Could 38 Studios and Big Huge Games' Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning be the next big thing? Senior Staff Writer Christopher "Pwyff" Tom traveled to Baltimore to get some hands-on time with the game and find out!
Prior to my visit to the Big Huge Games Studio in Baltimore, I'll admit that I didn't know all that much about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (or just Reckoning for short). Six months ago, Editor-in-Chief Darryl Gangloff and Reporter Kayla Smith went to the studio to watch a demo and attend a Q&A panel with the team behind the Amalur universe but, at the time, Reckoning wasn't going to be launched for almost another year - February 7, 2012 in North America and February 10, 2012 in Europe - so the event was less about Reckoning's core game mechanics and more about the overarching world that Big Huge Games was creating. Ultimately, while I was terribly excited about the creative team behind the game - Ken Rolston, lead designer of Elder Scrolls III and IV; R.A. Salvatore, one of the most recognized authors in modern fantasy; and Todd McFarlane, the artistic visionary behind the comic book series Spawn - I really didn't know what to expect at Reckoning's first hands-on press event.
Some quick background here for those of you who are equally new to Amalur. Back in the day, Curt Schilling's 38 Studios was developing an unknown MMORPG under the codename "Project Copernicus." When 38 Studios acquired Big Huge Games from THQ in 2009, however, it decided that launching a single-player RPG first would be a better idea (Big Huge Games was already working on one at the time it was acquired), so Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was born to introduce players to the universe they'll explore in the MMO. Now, onto the hands-on preview!
One of the first things that struck me about Reckoning was just how much there is in this game. I don't mean this in the sense that you're getting book-sized journals thrown at you every few minutes, but just considering the overall scope of Reckoning can be dizzying. After being brought back from the dead to escape the tutorial dungeon, the game's "guiding tracks" quickly fade away, allowing for some endless exploration sessions that have you running from monsters you really shouldn't be tangling with. As the only person in Amalur able to change destiny itself, it was obvious that there were more than a few individuals interested in guiding me to some goal or another. Unfortunately, since I have the attention span of a kitten, I quickly found myself ignoring the main storyline quests, choosing instead to fight Kobolds in a nearby mine for some shiny loot.
Speaking of loot, Reckoning's equipment system is the deepest I've ever seen in any action RPG to date. One of the biggest turnoffs I run into with these kinds of games is that weapon and armor models rarely get the attention they deserve (sometimes they don't get any attention at all!). Usually, development teams like to animate only a handful of models, recoloring them as the player finds 'stronger' versions, but every few hours in Reckoning found me looking, and feeling, like a unique character. Reckoning employs that same addictive randomized loot progression system that made Diablo II so popular, but this is the first time I've seen it really work in the action RPG genre. Nothing was more satisfying than finding a pair of epic daggers for my Finesse / Sorcery character.
Reckoning is also one of the few action RPGs to employ a deep class system that actually works for any player. On the surface level, players can choose 'fate cards,' which can be considered the classes of Reckoning. Each fate card comes with unique bonuses at early levels, like extra elemental damage and mana cost reductions for the mage classes, while the more advanced classes also come with unique abilities, like a short-range teleportation blink that replaces your dodge. Unlocking advanced tier fate cards requires the player to put ability points into one of the three skill trees: Might, Finesse, and Sorcery. Each tree focuses on certain weapon types, with more points unlocking special abilities for those weapons as well as individual skills.