Could 38 Studios and Big Huge Games' Kingdoms of
Amalur: Reckoning be the next big thing? Senior Staff Writer Christopher
"Pwyff" Tom traveled to Baltimore to get some hands-on time with the
game and find out!
Prior to my visit to the Big Huge Games Studio in Baltimore, I'll
admit that I didn't know all that much about Kingdoms of Amalur:
Reckoning (or just Reckoning for short). Six months ago, Editor-in-Chief
Darryl Gangloff and Reporter Kayla Smith went to the studio to watch a demo and attend a Q&A panel with the team behind the Amalur universe but, at the time, Reckoning wasn't going to be launched for almost another year - February 7, 2012 in North America and February 10, 2012 in Europe
- so the event was less about Reckoning's core game mechanics and more
about the overarching world that Big Huge Games was creating.
Ultimately, while I was terribly excited about the creative team behind
the game - Ken Rolston, lead designer of Elder Scrolls III and IV; R.A.
Salvatore, one of the most recognized authors in modern fantasy; and
Todd McFarlane, the artistic visionary behind the comic book series
Spawn - I really didn't know what to expect at Reckoning's first
hands-on press event.
Some quick background here for those of you who are equally new to
Amalur. Back in the day, Curt Schilling's 38 Studios was developing an
unknown MMORPG under the codename "Project Copernicus." When 38 Studios
acquired Big Huge Games from THQ in 2009, however, it decided that
launching a single-player RPG first would be a better idea (Big Huge
Games was already working on one at the time it was acquired), so
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was born to introduce players to the
universe they'll explore in the MMO. Now, onto the hands-on preview!
One of the first things that struck me about Reckoning was just how much
there is in this game. I don't mean this in the sense that you're
getting book-sized journals thrown at you every few minutes, but just
considering the overall scope of Reckoning can be dizzying. After being
brought back from the dead to escape the tutorial dungeon, the game's
"guiding tracks" quickly fade away, allowing for some endless
exploration sessions that have you running from monsters you really
shouldn't be tangling with. As the only person in Amalur able to change destiny itself
it was obvious that there were more than a few individuals interested
in guiding me to some goal or another. Unfortunately, since I have the
attention span of a kitten, I quickly found myself ignoring the main
storyline quests, choosing instead to fight Kobolds in a nearby mine for
some shiny loot.
Speaking of loot, Reckoning's equipment system is the deepest I've
ever seen in any action RPG to date. One of the biggest turnoffs I run
into with these kinds of games is that weapon and armor models rarely
get the attention they deserve (sometimes they don't get any attention
at all!). Usually, development teams like to animate only a handful of
models, recoloring them as the player finds 'stronger' versions, but
every few hours in Reckoning found me looking, and feeling, like a
unique character. Reckoning employs that same addictive randomized loot
progression system that made Diablo II so popular, but this is the first
time I've seen it really work in the action RPG genre. Nothing was more
satisfying than finding a pair of epic daggers for my Finesse / Sorcery
Reckoning is also one of the few action RPGs to employ a deep class
system that actually works for any player. On the surface level, players
can choose 'fate cards,' which can be considered the classes of
Reckoning. Each fate card comes with unique bonuses at early levels,
like extra elemental damage and mana cost reductions for the mage
classes, while the more advanced classes also come with unique
abilities, like a short-range teleportation blink that replaces your
dodge. Unlocking advanced tier fate cards requires the player to put
ability points into one of the three skill trees: Might, Finesse, and
Sorcery. Each tree focuses on certain weapon types, with more points
unlocking special abilities for those weapons as well as individual
What most impresses me about Reckoning's class system was just how
diverse it is. Some players expressed fears that all classes would be forced
to take a hybrid melee / magic route to succeed, but Reckoning is
really about giving all builds the tools they need to advance. I started
off with a warhammer and bow Might / Finesse character, but I still
found some utility in throwing out a lightning spell every now and then.
There are also a number of specializations available within the three
skill trees, so compared to another Might / Finesse character, my build
and combat style could be completely different from theirs. Reckoning
even has an option for the most indecisive of players, with a powerful,
balanced class that requires an even distribution of points across all three
paths of Might, Sorcery, and Finesse.
There are a lot of great systems in Reckoning (including the opportunity to name
all of your crafted equipment!), but the last one - and most important!
- I'll discuss at length is the combat. After spending a good amount of
time investigating everything but
the main storyline
(including a decrepit castle with lore stones that recounted, in
voiceovers, vivid tales of the inhabitants' demise), I eventually
decided to see how much of Reckoning's combat system I could explore.
After lunch, I popped the game over to hard mode and began to churn
through the main story, hoping to see what sort of challenges the game
could throw at me. I also found a pair of epic daggers and a nice
chakram, so I paid a hefty gold fee and respecced myself to a Finesse /
When it comes to action RPG combat, I tend to gravitate toward games
that are fluid and responsive, while still rewarding tactical play.
Thus, some of my favorite action games also have high levels of
difficulty, like Overworks' Shinobi
on the Playstation 2, or From Software's Demon's Souls
This isn't to say that Reckoning was as difficult as the
afore-mentioned titles, but I found myself really immersed in the combat
of Reckoning in a way that few other titles have done. The combat of
Reckoning is very smooth, and I was pleasantly surprised at the great
combo opportunities and frame-canceling moves you could perform.
There is a very real and tangible rhythm to Reckoning's combat, and I
was very relieved that it wasn't a button mash-a-thon that has become
so prevalent in other action RPGs. At one point, I almost died to a pack
of wolves that were staggering their attacks from all sides so that I
couldn't dodge and pick them off one at a time. Near the end of the
event, I did
die to an enormous troll boss, as my newly
acquired blink ability had a few more startup frames than my normal
dodge, so my timing was off and I took a club to the face (which was a
near OHKO on hard).
In the end, the only worry I can voice is really the pessimist (some
could say the journalist) speaking. I'll admit right now: Kingdoms of
Amalur: Reckoning has me absolutely enamored. A month after my
experiences, I'm still appreciating just how well-crafted this game is.
On that note, I could have easily spent twenty hours exploring the first
region of Dalentarth (which some games might consider a good 35%
content point), and I intend to do so when the game launches, but my
hope is that Reckoning can continue to deliver this impressive level of
experience in the dozens, maybe even hundreds of hours of playtime
Reckoning is a very
ambitious game, and if 38 Studios and
Big Huge Games can deliver on that ambition, then I'll be the first in
line for whatever comes next in the Amalur universe.