Considering that Reckoning lives and dies based on combat satisfaction, the option to continually readjust the fighting experience is a welcome one. It may diminish the bond you form with the character - why invest in someone you can easily rewrite? - but at least you don't have to put up with an inconsiderate jerk.
Allocating skill points also lets you rewrite 'destiny' - Amalur's answer to character class. Represented by tarot cards, destinies massage the abilities you pick. Feed points into 'might', for example, and you can pursue the destiny of a warrior or barbarian, with statistical boosts to melee weapons and health.
There are hybrid destinies, too. If a warrior invests in finesse skills, he can straddle two disciplines as a ranger - handy with bows and swords. It acts as a statistical safety net, nurturing experimental play styles with added weapon oomph and health.
This friendly, malleable approach to character class extends to many of Amalur's systems. 38 Studios and Big Huge Games are not interested in obscuring important ideas in the name of an organic world.
Where Skyrim tries to weave alchemy and forging into its landscape, Amalur treats them like the artificial game-y conceits they are - explained up front in a tutorial, and streamlined to a few core ingredients. The investment needed to 'crack' Skyrim just isn't required here; not too complex, not too shallow, just right. Goldilocks will dig it.
In many ways, Amalur reminds us of what Lionhead try to achieve in their Fable games. Its makers aren't afraid of gaming fakery if it eases us in and out of the world. They're happy to make pick-ups glitter so that we don't walk past them. They're happy to place treasure chests all over outside areas, because it's always fun to open a treasure chest. They're happy to give us a detailed mini-map so we can avoid big enemy clusters if we want to. All of these things shatter the illusion of a living, breathing world (© Rockstar Games), but they make it a fun gaming place.
Where Fable succeeds and Reckoning doesn't is in its sense of geographical place. 38 Studios streamline the world to the point where it resembles a network of fields connected by corridors. The first look at Amalur's hulking world map - all five continents of it - is a jaw dropping moment.
But as you begin to explore it, moving from themed zone to themed zone, that jaw begins to rise again, until it eventually forms a clenched grimace. Amalur's a pretty enough place - mimicking World of Warcraft's lurid aesthetic - but the sheer scale of the world is poorly represented.
Nor does it have that spark of life possessed by the best open worlds. Think of GTA's sudden outbursts of gang warfare or the numbing terror of one of Skyrim's unscripted dragon attacks. There's no space for spontaneity in Amalur. This world is basically a series of corridors dotted with predetermined bear attacks.
That isn't spontaneity, that's a trip to Longleat gone disastrously wrong. Surprising a player is a key part of world-building - a good curveball can disguise the fundamentally mechanical nature of a digital space. Our biggest criticism is that Amalur plays it so straight.
Question is, do you need another life-consuming world? Isn't Amalur's flighty fantasy fun enough to mark it out from the competition? We might question the need for a dip-in/dip-out epic, but we can't deny its effectiveness in hitting that goal. Reckoning is an epic for the man-on-the-go or, for those currently Skyrimmed, a gateway drug to real life.
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Kingdoms of Amalur is a brisk action blast that just happens to last upwards of 50 hours. Perhaps not the finest world ever built, but a fun place to while away a month or two.
- Meaty melee combat is so hard to find in RPGs
- Streamlined design will appeal to the casual RPG fan
- Too repetitive in longer play sessions
- Interesting lore ill served by leaden writing