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Something Borrowed, Something New

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8/10 Stars for “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning”
By Mike Mahardy

“Kingdoms of Amalur” is a conundrum. Although it succeeds in bringing new elements to the RPG table, it also borrows heavily from other titles of the genre. Many great new elements tend to be downplayed due to poor execution in other areas. The game teeters on the brink of greatness but lacks the panache to make the final step. However, aside from a handful of weak characteristics, “Reckoning” is a game that RPG fans cannot afford to miss.

The story of Amalur itself surrounds a hero who defies fate. Awaking from death in a pile of bloody corpses, the newly resurrected adventurer must unravel the mystery of the Well of Souls (the machine responsible for the player’s rebirth). Mystery after mystery unfolds as new allies and enemies  are made. The world and lore of the game are the brainchildren of R.A. Salvatore, a legendary fantasy writer, and it is fair to expect a certain level of excellence from the story. Regrettably, few characters or plot points reverberate for more than a few days after the game’s completion.

The world of Amalur is comprised of lush forests, arid canyons, sordid marshes and windswept plains. Traveling through this mystical setting almost makes up for the forgettable story.
Traveling in Amalur is channeled through individual zones which harbor caves, forts, and towns. Hubs provide information, quests, and new equipment. Although the map is massive as a whole, these smaller areas funnel the action into chunks that can be tackled at the player’s leisure. Quests occur either in the confines of these paths, or outside the borders, encouraging exploration of the environments.

Whereas other RPG titles reward the player for investing experience points in one skill class, this game encourages the hero to experiment however he or she sees fit. The new destiny card mechanic is a shining example of how the title can stand apart from the others. As more points are spent in the might, sorcery, and finesse skill trees, new cards are unlocked which grant bonuses to the player. With high warrior and mage abilities, characters can warp across the battlefield while dealing massive elemental damage. Increase finesse and warrior characteristics, and stealth attacks will supplement a brawler fighting style.

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Another area where the game shines is its combat system. Other RPGs provide a clunky, unresponsive formula that serves as more of a distraction than a strong point. In “Reckoning,” traditional action controls dominate the fighting. The allowance of both a primary and secondary weapon bestows a streamlined system in which every enemy is a blast to eliminate. New offensive and defensive maneuvers ensure that every experience increase is noticeable, and that every encounter is memorable.

In addition, when the protagonist’s fate meter is full, time can be slowed down to dispatch a group of hardened enemies when the situation becomes desperate. Increased damage from the player ensures multiple kills, all ending in a power known as a fate shift. Culminating in rapid mashing of the controller buttons, experience can be doubled. This allows the player to strategically use the fate shift to escape unlucky debacles or rank up faster than ever.

Choosing to invest in all three skill trees, the hero can slowly sneak up behind an unsuspecting enemy, only to brutally end his life with a few precise dagger thrusts. With one guard down, the ensuing fight is made easier as the protagonist unleashes a volley of punishing lightning spells at distant bandits. A couple of archers can be destroyed with a fast dodge and subsequent slashes with a great sword. In conclusion, a fate shift is performed to remove any remaining threats, with a healthy amount of extra experience to boot.

Although the combat and progression systems of “Reckoning” present new formulas for a growing genre, it is not hard to see where it borrows from other titles. As more and more of the game is experienced, it is increasingly apparent that just as much of the game is derived from another rather than conjured on its own. With such groundbreaking ideas present in Amalur, it is a shame that traditional ones hinder the overall experience.

“Kingdoms of Amalur” is both a marvel of advancement for the RPG genre and a generic clone of others. The thrilling combat and intuitive leveling create a unique experience, but lack of a compelling story and recycled gameplay do little more than remind the player of other games. Despite these grievances, “Kingdoms of Amalur” is a blazing testament to what the RPG genre can be and is sure to attract fans of others as well.

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