10 Thoughts On…the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Demo (Sony PS3, Microsoft Xbox 360, PC)

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has been my most wanted game for 2012 almost since it was announced. I’ve had it preordered since August 2011 and Curt Shilling has definitely assembled a dream team here. R.A. Salvatore, a fan and friend of this very site, wrote the story. Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, was tapped to head the art and animation direction. Ken Rolston, the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, was hired to be the executive designer. Looking at the lineup, it seemed almost impossible for Kingdoms of Amalur to live up to the hype built around it.

My biggest concern was that most Western RPGs tend to be well…buggy. Very buggy. Just look at Skyrim or New Vegas as examples. Hell, they’re STILL patching Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and that’s been out for nearly a decade AND Troika’s been dead almost as long. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. After all, many western RPGs have been amazing open world experiences bolstered with great stories. But a new company getting their start in a sub genre that is arguably the buggiest in all of gaming? I won’t lie, I was worried. After playing the demo that was released on Tuesday I have to admit that I’m still unsure how the final product is going to fare. Here are ten thoughts I had on the demo.

1. The story was an interesting twist on a lot of old overused ideas. The world is under assault by a legion of immortal Dark Fae and the younger races of Amalur are in danger of being wiped out. In fact, you the protagonist are outright killed by them. However thanks to a mix of magic and science via the power of GNOMES, you are brought back to life and outside the laws of fate to boot. Of course you’re also an amnesiac. I love the use of gnomes as a major race here (Take that 4e D&D!), but the Dark Fae are basically Drow which is pretty much Salvatore going to the same well he always drinks from. The amnesia thing has been done literally hundreds of times by now in other video games, but I do like the being undead/reborn/what have you. I can’t say the story blew me away but I was happy to see the setup at least turned a lot of tropes on their head…even if they still used them.

2. The demo was pretty buggy, but thankfully all were minor bugs. I ran into slowdown here and there (mainly in the boss battle against a rock troll) but the majority of bugs were strange graphical ones. I encountered things like broken background graphics, defeated enemies hovering in midair. Dead bodies standing up and walking around for a half second after an area loaded. A silver water like texture coating the ground where land was supposed to be. Giant gold triangles flying across the screen after killing someone. Things like that. Again, these are all minor and more amusing than anything else. The good news is that the code for the demo is NOT the complete code for the game, so I’m hoping many of these weird visual issues will not be in the retail version. If they are well, it’s a Western RPG. You pretty much know these things will be present there.

3. The voice acting is top notch. I really enjoyed listening to all the different characters I encountered.

4. Playing Kingdoms of Amalur felt a lot like Fallout 3 in a fantasy setting, which si funny as Fallout 3 was often referred to as “Elder Scrolls with guns” when it came out. A lot of the early game played a lot like Fallout 3. Quest initation, lots of lock picking and persuade checks. Books that raised your skills. So on and so forth. Oddly enough it DIDN’T feel like playing Oblivion. I really lovedFallout 3 (although not as much as 1 & 2), so I was really happy with what I saw here, even if it felt a bit derivative of previously released Bethesda titles.

5. There are four playable races to start. Two are human in appearance while the other two more closely resemble Japanese anime elves. The races are:

Almain : +1 Alchemy, +2 Blacksmithing, +1 Persuasion
Varani: +2 Lockpicking, +1 Mercantile, +1 Detect Hidden
Ljosalfar: +1 Sagecraft, +2 Dispelling, +1 Alchemy
Dokkalfar: +1 Sagecraft, +2 Stealth, +1 Persuasion

Out of them all, the Varani are by far the best. Lockpicking is rife throughout the demo, which implies it will bedoubly so in the actual game. As well, Detect Hidden was the best overall skill I found in my multiple times with the demo as it gives you access to an insane amount of high quality stuff. Second best would probably be Almain as you get to talk and create stuff easier. The Elvish style races…kind of sucked in comparison.

6. There are six deity spheres you can choose from as well, each giving you access to different advantages. They are:

Fire: +6 Fire Damage, + 6 Fire Resistance
Water: +6 Ice Damage, +6 Ice Resistance
War: +5% Physical Damage, +5% Armour
Death: +1% Chance to Critical, +8% Critical Hit Damage
Mischief: +6% Poison Damage, +6% Poison Resistance
None: +1% XP earned

War seems by and large the best overall of the six choices. Extra damage and armour in the beginning is nothing to sneeze at.

7. Character designs are limited to a number of preset options. I’m not sure if it will be the same way in the full game. The options are pretty good though. I made a spot-on Bruce Campbell lookalike who I named “Ash.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a boomstick or chainsaw in the demo.

8. After finishing the first tutorial storyline, you’re given fourty-five minutes to dick around in the world at large. There are so many things to see and do that you’ll need to play the demo several times to even dip your toe into them. I finished three quests in my first time with the demo. They were “Crisis of Faith,” “Members Only” and “Recipe For Trouble” Recipe for Trouble was pretty long but I had the most fun with “Crisis of Fate.” I had one more requirement for “The Commendation” and a portion of “Building Bridges” left. I managed to get (Steal) the Greater Healing Potion in order to save a brutal assault victim’s life at least.

9. Playing the demo not only nets you a “Twist of Fate” card (unfortunately these never came up in the demo for me), a special helm and a set of Chakras for the full retail version of the game, but they also unlock some items for Mass Effect 3. The ME3 demo will also unlock new items for the retail version of Kingdoms of Amalur, which is not only a nice crossover, but a great way to get people to try the demos and purchase the games. After all, they already have some gear for it. I’m always a big fan of when demos reward you for playing a game so this made me really happy.

10. Overall, I’m really looking forward to Kingdoms of Amalur even though I had a few issues with the visuals and story. The game seems to be a great first effort from a new company and in this year where very little that has been announced even remotely excites me, I’m still really pumped for February 7th, when the game is officially released. You have a lot of customization options here, which is my favorite thing about RPGs and although it’s not going to reinvent the wheel, it still looks to be an exceptionally fun game. I can’t wait.

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