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March 6, 2012
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
9/2/2012EA GamesEA Games38 Studios
Big Huge Games
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Battling a Bolgan in Kindoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
Given the all-star cast behind Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, itís arrived with very high expectations. So who is this all-star cast Iím talking about? Well the open world RPG design was led by Ken Rolston, the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls games Morrowind and Oblivion. The story was put together by experienced author, and 22-time New York Times best-seller R. A. Salvatore, while the art and action was directed by Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn and sometime Spiderman artist. With a pedigree like that you can see why we couldnít wait to get our hands on the game. Weíve been playing it for a while now, and offer our thoughts below...

Within the world of Reckoning humans co-exist with, among others, a race known as the Fae. The Fae are magical creatures who consider themselves above human concerns, but despite this humans and Fae have lived peacefully throughout history. Until now, that is. Gadflow, a Winter Fae, has declared war on all mortals, and he has an army big enough to cause plenty of trouble. The war has been raging for over a decade and humanity is beginning to realize they cannot win. Casualties among the mortal races are high, incredibly so, and on this day, youíve joined them. Thatís right, youíre dead. As fate would have it though, your journey is not over, and through the invention of some talented gnomes you become the first human ever to be brought back to life. Now itís up to you to turn the tide of the war and save all mortal life. No pressure...

Now that youíre alive again you get to create your character, choosing from one of four races, each with a different look and inherent skill bonuses. You also get to choose a patron god or goddess who provide a permanent bonus to select attributes such as damage, armour or mana. Once youíve made your selections youíre on your way into the world Reckoning.
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The games hero in Rathir.
As a fantasy RPG released soon after Skyrim, itís inevitable that Reckoning will be compared to it, and while the two games are similar in some respects, they are also very different in others. Combat is one area where the two games are very different, with the combat in Reckoning being more akin to God of War. Itís action all the way as you run around your enemies using all manner of weapons and magic to fell them. You have a primary and secondary weapon at your disposal at any given moment, and you can choose from weapons such as daggers, swords, bows, scepters, and giant hammers. While itís smart to choose one melee weapon and one ranged weapon, your choice may depend heavily on your character type.

When you level up you get ability points to use in three separate branches; might, sorcery and finesse. You can allocate the points however you like but stronger abilities often need to be unlocked, either by purchasing prerequisite abilities first, or by pumping a certain number of ability points into that particular branch. To reach top-level abilities youíll have to allocate nearly every point you get into a single branch, but thereís nothing to stop you from taking some abilities from every branch instead. Donít stress too much about how you allocate your points because if youíre ever unhappy with your character you can visit a fateweaver, and for a cost, re-allocate your points however you like.

Putting all your points into a single branch specializes your character, making them dominant in that area. Characters with all their points in Might can wield heavier weapons for maximum damage output, and are also much hardier than other builds. Might characters are slower than other builds, so the harpoon ability (think Mortal Kombat) that grabs an enemy and pulls them toward you is great, especially against faster enemies. Finesse characters are stealthier and specialize in weapons such as faeblades (ultra-quick short-swords), daggers and bows. Their backstab ability that insta-kills most enemies is a most potent weapon, and they also employ traps. Characters who put their points into Sorcery become, unsurprisingly, sorcerers. Their magic will strike fear into the enemy with its potency, and can wipe out whole squads in next to no time.

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Battles in this game are fast and fluid.
Something else that will strike fear into the enemy and help you wipe out enemy groups in no time is fateshifting. Killing, and in some cases wounding, an enemy nets you fate points which build up your fate meter. When the fate meter is full you press L1 and R1 together to go into reckoning mode where your attacks gain super strength. Once youíve wiped out as many enemies as you can you press the x-button to go into a QTE (Quick Time Event) where you button-bash the displayed button for an experience bonus. While the experience bonus is nice, some people will love reckoning mode for the gory kills you finish with after the QTE.

The world of Reckoning is huge and itís chock-full of places to go, things to see and people who need help. Thereís also no shortage of quests for you to undertake and itís almost impossible to complete one quest without picking up a couple more. You can check your list of outstanding quests at any time via the Start menu, where theyíre broken up into the categories main, faction, side and tasks. Selecting a quest makes it the active quest and a yellow marker appears on the map, showing you where to go even if you havenít been to that part of the map before. The map also displays markers for inactive quests, which is especially handy when theyíre nearby on your way to a different quest.

The map is handy at the best of times, but itís possible to add even more information to it by investing in the detect hidden skill. There are nine skills in the game, and whenever you level up you get one skill point to invest wherever you choose. Each skill has ten levels, each level gives you a small bonus to the skill, but at certain points you get something more as well. For example with the detect hidden skill each point invested increases the amount of gold you find on enemies and in treasure chests. The extra bonus you get varies, at level two hidden treasure locations are shown on the map, while at level seven traps are shown too.

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Having a look at the Well of Souls.
The other skills are lock-pick, dispel (both of those have minigames), persuasion, mercantile, stealth, alchemy, sagecraft and blacksmithing. Those last three, alchemy, sagecraft and blacksmithing, all have sizable depth to them. During your travels youíll come across flowers and plants that can be harvested for potion ingredients if youíre skilled enough. Once you have some ingredients you can take them to an alchemy bench and experiment with them until you figure out some useful potions. With sagecraft you can turn shard fragments into gems that can be slotted into your equipment for stat boosts. Itís worth spending some time with sagecraft because the gems you create provide bigger bonuses than gems from stores. The blacksmith skill enables you to build your own gear, and like sagecrafting you can create gear as good as, if not better than what youíll find in stores.

Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning does a lot of things really well. The first and foremost of these that I have to mention is the save and loading times Ė theyíre incredibly short. Skyrim was a heck of a game but it was dogged by huge issues with loading and saving. Reckoning handles this with aplomb and shows Bethesda how it should be done. Youíll come across a lot of treasure chests when youíre exploring so youíll acquire a lot of gear. In Reckoning you can compare any equipment in a treasure chest to what youíve got equipped, and either equip it, put it in your inventory or chuck it straight into your junk pile. When you visit a store you can sell all your junk with the press of a button making for less time spent in the menu screen.

Other pluses include help messages that pop up and remind you to use Reckoning mode, or select an active quest. These messages are useful, particularly early on in the game, and rarely get in the way. The map is one of the more useful maps in recent gaming history in my opinion, especially if you invest in the detect hidden skill. Multi-level areas are often problematic for in-game maps, but they are handled with ease here too.

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Kingdoms of Amalur is out in Feb 2012.
As far as issues go, Reckoning has a few, though nothing too major in my opinion. The biggest issue I had, and itís definitely subjective, is that the story never grabbed me. I could understand all about the characters and their plight, but the storytelling wasnít good enough to make me care about them. On the one hand thatís not a big issue because I was happy to run around, explore, kill and just have fun, but on the other hand that was enough to stop Reckoning from being a must-have title for me. When Iím finished with Reckoning Iíll have fond memories it, but not the kind of passionate feelings I had for Skyrim. As I say this is a subjective viewpoint, so thereís a very real chance you wonít feel the same way and I encourage you to play it for yourself and find out for yourself.

Other issues are niggle-sized. One such issue is the fact you can only hot-key four abilities or spells Ė to use others you have to enter the menu screen, swap abilities, use it and then hot-key the other ability again. Itís clunky, plain and simple. Lockpicking is very easy and as a result thereís no reason to invest skill points in it. Stealth and mercantile are other skills that donít really justify the use of skill points. Speaking of stealth, itís also disappointing that you canít unlock some kind of fast stealth. In most games with stealth thereís an ability that lets you run without being detected; Reckoning doesnít have this and it hurts. And finally, while itís possible to commit crime in Reckoning, thereís no point being stealthy about it because guards are omniscient, and it will be recorded as a crime whether or not someone is there to see it.

Reckoning eschews a realistic look in favour of a more cartoony style, and while this may turn off some people I have to say I quite enjoyed it. The bright, vibrant colours on display are nothing like the browns and grays of so many other RPGs out there. There are a wide range of races and, Fae aside, thereís a lot of variety in appearance within each race. There is decent variety in the environments and in certain areas such as caves, plants will respond to your passing. Wildlife is smart enough to run away from you, but you can still cut them down if you wish. Some wildlife actually have decent item drops, which is a conundrum for those who donít enjoy slaughtering harmless animals.

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The games hero in Rathir.
Your appearance changes depending on the gear you have equipped, and this is one area where Reckoning excels. Not only does all of your gear look great up close, but there is distinctly different gear for characters of sorcery, might and finesse. Having a different look and feel for the different characters adds freshness to proceedings, especially if you chop and change your character type with fateweavers. On the negative side of the ledger there are times when background objects completely block your view during conversations. On one occasion I had to quit and reload and older because my character was embedded in the ground and couldnít move. Luckily the game auto-saves frequently so it only cost me a few minutes, otherwise this would be a more serious issue.

As far as sound goes thereís an impressive amount of spoken content in the game. Every NPC that you can talk to has a number of different topics you can talk to them about, while quest-givers and key characters have more. Even the characters you canít actively talk to will say something as you walk past. I wouldnít say the voice-acting is excellent, but it does its job well enough. There isnít much music in the game, but whatís in there is suitable. Whenever you get into a fight drums start up and add a little bit of intensity to proceedings, and while this isnít something new to games, it works well here.

Overall Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a high quality game thatís biggest weakness is a story that doesnít engage the player as much as you might like. Combat is fast-paced and entertaining, and there is a wide variety of abilities to unlock. Itís a long game too, with roughly sixty hours of gameplay to work your through if you donít hurry (it could be well over a hundred hours if you dawdle). As a new IP you canít help but be impressed with Reckoning, and hopefully itís a franchise that sticks around for a long time. If youíre an RPG fan Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is well worth checking out, and while itís not perfect it is a lot of fun.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSWho knew colours like green, blue and red could exist in a modern day RPG? Great use of colour throughout with a consistently good frame rate.
SOUNDA huge amount of spoken content, delivered in workmanlike fashion. The music and sound effects are solid but not spectacular.
GAMEPLAYFast-paced and entertaining combat will keep you interested despite the so-so story.
VALUEItís huge and could conservatively take sixty hours to complete, or longer if youíre a completionist .
OVERALLKingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a very good game that any RPG fan should check out. Hopefully this is a franchise we see a lot more from.

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