I generally don’t think too highly of EA’s marketing division – at least from my own perspective, can sometimes come across as almost more interested in alienating potential customers than actually drawing them in; BioWare titles in particular tend to suffer this peculiar trend. So with this in mind, I approached their latest scheme to sneak unlocks for a few additional Mass Effect 3 weapons and armour into demos of other games with a sort of tired dismissal. Of course, then a friend of mine reminded me of it when said demo was released, and I ultimately figured it couldn’t be that long, and surely I could manage what couldn’t be more than an hour or two for the sake of more shinies for my Shepard.
Considering I’m writing this with the benefit of hindsight however, I can only say well played, EA marketing division. Well played indeed… So. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning: the Demo.
I’d heard of Reckoning before the demo, mostly in terms of that its combat was apparently supposed to be good, but I hadn’t really paid attention to it before – the name really didn’t help its case, there. The title basically sounded to me like Realms of Someplace: Cool Buzzword which really doesn’t tell me anything, and between the release of Mass Effect 3 and my planning to replay Skyrim sometime after the release of the official mod tools, I wasn’t exactly crying out for another RPG-like thing. There simply wasn’t anything about it that made it sound like I just had to pay attention to it. Prior to trying the demo, their selling point might as well have been how the gnome soldiers you can run into in the game all wear stylized roman legion armour and weapons for all the effect it was having.
You know, thinking about it, I probably would’ve noticed the game sooner if they’d actually done that, because said gnome legionnaires look Awesome. Next up! They start shooting lightning at medium ranges and then overheat!
Of course, then I tried the demo and found it actually surprisingly interesting. It started almost from the begining when the game went through the standardized process of starting a cutscene showing my character covered by a shroud of anonymity, then asking me to design it as it was being revealed… and then rather than having my character wake up, it promptly dropped her down a dark hole for disposal with a “That’s it for you, better luck next time.”.
Reckoning is a curious game because while nearly every element of it seems borrowed or derivative in some manner, it all strikes me as being played with its own spin that saves it from simply being a generic rehash. The game shamelessly declares its intention to have you play the archetypal destined hero with amnesia straight off the ferry from stereotypia, but then follows that up by stating that you’re actually more of an undestined hero by virtue of being the one fateless person in a setting where everyone and everything else is ruled by their fate, giving you free reign to muck about with the machinery.
Being able to go all Raziel on your enemies is also a significant plus.
One of the greatest standout features of Reckoning – not to mention the one typically most advertised – is the combat, which is a very action-y fare that reminds me somewhat of Fable – or rather, of a mythical Fable release that actually lived up to Molyneux levels of hype and as a result randomly spouted features such as charge and pause special attacks, special attacks out of parries and dodges and limited air juggling while letting you swap seamlessly between the three main fields of combat in Warriors, Rogues and Mages. Or Might, Finesse and Sorcery, in Reckoning terms. What makes it stand out even more is where most games that allow you to distribute ability or talent points as you level up put a very high focus on specialization, Reckoning is not only perfectly fine with you mixing and matching from any two – if not all three – forms of combat, but even provides specific benefits to characters who do just that. Ever wanted to play a heavily armoured and nigh-indistructible knight who annihilate his or her foes with magic weapons and spells or a swift and agile rogue wielding a two-handed greatsword? Reckoning is totally on board with such desires and cheerfully encourages you to mix, match and experiment with your own preferences in weapons and abilities, even providing the ability to respec if you feel you’ve been going down the wrong path.
Simply put, the combat is fun. And with your weapon choices being one-and-a-half-handed longswords, two-handed hammers, two-handed greatswords, twin daggers, twin faeblades (think Night elven warglaives, for lack of a better comparisson), bow and arrows, short range AoE explosion staves, mid-range throwable chakrams and wand-like scepters, there’s bound to be at least something there to strike your fancy. The game doesn’t shy away from letting your abilities be a spectacle either, with several both weapon attacks and actual abilities lovingly animated and visualized to come across as gratuitously over the top and gloriously spectacular without losing weight and punch.
That said, the animations are host to a few curious design quirks – while there’s clearly a whole lot of love put into a great deal of combat and combat-related animations, right down to a few added touches to the sheathing animations that give them an added life and weight most sheathing animations of other games tend to lack, the game also only shows the weapon you used last, regardless of you having both a primary and secondary equip slot, and will swap between them in an instant, summoning the added pair apparently out of nowhere. Of course, this is all to allow for smooth instant swapping of weapons in the thick of combat and doesn’t seem that much of an issue of its own. Where it does step into the realm of ridiculous is when the game unabashedly pulls the same stunt with shields, making the block button not only instantly sheathe your weapon(s) but also summon whatever shield you have equipped out of the ether through sheer force of will. Considering how much attention seems to have been put to most combat animations to make them really come to life regardless of how over the top they might be, the shield-summoning powers of the block button comes across as a bit breaking.
Only a bit, mind you – while there are certainly several oddities on display at places in the demo, some of which related to it being split from an already outdated build, none of them ever came across to me as a direct dealbreaker, especially in the face of the things I do like about the game. One of which I have to say is the visual design – the vibrant colours and stark contrasts combine to form a world that strikes me as alive and varied, while still maintaining a cohesion that can sometimes be lost in a surprising number of gritty HDR realism AAA games in spite of their simplifying the colour palette down from Red-Green-Blue to Red-Gray-Brown. At the same time I realize it’s not the type of visuals that appeal to everyone, and what I’ll find vibrantly alive others will find cartoonish, but they certainly hit a mark with me.
It doesn’t appear to be a particularely small game either – mind you, I don’t expect it to be nearly as hour-devouring as Skyrim, but the demo gives you 45 minutes to run around the Odarath section of the Dalentarth region which isn’t nearly enough to explore even half the quests available to you, even with the timer pausing whenever the game itself pauses or you’re in a dialogue. Considering that and then looking at how many sections like Odarath seem to exist, and it strikes me like there’s a fair bit of ground to cover with a significant amount of content to explore.
Reckoning will be released on the 7’th February for North America while us Europeans have to wait a few more days until the 10’th, giving me about a week and a half to make up my mind in regards to which I prefer more – Daggers, Chakrams or both interchangeably. So far it’s proven quite the conundrum…