Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Role-playing games have come a long way, baby. Many new titles blend the genre's typical story-focused questing and looting with an ambitious open-world, go-anywhere sense of choice. The Elder Scrolls games are a popular example of that. And Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is certainly warming its digital hands by the same campfire. But it throws its own fantasy log on the flame in the form of a brand-new sophisticated combat system. More on that in a moment.
Originally conceived as an online MMO and transformed into a single-player RPG, Reckoning is a large game. It's a fantasy world blending of bestselling author R.A. Salvatore's storytelling and famed comic book artist Todd McFarlane's artwork. That makes the proceedings dense with both fantasy lore and World of Warcraft-like color.
To Start, You're Finished
The tale begins in an unexpected way: You're dead. Which may seem like an odd position to be in if you're looking for an adventure. But after choosing whether your character is male or female, and which of four races he or she will be—the equivalents of civilized humans, nomadic humans, dark elves or light elves—things do quicken up a bit.
Thanks to a Lazarus-like reinvigoration connected to an underground invention called the Well of Souls, your hero awakes in a pile of dead bodies. The setting—beyond the gruesome immediate vicinity? A land that's centered around pre-woven threads of fate, a place populated by elves and humans who believe that one can only walk the spiritual path you're assigned. Your character, having been dead, is then something of an anomaly: a person without a predestined future. As such, you have the great potential to change everything—even stopping a threatening force of evil that's intent on devastating and enslaving the world's citizens.
Your primary quest takes you from city to city as you meet scores of characters, rally supporters, gain magical and physical fighting skills, and prepare for the eventual showdown with evil itself. Of course, there are dozens and dozens of side quests available, battling everything from enormous spiders to giant Medusa-like worm creatures. Along the way, you can make either evil choices (such as stealing from townspeople or even attacking civilians) or good, but even if you drift toward the dark side, in the end this is still a hero's story filled with gallant actions and selfless valor.
That's not necessarily a great thing, of course, since it limits the effect of the just desserts principle. Also, gallantry is not next to cleanliness here, to really twist an old cliché. Like most RPGs, Reckoning fills much of its time with the finding and besting of enemies. And this is where that enhanced combat system comes into play—which makes for a pretty gruesome battler on occasion.
To Choose Is Not to Choose
You have a choice of weapons ranging from huge, impaling swords to sneak-up-and-slash daggers to razor-edged throwing hoops to bow and arrows to magical bolt-blasting staffs. As you earn and spend skill points, you also increase the number of bloodletting moves each of these weapons can unleash. Chaining moves together can result in a string of slashes, slices, parries and gouges that'll rival those found in most hack-and-slash titles. And every gash splashes quantities of gore.
When a fate gauge fills to the brim, players can also enter a "reckoning mode." This boosting ability facilitates increased carnage and culminates in a variety of slow-motion finishing moves such as driving home a magical blade and gutting an ogre foe or ripping a worm creature's mouth open to the point of splitting its jaw in two. Poking out eyes, snapping necks, slashing throats and tearing torsos, the killing variety goes on and on.
You can find dead bodies on sacrificial altars. Some female characters wear skimpy, cleavage-baring outfits and a few hideous monsters sport bare, human-looking breasts. Foul language, though more rare than the violence for sure, includes uses of "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑tard," "d‑‑n" and the polytheistic-minded "godsd‑‑mit."
It should certainly be said that this is a creative and colorful game. And by colorful I'm not talking about the language. It's an adventure that could well motivate players to explore themes of heroism, liberty and the freedom we all have to choose our path. The only choice we aren't given—unless we choose not to play at all—is how much of that preordained M-rated gunk we have to see.