Originally published on GameInformer.com February 13, 2012, at 8:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 2/23/12.
4,993 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
Execution is underrated. Gamers demand innovation and reward it with sales and praise. A well-executed game, on the other hand, can suffer under the weight of expectation. Kingdoms of Amalur raised high expectations with its impressive pedigree of designer Ken Rolston, writer R.A. Salvatore and artist Todd McFarlane. And while it garnered critical praise, many bemoan it's generic elements. However, it nonetheless excels in what it delivers, which is a fun, imaginative world.
While I'll avoid major plot developments, I include a SPOILER ALERT, as always, for general game information that follows.
The character creation tool is nowhere near as sophisticated as some titles like Saints Row The Third, however, it's a solid, intuitive system that allows enough customization to generate a reasonably unique character whom gamers can feel some attachment to.
It helps that your creation is then used extensively in cut scenes and dialog sequences. Although other characters' faces tend to be very expressive, yours never betrays any emotion or even mouths any lines. This can limit the emotional investment in the character but does little to diminish the impact of seeing your creation as integral to what is transpiring on screen.
While the camera tends to follow your character you do have the option to move it freely around the environment, allowing the opportunity not only to view the areas you visit but likewise appreciate the stylized detail of your character and their ever changing wardrobe or arsenal.
You will not dual wield different weapons as in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but you do have access on the fly to a primary and secondary weapon (some of which are dual wielding, like daggers or chakrams) thanks to their mapping to (Playstation 3) face buttons. In this format you can alternate between weapons for close or ranged combat, or with slow or fast attacks, for instance. Shields are mapped to a separate button.
Consumables are plentiful and typically replenish qualities like health or mana or imbue you with limitied abilities. All can be mapped to a customizable radial that can be called up anytime using one of the (PS3) controller triggers for easy access in the middle of combat. On a side note, accessing any menu whether inventory, radial or otherwise, will stop on screen action.
Your primary abilities are divided between Sorcery (Spells), Might (Melee) and Finesse (Stealth). You can upgrade them (upon leveling up) in any ratio or fashion that matches your play style. These will dictate what kinds of moves are available to you during combat and how powerful each is. The means up upgrading is fairly intuitive and the move tree is clearly laid out.
An in-game manual is easily accessible and provides extra annotation related to gameplay. While I don't typically use such manuals, I did find that its information helpfully augmented details provided during the game, such as the above explanation of how one's choice of ability tree dictates what aspects are upgraded most.
A nice feature is a moves menu that shows the available moves related to each weapon, what button presses are needed to execute them, a brief description of what they entail, and even a streaming video of each move in action. It's a handy resource to recall all the arsenal of moves at your disposal.
The game offers handy hints that serve as a tutorial at least early in the game. In this case, you can use mana for special attacks available via the (PS3) face buttons (I believe when a trigger button is pressed). Also, you can use fate energy to slow time and quickly incapacity many foes as well as execute a fatality that earns extra points.
Your Destiny is what most sets Kingdoms of Amalur apart from other role playing games. Each benefits different areas to various degrees so, again, you can choose one that best suits your play style. What's more, besides selecting a destiny near the beginning of the game, gamers can opt to change it during the game, resetting your abilities. This means one can change their approach to gameplay virtually anytime.
Battles can involve a single foe or several, whether one race or many. Low level enemy attacks tend to follow a pattern of one hit or a series of three, for instance, though some foes will mix in ranged attacks or magic attacks. Higher level of course are stronger but also feature different attacks and require more careful strategy.
The following rogue's gallery of foes are just a sampling of enemies found early in the game. While AI does not stray too far from formula, most enemies attack in packs and at the same time so defensive maneuvers like dodging and shielding become helpful mainstays of combat.
It wouldn't be an RPG without spiders! Though these kinds tend to burrow up from underneath the ground and create web barriers that have to be cleared with, say, fire staffs.
Trolls function as kinds of sub bosses. In my limited combat, they were accompanied by lesser foes and used a variety of attacks including a kind of ranged assault that involved them pounding their club into the ground, sending shockwaves and debris out. As with some foes, their demise involves a quicktime event.
Rats, like spiders, are ubiquitous in RPGs and tend to be found in groups. As low level foes they are relatively easy to combat.
Wolves are another traditional enemy type you'll find in fantasy RPGs and are as common aboveground as spiders and rats are below. Their attacks mostly involve a charge and are best defended against with a shield (or perhaps dodge).
There are plenty of two-legged enemies as well both above and below ground, and their attacks tend to involve melee or ranged combat. I don't recall exactly what these were, though I think a kind of bandit. Red Legion bandits are humanoid counterparts and use similar tactics.
I believe these are a kind of sprite/imp that not only fly but sometimes use magic. The challenge is either taking them out from afar or getting near enough to land a hit, though like other low level foes they were not so elusive to require any special strategy.
Any self-respecting RPG has a deep and rewarding loot grinding element and Kingdoms of Amalur is no different in this regard. Downed foes will typically provide at least a few items that make their demise more worthwhile, though in groups it's seems at times limited to one individual and/or bag left behind. That said, the environment usually has plenty of such opportunities.
Crates and chests are as common in Amalur as other fantasy settings in any role playing game. The former will sometimes hide gold, and the latter a variety of items. Chests likewise will either be unlocked or require lock picking. Interestingly, while removing most possessions inside properties involves stealing them, some chests don't carry that stigma and, better yet, any such crates can be wantonly destroyed without raising any alarms among their owners even when they're present!
While you can swim in any bodies of water that have a sloping shore, you can't swim underwater. However, you'll find whirlpools that are a telltale sign of riches underneath. "Diving" at such phenomena will make such loot available to you.
Footlockers are another form of chest that hold items inside. Like chests, some will require unlocking, though if I recall, they might involve a different mechanic to open them than traditional lock picking.
The Detect Hidden ability will allow you to notice when your immediate surroundings hold some unseen treasure. Whether rock or tree trunk, for example, it helps to be extra observant when passing through any area.
Preordering, if I remember, or playing the demo will unlock certain weapons or armor that can then be accessed via a special deliveries chest in one of the towns. In this case, my character is sporting (Mass Effect 3) Commander Shepard armor and, I believe, Fate-Touched Faeblades.
Some containers require more than the typical lock picking mechanic. For instance, dispel wards task one with selecting several icons in order while the control icon circles a ring. Failure causes injury. This adds welcome variety to the usual loot grinding pursuit involving locked containers. (Another challenge is to avoid traps sometimes set around containers.)
Leveling up allows one to also upgrade a variety of skills besides your main ability trees. A few are determined by your class selection at the beginning of the game, otherwise you can customize the rest at your discretion. Like ability trees, your skills and paths are clearly and intuitively laid out.
You can improve your skills either by upgrading them upon leveling up or by finding trainers throughout Amalur. For a cost, you can improve in certain areas as you see fit.
Besides the typical path to upgrading abilities or skills, you can provide temporary boosts to certain areas for as long as your wear particular accessories.
The map, of which this example shows a small portion, highlights general landmarks as well as areas you've already discovered. As with other similar games, you have the option to fast travel to such areas; however, to Amalur's credit, a handy legend shows what services are available at each, making travel more intuitive and efficient.
Discussions with NPCs might not involve the depth or variety of some other titles (at least that I've noticed at the beginning), but the dialog wheels are nonetheless appreciated for the options they do provide. Likewise, the option to skip each segment is appreciated. That said, the dialog and voice acting is often informative, interesting and, sometimes, quite funny.
There are variety of races in the game to judge by the few I've already encountered on my journey. Often they are genre staples or variations thereof, but still have compelling histories and individual backstories.
You'll have the option to join various factions throughout the game, each with its own storyline and missions. Again they do not vary too far from convention in my experience so far, however, they are well conceived.
I appreciate when NPCs have individual stories with depth or poignancy and in this regard at least a few so far demonstrate such qualities. It's subtle but welcome. (I should note, too, that dialog options will sometimes be in the form of subjects instead of sentences, in case you want to learn more about a certain area.)
Sidequests are just as prevalent in Amalur as any other similar fantasy RPG setting. I've only embarked on a few and some are more interesting than others, however, there is a decent variety to judge by them, whether searching for missing persons, baiting a troll for fabled loot, or helping restore a cursed victim.
Many decry the stylized art direction of games like Kingdoms of Amalur in favor of more realistic portrayals. However, 38 Studios' creation is no less detailed or impressive in its imaginative settings. Indeed, the artful characters, colorful palette, and variety of dynamic areas all help create a rich fantasy world that's worthwhile getting lost in.
Likewise, animations are fluid, particle effects are bright and kinetic, sound effects are deep and effective whether combat or ambient noises, and the score is epic and appropriate. In fact, the presentation in general evokes its fantasy realm as well as virtually any other similar title.
A title as deep and expansive as Kingdoms of Amalur is no stranger to glitches or other technical missteps that plague games of similar breadth. In my limited experience in game none, thankfully, have proven game breaking or have otherwise impacted gameplay in any measurable way. Instead they are more amusing then anything else.
If you are adept at defeating a troll, you can grow one from below the waist like a satyr or centaur of old. If only!
Dentistry is surprisingly advanced in Amalur, though facial reconstruction leaves a little to be desired.
Not all foes are so easily confused.
The wall behind this warrior was so cleverly hidden that he didn't even realize I had opened it!
In summary, Kingdoms of Amalur holds promise as a well executed entry in the genre of fantasy role playing games. It does not innovate or revolutionize in this field, but it does provide a fun, entertaining experience for those who appreciate a quality RPG. And to its credit, its action orientation and stylized presentation provide a nice alternative to the more deliberate pace or realistic portrayal in classic games like Skyrim. In my opinion it's a worthy, essential addition.
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