Available on Xbox 360 and PS3.
There are two important things that are revealed within the first ten minutes of this game. The first is a twist given at the end of the introductory story, given in a wonderfully dramatic tone by an unknown woman; the story is likely to be a good one. The second is that all gnomes are Scottish.
Kingdoms of Amalur is a great game that builds on established RPG fare. Graphically it should be familiar to anyone who has played any of the Fable games; its look is slightly cartoonish, and wonderfully colourful with it. After the greys and browns of Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, this comes of something of a relief. Your eyes are always stimulated and frequently the game comes across as beautiful. A lot of effort has gone into the art work for Amalur, and it’s paid off. There’s not a moment where things look drab or unappealing, and it’s very easy to lose yourself in its wonderful visual flow.
From the caves and forests, to desert plains and dark foreboding cities, this game is wonderfully appealing and a joy just to wander through.
The gameplay is also very familiar, with much owed to other well known titles; Fable, Skyrim and Fallout again, but the old tropes and methods are nicely played out, with the battle mechanics in particular a great deal of fun to play with. There’s none of the annoyances of Skyrim; press a button to swing your sword or staff or to bring up a menu in the heat of battle, and your command is instantly completed. Skyrim and Fallout 3 in particular suffered from this; if my character’s dying I need to drink a potion quick sharp, not stab the button with an increasing feeling of helplessness as the brutal creature before you viciously hacks you to death. So, from the word go, Amalur is a joy to play.
The AI isn’t particularly impressive and, although stunning to look at, there are aliasing issues around most of the characters when you’re viewing them up close. It seems that the development team would rather your character was made up of separate pieces of armour that move independently rather than flexing as a whole, whilst sacrificing some of the graphical smoothness to enable it. To be honest, I don’t mind the odd jagged edge to a model; I’d rather it moved more convincingly, and that solid plates of armour didn’t bend.
The game map is huge and, after playing through for a good ten hours at the start of the game, there’s obviously much still to do. Like other games of its type, the world map tantalisingly offers many places to explore and, unlike the open-world blandness of Final Fantasy 14, there are many crooks, hollows and ruins to run and fight through aside from those that are reliant on your main or side quests. There are plenty of side quests too, and it’s easy to find them; any character that can give you something to do is marked on your local map and on the main game screen with an exclamation mark over their heads. Want to travel to the other side of your map, then the ubiquitous Fast Travel is there to save you plodding through the woods and plains like a drunken, meandering yoyo.
There is a simply huge variety of weaponry to loot, steal and buy, and the game offers you the chance to make your own. The crafting elements are well thought out and never a chore; it would be nice for them to have been developed into more of a mini-game than a few clicks of your action button, but they’re simple enough and I’d much rather the developer take this approach than making crafting monotonous (again, Final Fantasy 14, I’m looking at you).
The character development has been developed well enough, with a skill tree that should be familiar to anyone’s that’s played Titan Quest. There’s lots to chose from, but one thing to note is that levelling isn’t quick. It’s usually the case that initial levelling is accelerated; many games want you to feel more accomplishment whilst the bad guys and monsters are easier to defeat, but although the levelling is much slower than you might be expect, it doesn’t detract from being able to enjoy the game. It rewards frequently with lots of loot, but doesn’t go overboard like Titan Quest did; you won’t be overladen with a thousand Bangles of Ageing-Moose or fifty Daggers of Eternally Tasty Bacon (would-be items from the RPG of my dreams), but there’s still enough for you to check your weapons for the most powerful dagger, staff or sword for you to use and, combined with the crafting elements you can easily obtain and build some great kit to dish out your wrath with. The ability to salvage parts from unwanted weapons is a bonus too, with component parts not too numerous to get confused over.
There are a few niggling downsides to the game, though.
Primarily, there’s no auto-repeat on your button presses when your navigating through your item and weaponry lists. Got fifty items in there and you’re after the item in position forty-nine? You’re going to have to press your down button forty-none times then. This is a simply omission, and a confusing one. I’m not a developer, so I don’t know what code or action from a game engine’s library should be called, but it isn’t there and sometimes it’s downright frustrating (see the above example).
The second is more minor, but I think only because the side quests are so numerous that there’s always something going on, either to push you to your destination or just keep you entertained; the story, whilst obviously well thought out, seemed a little thin to me at the beginning. Plenty of good stories start out slow, but with so many actions to keep you busy it almost seems as if the main story isn’t that important. This will obviously be less noticeable later on, and to be honest it does therefore encourage you to explore rather than run straight to your next target; too many games lately have made me feel as if I’ve missed a load of content when I’ve finished them, and although I doubt this will be the case here, I’d still like things to feel more meaty dramatically.
An excellent game, full of colour, great gameplay and well implemented battle mechanics. Lots to do and without the clinical, ‘all to brief’ feeling that I got from Final Fantasy 13-2.
One to play.