yourself discovering things that aren’t so generic, and are instead fascinating. It is these features that make Reckoning something special, but as an unrefined gem. Underneath the boredom rests what could have grown into an amazing universe, and the tragedy of 38 Studios has ensured we won’t see such. Perhaps, then, we can learn to appreciate what was left behind, even if we have to scuffle through dirt to get to the good stuff.

The Fae

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Where else to start but the Fae? These are mystical immortals of Amalur who were mistakenly thrown away as simple Elves by many people. They are anything but.

I can happily state that the Fae have the most interesting lore and construction of any race since I scoured for snippets of lore in Planescape: Torment. These wise and sentient creatures are separate from us mortals, and their culture revolves around such.

For those of you unfamiliar for the Fae, they are immortal, ancient creatures that have been in the world far longer than any mortal race. They also keep to themselves, and look down on us mortals for having completely different cultures and systems to them. The mortals and the immortals don’t particularly get along well, and struggle to understand each other. You too will struggle to understand the Fae, as you look upon them from a mortal and traditional perspective; many of their sentiments and train of thought are completely bewildering and alien. For example, to them nothing is past or present, but everything is simply ‘current’. This system of time is known as ‘The Telling’ and works akin to a storybook. Everything that happens in the world is alike a the flow of a narrator reading a novel, but the whole story is available for him to flick back to. Strange, yes. Intriguing, yes.

The construction of the race is also interesting to discuss; the Fae are composed of two ‘houses’ – The Court of Summer and the Court of Winter. These have co-existed peacefully prior to the events of Reckoning and work in tandem; there can be no winter without summer and vice versa.

Unfortunately, the actual plot of Reckoning runs a traditional route and instead turns the Court of Winter into the ‘bad guys’, also aptly renamed them the Tuatha. Basically, the evil doers infiltrate and corrupt the Court of Winter, and wage war on everything else. Typical, yes. And it also leads to the Fae being massively underused and far less interesting than they should be.

Still though, the Fae are awesome. The most interesting quests come out of the House of Ballads quest-line, which has you claiming the ballads of old Fae heroes as your own. For example, a song will recount a hero’s great battle with a dragon, and you’ll recreate that tale step-by-step. It’s cool, different and tons of fun.

The Combat

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Reckoning manages to do what Fable always dreamed of – make simple, flashy combat fun, exciting and weighty. The entire ‘fate’ mechanic also allows you to be whatever the hell you want. Magic-using rogue? Heavily armored mage? Hell, a brutal warrior who uses daggers and the occasional fireball? The choice is up to you, and you can specialize in whatever you want.

The weapons provided are also pretty awesome, with a couple relatively unique. Mages have access to the awesome Chakrams (last time I remember seeing these in a game was Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem!) which act as circular blade boomerangs, sceptres and staffs. Warriors can grab great swords, massive hammers and long swords. Rogues have the awesome Faeblades, daggers and longbows. Of course, as I mentioned above, these can be switched between at ease, and you aren’t locked down to certain weapons – a warrior could use hammers and daggers, for example, if he multi-classed as both a warrior and rogue. This freedom and customization always makes everything better.

The only downside to the deep, fun and accessible combat is that if you want a true challenge, none will be found here. By the end of the game, you’ll literally walk through anything that gets in your way. For some people, that’s fine, but for others, a lack of challenge really prevents enjoyment. PC players have the option of using the ‘Heartcore’ mod (which is great, but a lot of hassle to set up every time you want to play) while console players have no option.

The Exploration

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Now, this may be controversial, but the way Reckoning is structured makes me so very happy. The problem I have with titles such as Skyrim is that I get so lost in the world that I never really complete anything. With Reckoning, it is not quite open-world, but big open areas connected by various other paths. This means that completionists won’t get overwhelmed, as you can complete an entire area and then move onto the next. It’ll take quite some time, but it feels so much more attainable than Skyrim‘s open-everything.

Collectables are also done extremely well – Lorestones are scattered throughout the landscapes of Amalur, and you can activate them to listen to a story, tale or happening from the world’s past. As the lore and world is the best part of Reckoning, these are truly a marvel. On top of that, you also get permanent bonuses for completing a set.

Areas themselves are full of loot, look wonderful, and are varied enough to keep exploration excited and fresh. Of course, you can burn out of the game quite quickly if you don’t take your time to immerse and experience the world, but if you do manage to fall for Amalur, you’ll be set for a couple hundred hours. Daunting, yes. Wonderful, yes.

Conclusion

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Lets just go back to the collapse and folding of 38 Studios for a minute. It was a sad time for the industry, and many people lost their jobs (though luckily, many of the developers were picked up by Epic Games). But on top of this, the collapse saw the end of Amalur. The universe and all of its bountiful lore died with Reckoning, and that’s damn shame – because this rough, lovingly crafted world could have grown into something quite outstanding, and for a fantasy universe in a sea of generic tedium, that is really something.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is available for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. You can grab the PC Complete Edition for $9.99 on Amazon.com right now! The two downloadable content additions also come highly recommended.

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