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Preview - Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning [HD]

Discover your fate (or lack thereof) with this online demo of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the action RPG from 38 Studios and Big Huge Games.


Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a crisis of identity. Gnomish Dr. Frankenstein has somehow brought you back from the grave, well, pile, really, with severe retrograde amnesia, and unlike every other resident of Amalur, without a predetermined fate. Though, if you could get around to the whole saving the world thing only you can do, sooner than later, that'd be great.

It's not entirely clear whether 38 Studios have gotten MMO all over big huge games action RPG or the other way around, but there is a sense of disunity to the result. Reckoning primarily trades on its combat and for the most part, that's gleefully brutal in the best possible way. Invest however you'd like between its might, finesse, and sorcery trees, and you'll end up with a good number of tools for bad guy evisceration, too many, in some cases. Besides your two weapons, you could only map four abilities to hot keys if using a controller, which forces some leveling decisions to be about what is least convenient, though it does try to be hybrid-friendly. In fact, a lot of this game struggles to define itself.

The conversation system is a scrolling list but it's also a dialog wheel. There's a lot of square mileage but little exploration. The world map is cut up into isolated zones whose edges are all either impassable walls or funnels into other corrals, so often the only path is the direct one. The main story and faction quests are handled deftly enough, but the side quests, cribbed from the worst sections of the online RPG manual and should be skipped by all but the most committed of reckoners. Even the combat, while it remains energetic and impactful, begins to drag as the challenge wanes.

The story can be completed in under 15 hours but much of the later fighting doesn't pack much punch because of how apocalyptically powerful you become and how little enemy tactics change. Rush through the main quest and you'll find little reason to revisit previous zones. Outside of the instance caves and dungeons, the enemies pose no threat. Outside of the primary in faction content, the quests offer little imagination and their rewards fail to keep pace with you. Take your time in each area though and you reach demigod hood that much faster, trivializing the next zone instead of the parts you skipped in the previous ones. It is this miscalibration that begins to unravel the game's tapestry of systems. Why pick locks or hidden caches or dispel wards when the contents are so likely to be trashed? Why invest in defensive abilities when health potions have no cool down and are easily and cheaply available even without specializing in alchemy? Why care about improving buying and selling prices when even a speed run of the game leaves you swimming in gold and with few ways to put it to use.

Blacksmithing equipment and sage crafting gems to augment that gear are the only skills that provide much value, with stealth available if you insist. Enemies are so good at dying anyway that it hardly seems necessary to sneak. The moment you disengage from the combat or story, you may also start to notice the little stutters in presentation. Initiating a dialog usually involves a few seconds of silent unresponsiveness as it locks you into place and the letter boxing pinches in. Odd flashes of partially rendered shots leak through some transitions. The camera frequently chooses obscured angles or clips though characters or scenery. The quest objective marker sometimes blocks the fast travel option on the map, briefly devolving the game into a pixel hunt. No issue is individually too offensive, but the cumulative effect after hours and hours of this is unflattering.

Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning is about 20 hours of accessible action with ambitious amounts of story and world-building caught in a much larger web of skippable content. It's primary failure is requiring player imposed editing before it really sings. Apply artificial restraints to combat and loot to generate challenge. Willfully ignore swards of glowing explanation points and overlong conversations to keep things moving along. But for those willing to impose, there waits an interesting, if a bit unspectacular tale and perhaps the best action fitted to a full scale RPG. It doesn't take the crown, not yet, but with a bit more seasoning and self-definition, it could have the kings looking over their shoulders soon enough.

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