When Curt Schlling announced to the world at large he was a gamer they all kind of laughed at him. Okay not all, those of us that are gaming stood up and cheered. It was really cool to find another of us coming out of the closet and talking about our love of gaming. Curt however did not just talk about it, he put his money were his mouth is. Upon retirement from baseball he moved swiftly to form 38 Studios, a company dedicated to making an new MMO. To help him, Curt assembled an all-star level group of people and the process began.
When an opportunity opened for 38 Studios to acquire Big Huge Games Curt was all over it like a base running stealing home from a wild pitch. The acquisition meant they could produce a solo play game based on their MMOs game world, Amalur and do it with an experienced team that was ready to roll. So was born Kingdoms of Amular: The Reckoning.
The Reckoning is the gateway product to the world 38 Studios is producing, called Amalur. in Amalur the Fae, specifically the Winter Fae have gone mad and are killing all of the mortal races. The war goes badly for the mortals because the Fae are immortal and when you kill them they are reborn., the mortal races do not share this luxury. However a Gnome has created the answer, the Well of Souls. The Well has reconstructed your body and pulled your soul at the moment of death into this new form, you have been reborn. However there is a small problem, your memory was not reborn with you. From this beginning you venture forth into the world of Amalur to try and find your Fate.
It is from this beginning that you find yourself thrust into the Kingdoms of Amalur. The graphics are inspired by original art work done by Todd McFarlane and my sources say he actually played a pretty big role in the actual games graphics creation. The graphics range from dark and foreboding the bright and vibrant. Reckoning bucks the current trend in the gaming market of striving for “realistic” graphics and remembers that this is game. The graphics however are beautiful to look at and crafting to put into the scenery is obvious after only a few minutes.
The games combat system is fast and fluid, when tied to the graphics it is beautiful to watch. The interface has a very console inspired feel but works really well on a keyboard and mouse. It has a very simple but effective design that essentially makes use of the two mouse buttons for attacks with the number keys and the scroll wheel allow for some quick action shifting.
The games uses a third person, behind perspective for movement and the mouse does not have a free roam feature. However the camera angle is easy to work from and once you enter combat the camera frees up. What I mean by that is once you are engaged you can move the camera around to get better angles on watching the combat and you WANT to watch the combat. If you think the game world is fun to look at then you will love watching combat take place. The easy flow of the combat with the broad weapon movements and great special effects makes combat mesmerizing. I found myself wanting to get into fights, not to gain experience or reach a goal but just because it was fun to do and watch. While still images might give you an idea to really see how amazing this looks I suggest looking on you tube at the numerous videos of in game action.
The backstory for Amalur was crated by R.A Salvatore, bringing his style into the creation of an entirely new gaming world. We have been told that he has already created a history that spans 10,000 years within the game world giving it a deep frame work and the work to flesh out this framework has only just begun. The storyline as it applies to Reckoning is classic RPG storytelling, this is good and bad. The bad of it is that it has a very generic feel to it, the story hooks are tried and true standards within the industry. The good is that this game has a very familiar feel out of the gate the story is one you can wrap yourself in like an old worn blanket. There are some great cut scenes and the voice acting is overall very well done. The base storyline can be followed and the game completed in 35 hours at a none rushing play rate, however there are a ton of side quests that draw you off the main storyline. The people at 38 Studios are claiming near 200 hours of game play, I would say closer to 170 but that is still a lot of game play packed into one game.
Now with releases over the last year like Witcher 2 and Skyrim, the Kingdoms of Amalur are facing some stiff competition out of the gate or are they? You see people make the mistake of thinking every RPG is the same and that is not the case. You have basically three RPG styles for what we call the Western RPG. The first is the story teller style, in this you are effectively taking part in an interactive book and the game guides you through the whole thing, Witcher 2 and various Bioware releases are good examples. The second is the exploration style, this game is wide open and you have to find your own way. The story is there but it is less important than the journey and so is not as implanted within the game play, Skyrim is a classic of this style. The third style is the action RPG, these are about fast moving, fast combat and lost of treasure, this style is best known for Diablo and Dungeon Siege.
Reckoning would seem to fit firmly in the action RPG style at first glance but as you play the game you find other elements. The action genre is represented by the quick combat and loot heavy system that involves the classic break boxes system. The storyline has a definite pull on the game and you feel a guiding hand as you move forward however the side quests pull you off in new directions and the size of this game world lends itself to exploration.
The release is a scare time for a game company but with Reckoning the people at 38 Studios had a lot more pressure on them than just an normal game release. This is the first release of a new studio and that brings a lot of pressure, this is also the first release of a new IP upping the pressure even more. To help with this pressure 38 Studios brought in Big Huge Games to do this solo play release they used a team with some experience. They then took in my opinion, a very conservative approach to the game falling back on some tried and true game play systems that we have seen over the years. They put some polish on them and tweaked them to give us this game.
The result is a game with a really familiar feel to it that is easy to jump right into. The combat system is fast and furious and has enough options to let the players get a play style they like while at the same time being simple enough to allow the more casual gamer to enjoy the game play. The back story has enough new in it to make you interested but the style has a very familiar feel to it as it too seems to draw off established sources.
The best testimony to this balanced style can be found in my home. My wife is a casual gamer that enjoys a simple RPG and I am a hard core RPG gamer that has been sucked into the gaming vortex of Skyrim. Yet walk around our house on a slow day and you will see both of us playing Reckoning. We both have elements of the game we really enjoy and the game has taken over our free time.
Kingdoms of Amalur is a great first release of a game and an IP, the people at 38 Studios should stand proud. Or to put it in Curt’s language, this release was a standup double, the runner has speed and is eying third. Not a bad place to be after the first pitch on opening day. Now is the time to see what 38 Studios has coming to the plate.
Seriously I am excited to see what 38 Studios has next for us, in the mean time Reckoning is a great game and worthy of being in any RPG enthusiasts collection.
Reckoning Interview, Review and Followup as aired live 18 February 2012