Critical Consensus: Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning
At first glance this Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning might look like your standard swords and swishy hair RPG, but it comes with big names, and an even bigger cheque book, attached.
Fantasy writer and New York Times best-seller R. A. Salvatore handled the writing, Spawn creator Todd McFarlane the artwork, and Ken Rolston, games designer one The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion added a serious RPG pedigree. It was developed by 38 Studios, the outfit launched by Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, and its subsidiary Big Huge Games.
The game was released in the US today, for Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation. The reviews below are all based on the Xbox review code.
A quick glance at Joystiq's review by Richard Mitchell the investment and big names seem to have paid off, his brief piece gives the game a full five out of five stars. For comparison the site recently gave Skyrim the same full marks, Dragon Age 2 a four and Final Fantasy XIII-2 just three.
Mitchell praises the combat and the beauty of the world, "a world that is immaculately crafted and beautiful, yet still simple and accessible. Every corner reveals a person in need, a treasure to collect, a secret to uncover, a battle to wage."
"While not all quests bestow exciting rewards (more gold? Gee, thanks) the world is so littered with loot and goodies that almost every journey is worth the effort," he explains, although also admits he hasn't finished the game after 30 hours of play, so this may not be true of every side quest.
He's also pretty pleased with the real nuts and bolts of the game, its fighting.
"Even if a quest fails to pan out, the combat handily makes up for it. Each class of abilities offers a different experience, but all offer a thrill that isn't often found in an open-world role-playing game."
While he recognises there are flaws, he refuses to give them any real weight.
"None of this is to say there aren't a handful of minor concerns with Reckoning, but they are just that -- minor."
Eurogamer's eight out of ten review offers a more comprehensive criticism of the game, and compares it to the other big titles that have recently made waves in the genre.
"Whilst it's designed by Elder Scrolls veteran Ken Rolston (Morrowind, Oblivion) and has many features you'll recognise from BioWare's and Bethesda's games (an obsession with the arts of conversation and thievery, for example), Amalur isn't so flexible," argues Welsh.
"It's professional, tidy, satisfying - and deeply generic. The biggest problem with Amalur is that, for all its fine craftsmanship, it's obviously a world made to order. It's not the creation of a fertile young mind but of a successful baseball player's bank account. 38 Studios' owner, EverQuest and WOW fan Curt Schilling, decided to make an MMO and needed a world to build it on, so he had artist Todd McFarlane and novelist R A Salvatore drum one up. But you can't buy inspiration, no matter how big the names."
Just as the world opens out and the story picks up traction - that motor really starts to sing. That's when a solid, workmanlike game becomes one that's virtually impossible to put down.
But these somewhat ingenious origins and workmanlike feel don't seem to get in the way of being actually quite playable, even if the average gamer will have seen it all before.
"Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning does all the boring, difficult parts of RPG game design very well, and marries them to exceptionally slick combat and a towering stack of stuff to do. This well-oiled machine keeps you motoring through all the sludgy fantasy cliché and through a sluggish first act," Welsh continues.
"Then - just as the world opens out and the story picks up traction - that motor really starts to sing. That's when a solid, workmanlike game becomes one that's virtually impossible to put down."
So no fireworks, no romance, but a perfectly sensible marriage that will see you through until a younger, sexier RPG starts hanging around and flashing its loot in your face.
One of the harshest reviews, though still a respectable seven, came from Edwin Evans-Thirlwell at Official Xbox Magazine UK, questioned whether it was even that reliable, taking particular offence at issues with the games basic load times and visuals.
"Before you can wrangle with Destiny, you'll need to overcome the sheer awfulness of Amalur's tech," it warns.
"The scenery, models and effects are sub-Fable, yet the engine lumbers like a mage bowed under the weight of Dragon Bones. Load times push past 20 seconds, even for simple interiors, and while the game does an adequate job of streaming the outdoor environment, the tiniest additional burdens flatten it."
Surprisingly, the flaws are even more visible in structured set pieces, throwing up one or two embarrassing moments for the blooper reel.
"Characters show up late for cutscenes, popping in halfway through a sentence, architecture wriggles and minor changes to the 2D map aren't always immediate," he adds.
"This deep into the console generation, it's rather a shock to encounter something that wouldn't look out of place on the original Xbox."
While the top end scores won't be worrying any marketing managers any time soon, the general air is one of disappointment. That a game with so many promising names, a celebrity backer and a competent and even involving set of mechanics still manages to miss out on being something special. It seems that even in the land of loot, money isn't everything.
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