The latest hype surrounded RPG to hit stores, Kingdoms of Amalur, was praised as the only competitor to the hugely popular Elder Scrolls franchise but does it set a new bar or fail to limbo under strain from previous RPG titles?
Kingdoms of Amalur had all the makings of becoming one of the greatest RPG franchises of all time, featuring an all-star cast at the helm. R. A. Salvatore, the main author of the world itself, has sold well over 15 million books in the US and has been awarded with the New York Times Best Seller 22 times. A familiar name for Elder Scrolls fans, Ken Rolston, who was the lead designer for Bethesda's hugely popular Elder Scrolls Morrowind and Oblivion, took lead on the project and the artwork was created by Todd McFarlane, a comic book writer that gave birth to the iconic Spawn. Throw all of that experience and expertise into a pot and you're sure to conduct something of quality.
The story sees you, the player, thrown into a world on the brink of extinction. You begin the game dead, something which can be considered a new approach, but soon after find yourself resurrected by a mythical contraption, the Well of Souls. Upon being resurrected, you learn that your good fortune has messed with the threads of fate itself, leaving you with an unknown destiny and no path to follow. This is where the games strengths really standout. Every quest, main story or sideline, gives you a little bit more information on the lore surrounding the game and it is filled with highly detailed NPC's that really help you get engrossed in the story. Whilst playing through, exploring new regions and meeting new people, you really do feel like you're in a totally fantasy crafted world. It's one of those games that you can sit back and look at, and think, wow, there's no holes left to fill, everything has a reason and a lore behind it. As most RPG fans will tell you, story and immersion is highly important and Kingdoms of Amalur does this without error.
For those of us that get a little bit bored listening to the mindless rants of NPC's and the constant screaming of damsel's in distress, the game offers far more than just an intriguing story. The character development is easily one of the most appealing aspects of the title. You can select from 4 playable races, with mostly just appearance being the deciding factor although they do offer certain bonuses at creation as well as separate deities you can follow that also offer buffs and bonuses. These are the only choices you're forced to make, if you're happy with your race and your chosen god, the rest of the game is surrounded by free will. There are 3 class trees available, each with 22 abilities, all of which can be individually leveled and improved. The 3 classes, Might, Finesse and Sorcery are tightly linked with typical RPG archetypes Warrior, Thief and Mage. Players begin their journey as a hopeless explorer, no pre-defined abilities or class selections are made for you. As you progress further through the game you're able to select skills from any of the 3 trees, with the weaker skills eventually unlocking the stronger abilities as you invest more heavily into that particular tree. This system allows players to combine classes as little, or as much, as they like. The combination's are practically limitless as you can choose to run around wielding a larger-than-life 2-handed sword, whilst throwing around fireballs and tornado's, or approaching a fight practically invisible while you plant deadly traps around your enemies before revealing yourself. Combine this with the action-based fighting and you find yourself in a totally customizable combat situation each time you start a fight.
The A.I of the enemies is also quite impressive, standing out from the typical mindless drones seen in most RPG games of today. Whilst exploring the first zone I was easily slaughtering brigands and thieves that thought they'd try their luck with my coin purse, only to finally run into a group of wolves. I say group, but the behavior definitely follows pack mentality. As I initiated combat, each wolf took a step back and they surrounded me from 3 different directions, I wasn't really sure how to deal with the situation but they left me no time to think as they strategically attacked one at a time. No sooner had I blocked the attack of the alpha male, when my counter-attack was interrupted by another attacking me from behind. Although it only takes 1 or 2 encounters with a group before you learn their mechanics, it's still nice to see the developers put enough effort into each monster type for players to have to develop a particular combat strategy for each opponent they come across.
As if the combat and class mechanics didn't provide enough pulse pounding action to get excited about, the game also introduces the Fate Shifts system. This is basically a finish move that allows you to decimate large groups of enemies at once. As you perform combo's, linking abilities from various class trees, you earn more towards your Fate Shift and once it reaches 100%, you can unleash it. During the Fate Shift time slows down, allowing you to dodge and maneuver around your enemies far more easily, your attack output is also greatly increased. As you kill enemies, they're stunned and remain that way throughout the duration, once all enemies are stunned (on 0 HP) you can initiate the Fate Shift finishing ability.
As you can see from the video, it can be pretty harsh for the poor soul that's sliced apart by your fate-blessed weapons. There's dozens of variations of finishing abilities, using a variety of the in-game weapons and skills. During the finishing move, you're able to boost the experience gained from all monsters killed during your Fate Shift by up to 100%, simply by mashing a certain key. It's always 1 of the same 3 keys, allowing you to mash all 3 and guaranteeing the full experience points bonus. This adds a skill element to leveling, allowing an intelligent player with some smooth fighting skills to get an entire levels worth of experience in one brief fight. It's also a great way of giving you the edge in the tough boss battles.
It's not all good though, the world design is very linear, forcing players to follow typical quest paths and leaving very little to explore. A few years ago, that may not have been such a downfall but with everyone comparing it to Skyrim, I have to say, Skyrim beats Kingdoms of Amalur in terms of world design, without question. If I was going to compare it to any Elder Scrolls title, it would be Daggerfall, the original. It was a great concept that gave birth to one of the greatest RPG franchises of all time, although Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning doesn't break all the boundaries, it is a great foundation to build on and I can see the next title really bringing some competition to the Elder Scrolls games. The combat and story are definitely the selling points of KOA, and both can be transferred to future titles with ease. Add a bit more imagination to world design and quests and they've got themselves a title worthy of game of the year, or the next Elder Scrolls could implement a similar combat system and blow it out of the water, only time will tell.
PS4 Expert's Verdict
Article by - Blaine Smith