When you think of role-playing games, a terrific combat engine likely isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Likewise, one would be hard-pressed to find a really good action game set in a vast open world with plenty of side quests and hundreds of hours of content. Some of my favorite games of all-time fall into those two categories, but I never thought I would find a single title that embodied the best features of both genres.
But "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" manages to do just that.
Featuring fast-paced combat reminiscent of "God of War" and a huge open world filled with enough quests and dungeons to rival the deepest RPGs, "Reckoning" truly is a game unlike any other. The first release from 38 Studios, the development house founded by former major league pitcher Curt Schilling, renowned artist Todd McFarlane and acclaimed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, "Reckoning" does more than simply borrow ideas from other popular games - it takes those features and improves upon them.
The end result is a game that feels both intimately familiar, yet surprisingly fresh.
And it all starts with the combat. Battles in "Reckoning" are fast-paced, fluid affairs, regardless of if you're playing as a classic sword and shield warrior, a stealthy dagger-wielding assassin, a fireball-hurling mage or a jack-of-all-trades hybrid character. Mixing-and-matching strikes, spells and ranged weapons allows you to maximize the damage you deal to your foes, and against the more difficult enemies you encounter, a certain strategic element begins to come into play as you exploit opponents' vulnerabilities.
As great as the combat is, you still need a reason to fight, and the story at the heart of "Reckoning" provides just that. The game actually begins with a recap of the events that led to the untimely demise of your character. Of course, you don't stay dead for long, and your resurrection could signal an end to the war that is raging in Amalur between the Tuatha and the races of men. But your fate is yours to shape as you choose. The notion of fate does more than play a key role in the story of "Reckoning" -- as your character levels up, you unlock Fate cards that grant bonuses to your stats.
38 Studios and Salvatore went to great lengths to craft the world of "Amalur," creating a universe with 10,000 years of history. Given the game's original setting, it was a little difficult to keep up with all of the key players and events early on. But the game does an admirable job of shedding light on the world's history as you go about writing your own.
"Reckoning" also provides no shortage of things to do outside of the main story. Before I had even begun to think about furthering the main quest, I rescued a village under siege from giant spiders, helped stop a plague that had crippled a town, and freed a wolf that had been transformed into a human by a band of vengeful pixies. There are also separate quest lines for each of the multiple guilds you can join, as well as random dungeons to discover and pillage.
Beyond combat and story -- the pillars of any RPG -- "Reckoning" deserves credit for an outstanding loot system that rewards players for discovering all of those hidden treasure chests. The items you uncover are random, which means you never know when you might stumble upon a powerful weapon or rare piece of armor. I would have preferred a more user-friendly inventory management system and some sort of auto-equip feature (I was literally pausing the game every 2-3 minutes to check and tweak my gear), but that's a minor gripe.