Number Five: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Big Huge Games, 38 Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Reviews: Giant Bomb, Joystiq, Destuctoid, IGN
If you follow the gaming industry at all, it was hard to miss the grand collapse of 38 Studios, and what was likely the first nail in the MMO coffin. The biggest loss in the company’s liquidation, outside of the people who once worked there, was the purgatory that the Kingdoms of Amalur IP now resides in.
Reckoning wasn’t perfect. The interesting content was often buried behind the bold exclamation points of the hundreds of bland sidequests that populated the world. The loot lust wasn’t really committed to as strongly in similar games like Borderlands, Diablo, and Torchlight. The enemy AI isn’t great. The inventory management was disgusting on consoles. And based on the origins of the Kingdoms of Amalur fiction, it feels a lot like the prelude to something much bigger that we’re no longer likely to see.
Outside of its issues, however, was its ambition to do something a little different with the fantasy space. The game’s premise was strong: you are the first success of a machine born to raise the dead. And because your demise was less than permanent, the laws of fate, which maintain worldwide order, no longer apply to you. It’s a great idea to explain a common gaming troupe, and likely would’ve been the largest story beat taking from what was clearly an opening chapter for a much larger story. R.A. Salvatore will have to keep writing Dungeons and Dragons books.
But what really made Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning one of the best games of the year was that it was the first fantasy title I had played that had satisfying gameplay. The fantasy genre is largely a slave to its RPG mechanics, but Big Huge found a way to make the system work for its combat, rather than against it, which was Skyrim’s problem. As wonderful as Skyrim was, the first-person melee combat was not the headlining attraction. Because of its combat focus, the RPG and class system aren’t as deep as the Dragon Age or Neverwinter Nights, but when the final product is largely much more attractive to pick up and play, it’s worth breaking tradition.
As soon as I reached the end of the game, mainlining the primary storyline and the ‘guild’ quests, I kept thinking about how great the next game was going to be. Reducing the low-quality side content, and tightening some of the other common complaints would’ve made Reckoning one of the best titles this generation. If only 38 Studios hadn’t spent too much time and too much money on a barely developed MMO.
Do yourself a favor and pick up Kingdoms of Amalur. You’ll soon forget about its shortcomings in the active combat. And there’s no further investment necessary; no sequel will likely ever be produced.