CG2011 – Hands-on with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

It wouldn’t surprise me if you hadn’t heard of Reckoning. The open-world, fantasy RPG by lovably eccentric game developer Ken Rolston certainly came out of left field for me, but I’m undeniably delighted that it did. My brief hands-on time with the game was not only a treat because of the gameplay and delectable art style (designed by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane by the way) but also because it’s given me another single-player, action RPG to look forward.

Tucked away in EA’s expansive Business Area stand (they pretty much had their own floor in the Business Area they were showing so many games) was a tiny room with enough space for about eight people and three screens. In this minute room that was bursting with enthusiastic developers from 38 Studios and Big Huge Games, I met Reckoning – and we’ve been friends ever since. This is an RPG to keep an eye on.

Rolston knows what he’s doing when it comes to crafting epic RPG games; he’s worked on titles like Morrowind and Oblivion. As such, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoninghas everything that makes an RPG geek salivate, but it does more than just tick the correct boxes.

In Reckoning players take on the role of a character that is killed during a great conflict that has engulfed Amalur. Throughout that conflict, a group has been attempting to harness the power of the Well of Souls in order to bring fallen people back from the dead. It hasn’t worked out so well and all there is to show for their efforts is an increasingly large pile of corpses. But then they get it right, and your character becomes the first person to be successfully resurrected. A side effect of this means that you are now exempt from Fate, seeing as your resurrection has cheated it. So begins the story of Reckoning.

It’s up to you whether you play as a male or female, and Reckoning will allow you to customise your character just as you’d expect from an RPG. Instead of character classes however, the game features different Destinies that you are able to pick because Fate is no longer a problem for your character. You don’t pick one at the start, but rather just start playing the game; depending on what play style you opt for (melee, ranged, magic, stealth etc) different Destinies start becoming your focus. The gameplay demonstration we watched before playing the game featured a female Assassin Destiny; she was fast, agile and able to wield both magic and daggers.

In the hands-on time I had, I played as a huge Warrior character that was covered head to toe in chunky armour and had two different swords; each sword attack was mapped to the different buttons X and Y. Hammering at either attack button strung together a lengthy attack that culminated in a colossal finishing move. Holding down either button meant that my Warrior powered up an attack and unleashed some serious devastation complete with gorgeous lighting and spell effects. The B button allowed me to dodge-roll out of the way. One trigger pulled up my shield and another one brought up my Magic attacks that were then mapped to the A, B, X and Y face buttons.

I had about fifteen minutes to romp around a cave, smashing ogre like enemies to a pulp and looting corpses. There’s a definite sense of humour in the game as one of the ogre-types was a tough melee enemy whose combat moves have been inspired by wrestlers. As such it would frequently run towards me and fling itself at my warrior, trying to land face forward on top of me. The combat was fast, frantic and very much not like your average RPG.

A second hands-on machine had a Wizard character available to play. In total there are roughly forty different destinies you can work towards, so the level of character tuning is vast. On top of Destinies you’ll be able to unlock different abilities and skills such as Stealth, Dispel and more. The game will feature activities like Alchemy, Blacksmithing and Sagecraft, which allows you to create gems for socketed items.  There are six different factions and hundreds of side quests that have been individually created so no two are the same, according to the developers. There are also hundreds of “hand-crafted” dungeons so as to avoid any repetition in environments.

Reckoning has a lot going for it, from the pedigree of its development team to the colourful art style and extensive world lore (which seems very accessible so don’t let that put you off if you’re afraid of complex narrative). But without a doubt the selling point for me was the combat; the game handles exactly like a third-person action game but it has an action RPG overlay complete with loot drops. Think Fable meets God of War meets Diablo, which as far as I’m concerned is a winning combination.

If development post the pre-alpha content we saw continues to go well, then we’ll have a real treat to look forward to when the game releases on 10 February 2012.