Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Preview

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Preview

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 2nd Jun 2011

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Before we get too far into the many odd but interesting bits that we are pretty much obligated to cover, it would be an idea to point out what this game actually is -- Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the Freshman Title for the combined efforts of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games.

It is a single-player RPG that is structured along classic RPG lines, set in a fantasy world created with input from R A Salvatore and the art and imagination of Todd MacFarlane -- and from what we have seen of it so far, it is pretty freaking amazing.

What it is NOT is the MMO that was originally declared the Freshman Project for 38 Studios -- and yes, there is a story here...

A little background is in order first: 38 Studios (formerly Green Monster Games) is the game development studio founded by veteran Red Sox pitcher and avid gamer Curt Schilling.

Big Huge Games is a second development studio that was part of the THQ stable of studios and was purchased from THQ by 38 Studios shortly after it was announced to be for sale in May 2009. BHG is perhaps best known for its game Rise of Nations , and the fact that it was founded by four veteran games wizards: Brian Reynolds, David Inscore, Jason Coleman and Tim Train.

At the time that Schilling created his studio, 38 Studios, he was both an avid board gamer and a very active MMO player and fan of both Everquest and Everquest 2 (he has since moved on to WoW), and his fascination for MMO's is likely what caused him to decide upon an MMO as the first project for his new studio prior to the acquisition of Big Huge Games.

After 38 Studios acquired BHG in 2009 the decision was made to push the single-player RPG game that was already in development at BHG called Project Mercury to the front burner, which is how Kingdoms of Amalur became the designated Freshman Title. The fact that the game is set in the same universe as the aforementioned MMO, which is known as Project Copernicus , may be why so many gamers are confused about it being an MMO when it is not...

There! Story told! Now back to the Intro!

Kingdoms was originally unveiled to the public in a preview and interview on G4TV's XPlay in August of 2010, and again at GDC, though its first officially "public" unveiling was indeed at PAX East 2011 -- which is where we actually experienced the game -- but either way it is all good because the introduction of the game at PAX East not only gave the gaming public a chance to see what was coming, but also made it clear that there was some serious substance there.

Speaking of substance, the lead designer for the project is none other than Ken Rolston, who was the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion , while the game's appearance at PAX East was hosted by Schilling with the assistance of Ian Frazier, who is the lead systems designer, and Joe Quadara, who is the lead combat designer.

The presentation of the game was in the form of a panel and demo, which began with a brief introduction by Schilling before Frazier and Quadara took over as a team to demo the game while telling us about it.

The demo largely focused upon the combat system in the game, and while it did include a series of game world reveals the actual underlying story of the game, and pretty much all of the other aspects that are part of this sort of game were not covered, so we do not know a lot about the story, but as we head to E3 we expect to be able to fill you in with much greater details once we get the chance to see what has changed and what is new there.

From the presentation and demo, and the Q&A period that followed, we were able to form solid impressions of the game -- for instance it is clear that it has been heavily influenced by MMO's like EQ and EQ2, and its loot system borrows heavily from that of games like Diablo -- while its visual style (that really translates to eye appeal) is more closely related to classic fantasy.

The characters and mobs are realistically rendered, and the world -- or what we saw of it -- contains a very wide variety of environments, from the peaceful and bucolic green fields to dark and ominous lairs -- while the world includes bigger than life mobs of the sort that, on a bad day, in a dark room, finding yourself surprised by one may well require you to change your undershorts.

Game Play
Kingdoms of Amalur will feature 5 regions and 4 playable races with 3 class trees that have 22 abilities per tree, with a literal tabula rosa approach to character introduction to the game. The player begins as that blank slate, waking up in a pile of corpses after returning from the dead -- and the gamer then begins to apply the classes and abilities that will eventually create the unique qualities for that character.

The presentation and demo touched upon the skill-tree system that will be used to unlock various elements of the "Destiny System" around which the character classes in the game are formed, though beyond that there was not a lot of nuts and bolts detail on offer.

The combat system was the primary focus of the demo, and at least on that score we can say with confidence that it is fluid, impressive, and well designed. The controls are based upon the timing of button presses -- an approach that is pretty much the standard for the action RPG genre -- though it does incorporate quicktime button-sequence events like those in XMen: Wolverine.

Thankfully the use of quicktime events is not the foundation for the combat system -- and it was emphasized that button-mashing would only get you so far in combat, with a more refined approach being necessary for mastery of conflict resolution -- which roughly translated means that learning the combos and their strategic use will be a core component to mastery.

According to Schilling the style of the game will be a marriage between God of War and Oblivion, a combination that sounds very intriguing.

Conclusions and Impressions
It is difficult to describe this game without comparing it to other games, because comparison is the only meaningful means for us to define what we are talking about here, so forgive us this unfortunate tactic...

The world of Amalur is a huge and open environment very much like that of games like Oblivion, with the interaction largely driven by an interaction system that will be very familiar to players of the Dragon Age series.

If you have played the Fable games you will instantly grasp the basics of combat, and the camera system in use will instantly bring Mass Effect to mind!

Part of the hands-on demo includes a demonstration of the consequences for actions in the game -- with the primary mechanism of the morality system reflecting the need to appease the secular power rather than any alteration of the character itself, which is very much the opposite of the system used in the Fable series.

It became apparent the more we saw that Kingdoms draws heavily upon the best mechanisms of so many games that it is easy to see shadows of almost every RPG game of the past 10 years present there -- but before you read into that a negative, consider this: they managed to borrow lightly and widely and still keep it balanced and workable!

When we walked away from our introduction to the game at PAX East we all agreed that the only cure for the fever we were feeling was more Amalur, and as we prepare to head off to E3, we are hoping fervently that it is there that we will find that cure.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning holds distinct promise, and Gaming Update will be keeping a close eye on it -- and keeping you informed.

Official Title: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Developing Studio: 38 Studios / Big Huge Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: TBA Q1 2012
Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / Windows PC
Genre: Action-Adventure / RPG
Ratings: TBA