Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Preview (PS3)

The quality on display in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn’t that surprising given the game’s pedigree. Developers 38 Studios and Big Huge Games have assembled a fantasy dream team to build their ambitious open world RPG, pulling in huge names from both inside and outside of the video games industry.

The project’s executive designer is Ken Rolston, acclaimed lead designer behind The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. R.A. Salvatore, known for the bestselling Forgotten Realms and The DemonWars Saga novels, lends his expertise in crafting the story and the lore of the world. Todd McFarlane, renowned for his work at Marvel Comics, Image Comics and for the creating the Spawn franchise is providing the art and action direction.

The less publicised fourth figurehead working on Reckoning is Grant Kirkhope who will be orchestrating the game’s soundtrack. The British composer had a long and fruitful career at Rare creating music for many of their old classics such as Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark.

Such a gathering of star talent reminds me of the so-called Dream Team assembled by Square Enix (SquareSoft back then) to create Chrono Trigger, which turned out to be one of the most forward thinking Japanese RPGs ever and arguably one of the finest games of all time.

Now, I don’t want to set expectations insanely high through that comparison, I’m merely noting the development similarities. However, given some of the intelligent and divergent design directions of Reckoning, let’s just say that I’m somewhat optimistic about the game’s future.

One of its more interesting aspects is its combat which aims to be much more action-oriented than the majority of RPGs on the market. Think Fable meets God of War and you’ve got a rough idea of what the developers are going for; combo-driven character-action that relies more on player skill and less on buffs, dice rolls and so forth. It even uses quick time events at key moments in battle and promises confrontations with gigantic monsters very much like God of War.

You character also has Reckoning mode at his or her disposal. When you’ve filled up what is known as the Fate meter (gradually achieved by killing enough enemies) this super move can be activated, granting you a massive damage increase and both slowing down time in the world but speeding you up. Saving this ability and deploying it at the right time looks key to surviving encounters with large groups of powerful enemies and taking down the game’s resilient boss monsters.

Graphically the game looks nice, even though what I saw was a pre-alpha build of it. It appears to stray away from the earthy hues and dingy aesthetics often associated with mature fantasy worlds, choosing to be much brighter and more colourful. This faintly comic book style is clearly the influence of Macfarlane and visually sets that game apart from the competition.

There are also several smart design decisions running under the game’s hood. Some might sniff at the thought of inventory management being a key feature in a game, but if you’ve ever played a loot-heavy RPG with a terribly designed inventory system you’ll know how much a bad one can bog down the experience.

The junk pile is the key to this, providing a separate place for you to quickly dump items that you don’t have a need for. You can move any found loot to the pile with the touch of a button and when you arrive at a vendor you can sell all of your junk in one blast. It’s simple, elegant and it means you’ll spend far less time trawling through menus and micromanaging dozens of items that you may not even want.

Other aspects, like R.A. Salvatore’s story, were impossible to get a sense of in the brief hands-off preview session I attended. I maybe saw half an hour of game play featuring a trap-disarming, stealth-killing rogue class character; barely enough to write this preview.

However, the fact that I came away with a positive impression of Reckoning despite seeing such fleeting glance of it says a lot. While some aspects like the action-heavy, controller designed combat might concern some PC gamers, fans of console RPGs like Fable should definitely be keeping an eye on this one.

Don’t get too excited though as we’ve still got quite a while until 38 Studios and Big Huge Games gives us the keys to the kingdom. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is being targeted for Q1 2012 release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.

Most anticipated feature: Not to rip-off the conclusion to Joe’s previous Reckoning preview but personally I’m really eager to see what R.A. Salvatore will bring to the table. Story can make or break an RPG, so let’s hope that his input provides us with something original and involving.

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By starch (SI Newbie) on Sep 02, 2011
Sounds fun