Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is as big a game as it is an ambitious game. It tries to do pretty much everything you would expect or want from an RPG: deep character progression, rich universe, solid combat and a compelling story. Sadly, it only succeeds on a few of those accounts, namely the combat and character progression.
Reckoning has received a lot of comparisons to Lionhead’s Fable series, The Elder Scrolls series and World of Warcraft. But I think a more apt comparison is to 2010’s Darksiders. Both games sport cartoon inspired visuals reminiscent of 90’s comics as well as vast amounts of gameplay mechanics from other games. And while Reckoning does everything technically well, those parts are not held together in an interesting world. Thus, sadly, the game is missing that crucial thing that makes any game unique.
Reckoning has a solid framework that the general gameplay is built on. Despite the comparisons between Reckoning and The Elder Scrolls, it’s actually more of a loot-based RPG. Unlike many loot-based RPGs, Reckoning is squarely a third-person action RPG. You won’t be clicking on enemies to kill them, you hack them up God of War style. But I’m not going to cover the basics of Reckoning because Allen already did a great job of that here. Also, I’m not going to compare the Xbox 360 version (what I played on) with the PC version, as the differences are pretty marginal. Instead, I’m jumping straight into the meat.
One of the things that Reckoning gets right is the character progression. In so many RPGs, trying to be a jack-of-all-trades spells “doom.” Reckoning actually encourages this sort of play style with its “destinies” system. My dark elf, for instance, specialized in being a tanking magely assassin. If there is another game where I can assassinate an enemy and then wade into combat while firing lightening from a staff and causing spikes to shoot from the ground with an aura of protection around me, I don’t know about it.
But sadly, combat is the most unique thing Reckoning has going for it. The combat, while good, is stretched too thin. After several hours of playing, the combat starts to get stale and the story isn’t interesting enough to push you forward. I repeatedly found myself playing for review not because I wanted to. I mean, while God of War’s combat satiates for its 10 or so hour campaign, stretching it over 60 hours does not work.
Luckily, the loot does pick up some slack for a while. And I mean it really picks up some slack. I haven’t felt the fires of loot lust like this in a long time. For a while, I was breaking every crate I could find and buy and selling like a lunatic. Then, unfortunately, that also lost steam. I was about 25 hours in when I bought some gear that lasted me for the next 35 hours. I still haven’t found a better armor set or staff than I bought from the quartermaster in Helmgard. And it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
I think the problem here is that Reckoning goes for quantity over quality. It is a big game, but it’s much bigger than it is deep. Luckily, the game allows you to re-spec for extremely cheap, which can keep things a little more interesting, but shouldn’t going further down one skill tree be just as satisfying as trying out a new skill?
I think Reckoning actually looks very much like Darksiders, albeit more saturated. I really like the look, just as I really liked the look of Darksiders. There are some nice vistas, but if I have one problem, it’s that the game never really gives you a good chance to see the world as a “world.” One of the best parts of open world games is that point in the game when you ascend so high that you can see for what seems like miles. In Reckoning, that never happens. This isn’t a problem with the game’s graphics per se. They’re technically fine and great artistically, but you never get to appreciate them on a large scale; which makes the Amalur itself not as compelling as it should. The game feels like it has several separate environments for you to play in. Not like it exists in a cohesive world.
Where Reckoning never falters is in its adherence to trying to create a fun experience. The game has several smart ideas like unlimited sprint and the “send to junk” button. These elements streamline the game to a great degree. But sometimes it feels too much like a ‘game’ and not a world. That may sound strange but the whole point of a RPG for me is to be sucked into the game’s world and Reckoning’s world kind of sucks. It feels dry and derivative. You’ve got dark and light elves, gnomes, humans…the usual’s. Then there’s the Fae. The Fae are actually the most interesting aspect of the game. But they just seem like they’re sort of “there” and aren’t as fleshed out as they should be, which pretty much sums up Amalur as a world.
I wanted to love Reckoning. I really did. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a good game; I did enjoy it. But I also got really tired of playing it. When you start, it seems like the game is begging you to explore this world to witness its grandeur. But when you get there its like, “Oh, okay. That’s cool, I guess.” Reckoning is a game with a massive map and tons of things to do, but none of the makes it feel like a “world.” Instead, it feels like a game that is spread too thin to sustain itself.
Sure the combat is quite entertaining for the first 20 hours but what is that when the game has enough quests to last you nearly 100 hours? What’s worse is that the content making up those 100 hours is simply not interesting. Honestly, I only recommend Reckoning if you're absolutely clamoring for your next fantasy RPG fix. There are simply too many other games that do the genre better.
Big Huge Games has taken large step towards creating a great RPG. Reckoning unfortunately, is not that RPG. Here's to hoping for Reckoning 2: The Search for More Money.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.