I have no idea what just happened. I think I have some idea of what happened in the 50+ hours I’ve sent in the Kingdoms of Amalur and I’m pretty sure that I enjoyed most of it, but I have zero idea why, lack all sense of context or history or any idea as to who anyone is in the game. I don’t know who’s fault that is, but they’re lucky the game is still fun despite it’s massive story telling problems. Kingdoms of Amalur puts you in the shoes of a recently dead warrior/rogue/sorcerer who is brought back to life by a device called The Well of Souls, which also happens to be under attack by a group known as the Tuatha. Escaping by the skin of your teeth you find that you now have new powers and can remove people, animals, monsters from the weaving of fate by using RECKONING MODE. Basically time slows down, you kill everything, pull off a bad ass finishing move by mashing a button and get extra XP for everyone you killed before expelling your Reckoning powers. This is the crux of the entire game.
At it’s core KOA: Reckoning is a hack and slash RPG with a pretty good leveling up system that lets you distribute points between three skill sets. You can be warrior brute swinging hammers, swords, long swords and bashing your shield against foes, a rogue who stealthily sneaks around bringing silent quick death with short blades and arrows or a sorcerer who brings elemental death to all in their way. Each skill set has cool abilities but the the more diverse you are the less you’ll see of the stronger, better abilities in each class. Luckily the game gives you ample opportunity to switch your entire skill set and redistribute every piece of XP you’ve earned. You can start the game as a rogue, and end as a warrior knight if you wanted to. A fate card system gives you perks for choosing a certain kind of character and they do have cards for diversified players but I found that it just paid off more to dump all your points into one class type.
The story is written by R.A. Salvatore who is a well known fantasy writer and actually wrote my favorite Star Wars novel of the past decade. Something was lost in translation how ever. I feel like I really am playing in a fully fleshed out world with a lot of history, back story and ideas but in the end, after the dust settled and I defeated the Tuatha I have no idea what really happened or why. A character named Aylyn was with me nearly the entire game and her motivation is so cloudy that I never felt as though I could trust her. Conversations are played out in a Mass Effect style wheel and there are choices for being kind or a jerk but they never have the impact that they do in Mass Effect. It felt less important to really pay attention and choose my conversation opens carefully. Persuasion was also thing I could level up but so few moments came up where I could use it that I felt as though it didn’t really matter, even though I had it pretty leveled up by the end.
There is a lot of content in KOA but most of it is side quests, faction alignment and fetch quests involving going to a place, killing everything in one area and then bringing back something to a person who is too lazy to do it themselves. I guess you could call this content but almost none of it is very good content. I didn’t feel anything for any of the characters because I never spent any time with them. The conversation options you can have with them are boring, poorly scripted and are there not for investing in a character but rather to fill in the idea of what kind of place you’re in. I go into a store and I can ask a couple about why they’re bickering and I get that information but what does it matter? There’s no quest about fixing their relationship and I’m never going to spend any time with them. This is a solo mission until the end of the game and there are only two big moments in the whole title where I felt as though I was doing something with people instead of everything resting on my shoulders and even then I felt like it might as well be any old hack and slash game and not even have NPCs on my side.
There are other little things involving the combat, lock picking minigames and more that I just found lacked polish. Lock picking for instance is a complete and total joke. I can have my lock picking skill set to zero, walk up to a chest that reads that it’s very hard to open and not even move the lock pick itself and simply open the chest by sliding over the latch. The lock picking game involves turning a lock pick into the right spot and then unlatching it… almost never EVER had to turn the pick.
Combat feels as though it wants to be part God of War with the big gory moments and brutal deaths and weapon system but lacks the polish. Little things like not having the block system tight enough to parry attacks while coming out of an animation cycle can send your character into a juggling frenzy when surrounded by enemies. The combo system is also about as bare bones as one can get. There’s a difference between having to memorize button presses for long chains and having literally nothing. This game doesn’t find that middle ground. When I received my “Faeblades” which are cool spinning blade weapons I went into the move system to find that basically my attacks were regular, charged up and then press/pause/press and that’s it. Yes I can map a second weapon to the Y button and it has it’s own move set but it was even less robust. This made the combat simple to a fault and also a little boring.
KOA has it’s fun moments and a two giant missions that were a blast to play. It also has a ton of side quest content that is there if you want to tackle it and be a completionist but fetch quests can only keep a player going for so long. The story is nonsensical, answers none of the questions it brings up and is about as vague as possible. In fact the story almost feels like I’m playing a sequel to a game and with it’s title, I thought it was at first and looked for a Wiki page to fill me in on the gaps. Sadly that wasn’t the case.
There are better, more polished, more fun and better delivered RPGs out there. KOA isn’t a bad game, it’s just not an original one. It comes from an incredibly high pedigree of game designers, artists and writers but maybe their visions all collided somewhere and what we got was this unfocused mess.
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