Top critical review
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Will whet your appetite, but you'll find yourself asking "where's the beef?"
on April 11, 2014
I'll start this out by saying RPGs fill the majority of the games I play, but I'm still very open to other types of games, including those that are more action than RPG, like this title. I hold no bias towards this game for the company it is from, its original goal of being an mmo, or anything else.
Starting with the main component, since it is an ACTION rpg, the combat. The controls are smooth and you will rarely find yourself blaming the game for dying, but the combos for all the weapons are streamlined. I.e., holding block and attacking will always be a special attack specific to that weapon. This works though, since you can only equip two weapons at any time, combined with four spells. Certain spells can have different effects if you hold or press the button rapidly but this doesn't happen often and when it does you usually need to learn a version of that spell that only comes later down the line. The weapons come in great variety, each one related to a specific class-type (which I'll get to that more later) and all have various interesting attacks and are enjoyable to use. Spells are also here, and some of them are quite interesting. Such as "Mark of Flame," which is a cone area of effect fire spell that does no damage but will "mark" enemies, when you hold down the button all of the marked enemies explode in big balls of fire. However there are many spells and abilities that are total garbage, such as the "Summon Faer-Gorta" spell. As it implies, this will summon a minion to aid you in combat, but this minion is useless as anything but a distraction so you only have to fight 3 of the annoying mages at once instead of four. At level 20 or so, I was doing 150s every hit while the fully-upgraded minion was only doing about 30. Spells and abilities are often a hit-and-miss affair, and I would advise saving before getting a new one so you can load back in case you don't like it. The method that you stop from getting killed revolves around spamming the dodge button or blocking or parrying, not a lot of variety here but it works well enough.
There is also a rather shameful stealth mechanic. You activate it and your character will crouch down and eyes that represent how visible you are will pop up over all the NPCs. The eye will build up if you are too close to them and pretty much interesting if you're anywhere in front of them. Using daggers (because all other weapons are useless to use in stealth) when you sneak up on an enemy you can execute them, which will play a rather lengthy canned animation if you flat out killed them. Which you almost always will, since with daggers you do basically 10x your normal damage. The problem is that not all enemies have an execution animation specific to them, so it instead uses a slow two-attack animation that will almost always miss or the first hit will knock the enemy back too far for the second one to hit. The real problem with stealth comes from the enemy AI. Certain enemies will just know where you are, even if it's indicated by the stealth meter above their head that they haven't seen you at all. They will just walk towards you no matter where you go. I tested this with a troll and hiding behind a large rock. The troll would always follow me around the rock, and even instantly change directions if I went too close behind him. This, coupled with the fact that a great deal of the areas are not built with a stealthy alternative in mind makes trying to be an assassin unbelievably frustrating.
Finally, you have a limit-break type of attack in the form of "Reckoning Mode." Reckoning Mode runs off your Fate Meter, which builds up (slowly) as you defeat enemies. When you trigger Reckoning Mode, time slows and your enemies become sluggish lambs to the slaughter you are about to unleash. Your damage is tripled in Reckoning mode, however, enemies don't die when they run out of health, they become stunned. When an enemy is stunned, you can perform a finishing move on them which involves one of a set of flashy canned animations specific to that creature and mashing a button to gain extra exp up to +100%. If multiple enemies are in this stunned state, it will finish all of them at once and gain extra exp from all of them. However using a finishing move will use up the remainder of your fate meter and if you do not use it before your fate runs out on its own, all stunned enemies will be healed back to full.
However this great deal of different spells and attacks you can pull off are the polar opposite of the enemies you face - which are often the exact same as the ones over and over but with only more of them. Even at the end of the game you will be fighting the same boggarts from level 2, but in greater numbers which is more annoying than fun. They didn't even bother to re-skin them. The difficulty as the game goes on doesn't come from more challenging and unique enemies, it comes from copy/pasting more and more the annoying ones into a small space, and making them practically immune to stuns or knockbacks where you will still be knocked back by EVERYTHING.
Overall, the combat certainly can be enjoyable, as you can throw lightning at something and then cleave it apart with a sword bigger than you are, but you will likely be bored by the copy/paste enemies, frustrated by their cheap tactics, and annoyed at the fact that half of your abilities are useless.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning follows the "get exp, level up" formula that most RPGs do, however they way you level up is different. You don't choose a class, instead when you level you get 3 points to spend in one of three trees. Sorcery, which is for mages and spell-slingers. Might, which is for warriors who want to smash things and not die. And Finesse, which is for rogues and archers. You can spend your three points in any way you want, put them all in one or spread them between two or three of the trees. You can choose a fate card depending on where your points have gone though, these cards will give you bonuses depending on which one you pick, like extra melee damage for Might or more mana regen for Sorcery. Fate cards come in seven forms and six tiers for each, 3 for the "pure" routes of putting all your points into one tree, 3 for the hybrids between any two of the trees, and one for putting points into each tree. Not all fate cards are created equal, for instance the Might/Sorcery cards are more for someone who is mostly doing warrior with a bit of mage on the side, opting for having increased melee damage with giving you mana by a percentage of how much damage you take and throwing out the regen bonus of the pure magic cards. You can at least change your fate card whenever you want though, which is nice.
Equipping weapons depends on level, while equipping armor depends on your points. You might jsut need level 10 for a sword but need 55 points in Might to wear metal.
You also get to increase a skill when you level, which ranges from crafting skills to things like merchantile which reduces buying prices in shops or persuade which will give you more dialogue options at certain times.
STORY & SIDE QUESTS:
The world itself is based largely on what I think is Irish lore, including things such as Fae, the Tuatha De'Ohn, and some other myths. This and the twist of fantasy with elves and magic makes for an interesting and rather rich world, but a lot of things are not explained in detail which will frustrate some. The story is well written and interesting, but lacks character depth. While the concept of you being the only person in the world not bound by fate is very interesting, it's just not supported enough by other characters and the actual storyline while still somehow being the main focus. You almost never make your own decisions in the game, despite being totally unbound by fate. You're almost always doing what everyone else is telling you to do. Don't let the UI from the conversations fool you - this isn't Mass Effect, most quests are just "go find this, kill that, then leave."
The side quests can be interesting though, but you won't get to do them all. Not because the door is locked behind you when you leave an area, it's because the side quests DO NOT SCALE TO YOUR LEVEL IN ANY FORM, this exception being the faction quest lines. This results in quests that you get nothing for, essentially. Not enough exp to do anything with and the items you will be vastly over-levelled for before you even get halfway through the game.
Easily the best part of the game. The art direction is colorful and inspired, ranging from lush forests to sandy deserts and cliffs. This is not your average "BROWN IS THE ONLY COLOR TO EXIST" game, if I had one gripe it would be that there's almost too much green in the color palette, causing some places to look more similar than they should. Caves and dungeons are unique and well designed, if a bit linear. Even the creatures, while repetitive, are at least well made. This is the kind of game that needs an art book.
CRAFTING AND EVERYTHING ELSE:
Crafting is actually pretty good, and different from most games. Mainly blacksmithing, which lets you salvage parts that hold the stats from equipment you don't want so you can use them to make something else. Each item has the base component, for swords it would be the blade, and then other smaller components that will give it extra stats. Like a hilt that will give poison damage, or rivets that will increase your maximum health and mana. You can also name your items after you make them, so it's fun to name your fist sword "The Pointy Avenger" or a staff "The Stick of Truth."
There is also fast travelling in this game, but otherwise you have to run everywhere.
A decent title, and probably worth getting if it goes on sale. If you're someone who enjoys a hardcore and fleshed out RPG experience, I would advise you to stay away though. The lackluster gameplay and story will likely put you off. But if you're looking for something to just screw around on for awhile then you might like this, just put it on easy to save yourself the headache of the spamming and stunlocking of the more annoying enemies.