My oldest memory is sitting next to my uncle for hours as he mashed his way through Final Fight for the SNES. I wasn’t old enough to completely comprehend what he was doing, but that experience would later go on to direct a major part of who I was. Revisiting that experience now I recognize that it was the memory of those moments that impacted me, something that playing the game over again can never really capture. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a lot like my attempt to reconnect with my past. By combining their favorite parts of the games they were inspired by, 38 Studios sought to kindle that same feeling in Reckoning. While they manage to create a quality game, they also demonstrate that nostalgia stems in part from an experience’s unique moment, and that’s something that can’t simply be pieced together.
Story – arguably the most important aspect used to create an enduring experience – is one of Reckoning’s weakest elements. The main story-line vaguely alludes to shaping your own destiny as someone resurrected into a war-torn world who is now free to make their own decisions. None of your choices carry any weight or feel impactful. The literary aspects of the game in general are an impressive waste of resources, with boring quests littered around the world and flat characters who have plenty to say about nothing at all. The game is a testament to their ability to copy from others that the story is clichéd and generally not all that compelling. Their recipe bodes far better for gameplay.
Whereas a story is compels by feeling new, gameplay must simply be fun. By offering up a system that boasts a plethora of skills that cleverly intermingle with each other as you upgrade them, as well as the ability to redistribute your skill points at virtually any point in time, 38 Studios has developed a system that rewards and encourages experimentation. There are plenty of mechanics to invest in as well, from picking locks to disarming traps to crafting armor and weapons. It is all very familiar, but it serves its purpose in keeping menial tasks interesting. Combat itself is fast and fluid with lots of strategic options and plenty of weapons and skills to mix and match. At later levels things tend to get a little broken in your favor. You’ll likely be strutting around singing LIKE A BOSS as you lay waste to groups of enemies with a few brief blows. All of this makes playing through the cookie-cutter quests worth the effort.
You’ll get a sense of Déjà vu from the world itself as well, with vibrant, colorful environments pulled straight from an MMO and constructed so as to create a very linear progression. The world always seems to feel either too big or too small, and there just isn’t enough variety or personality to make wandering the map that rewarding. Building a world that feels rich and alive is challenging for any company, but Reckoning’s mantra of stealing the best ideas goes against the inherent creative nature of making a world that feels fresh and undiscovered.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a plea to your childhood self to sit a while and relive the realms of fantasy he lost himself in so many times before. What you’ll find is a fairly strong case for cherishing those memories as they are rather than holding them under the scrutiny of the present day. That isn’t to say you wont enjoy Reckoning for the finely tuned action RPG that it is, but much like my memories with my uncle, it may cast a harsh light on the games it sought to immortalize.