The best way to describe Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning would be to say that it is a mix between Fable and World of Warcraft with a little bit of Elder Scrolls thrown in for good measure. That is not to say that Reckoning isn’t inventive, because it certainly is, but sometimes it feels like it lacks some freshness that a new IP should contain. Perhaps Reckoning’s original content is stretched too thin. In the end, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning never gives you a compelling reason to go save that farmer’s daughter from bandits, which is a shame, because those bandits are definitely going to kill that girl.
The world of Reckoning is its strong suit. The history was penned by famous fantasy author R.A. Salvatore to give it an extra level of depth. You can tell that this is a land that has existed for thousands of years when hearing descriptions of its locations and peoples. Reckoning even breaks from its fantasy peers by saturating the world with beautiful, bright colors, abandoning the normal pallet of greys and browns. The lush greens of the Fae cities tell their own story through architecture and aesthetics, serving to bring the player farther into the land of Reckoning and perhaps urging them to save it.
Once the effect of the world sinks in and you are no longer impressed with the textures on the mountainsides, Reckoning loses a bit of the pull that it (possibly) had on you. You go from town to town collecting quests and fighting a handful of monsters. Like most open-world RPGs you want to complete quests and kill these monsters to strengthen your character and get loot. You have the ability to map a different weapon to each of your attack buttons which succeeds in keeping things interesting from a combat perspective. Depending on which tree (might, finesse or sorcery) you level your character in, you will also have an arsenal of powerful abilities or magic spells. Towards the end of the game I was a god of death who switched between fast weapon attack and overly destructive magic explosions. The combat is one of the stronger points of Reckoning and kept me playing long after I completely lost interest in the story.
The world is embroiled in a war between the Tuatha and everyone else. The Tuatha are a heretical branch of the Fae, immortal embodiments of magic, who worship the god Tirnoch and who are working towards its eventual return. You are a result of a science experiment gone somehow right. The mortal races have been trying to unlock the secrets of immortality in order to even the odds against the Tuatha and you are the first successful test subject. Furthermore, it turns out that you are unbound by fate. Fate controls both the mortal and immortal races of Reckoning to such an extent that you meet several characters who already know when they are going to die. The Winter Fae in the House of Ballads live their lives over and over again reenacting their stories. Being unbound by fate means that you are the only hope for winning the war. But first, you need to go find this farmer’s daughter.
I understand the desire for developers to cram as much gameplay into their games as possible, but Reckoning is proof that quality is preferable to quantity. For the first dozen hours the war is barely mentioned and you are left to fit the pieces of the world together at your own pace. Most of the time I would have done as many quests as I could before I would enter a new area, but Reckoning became so repetitive and uninteresting that I started skipping huge sections. Granted these were all side-quests but the feeling of running through an entire new zone without completing a single quest was more than a little off-putting. I tried being a completionist for a long time. I gave the various factions and guilds a shot and yes, I even saved that farmer’s daughter, but it was not fun.
When I was thinking about the lasting effect of Reckoning I knew it wouldn’t be for its writing. Once you get past the history and setting the conversations are unappealing. The loot you get from completing quests and killing powerful monsters was lackluster as well. So, yeah, who cares if you can create potions or swords after you invest in a particular crafting skill when a majority of the quests are unappetizing. Once I focused on completing the main quest I started enjoying Reckoning more and was surprised to find the last third was a vast improvement over anything shown previously. This is because they finally showed you the why you had been tapping X,X,X, but it was a little too late for me.
Very few games deserve to be trimmed of content as much as Reckoning. The inevitable plot twist only mustered an “Oh neat” out of me after so many hours of mediocre gameplay and story. There is a fun game to be found within Reckoning, but without a guide you would have no idea which quests you should spend your time on. It isn’t that Reckoning is terrible; it is more that it falls short of most of its peers and what goals it sets for itself. Games shouldn’t have to be played in a narrow, specific way in order to be entertaining. I had high hopes for Reckoning but the overstretching of its content really bummed me out.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning provided by the reviewer. It is also available for the PS3 and PC.