38 Studios just released a demo for their first game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, developed in part by such big names as author RA Salvatore, Ken Rolston (lead designer on Morrowind), and artist Todd McFarlane. Given that, we decided to take a look and offer some impressions and footage for those curious.
by Sean Ridgeley
Presentation, voice acting, and lore are okay enough, but really not that engaging or remarkable in any great sense. For the most part I found myself very quickly just wanting to skip the cutscenes and get straight to the action.
Unfortunately that's not much better, either. Movement and animations feel extremely clunky, and combat is pretty basic and offers little challenge; "Reckoning" mode behaves like your standard action game powerup mode and feels out of place. Mechanics are the usual RPG fare: design character, smash baddies, get experience, acquire new abilities. This is typically well and good if the overall quality is high and the pacing is strong, but Reckoning reeks of low production values and combat feels utterly unsatisfying, almost like slashing at paper dolls. There's simply no crunchiness or meat to it whatsoever.
On the bright side, it's not a horrible port. At the least, I can say I've seen a lot worse. Menus and such absolutely feel console-oriented, though those and the UI scale appropriately to high resolutions. Controls feel natural, excepting a few awkward bindings (left Ctrl for sprinting, for example), but thankfully keys can be rebinded in the launch version. Textures are of higher resolution than their console counterparts, though the game is far from visually stunning regardless. As mentioned previously, however, post-processing needs to be turned off in the demo as it causes black screen issues (this is fixed in the launch version), so this takes visuals down a peg or two. Finally, framerate on a high-end PC is usually quite high and consistent (roughly 60-90fps).
In short, there's nothing for the hardcore RPG lover here; I felt like I was playing the equally unfulfilling Daggerdale all over again -- one of our lowest scored games. At this point, I'd recommend skipping the demo and game entirely, unless you want the free Mass Effect 3 loot.
Xbox 360 impressions
by Lydia Sung
I was fairly excited to try the Reckoning demo after months of only seeing the game in action. While I can't say I'm entirely disappointed, the trial game did leave me with mixed feelings.
The opening cutscene explaining the premise behind the game is pretty damn long, which probably wouldn't have bothered me were it not for the lackluster attempt at narrating. The female voice giving us the lowdown on Amalur (War! Immortal race commiting genocide!) was strangely monotone the whole way through, like the actor was just reading from a script with no direction whatsoever. I mean, her voice sounded fine, but her delivery wasn't.
For me, Reckoning feels heavily reminiscent of Fable, thanks to the somewhat cartoony character designs and vibrant environments. Definitely not a bad thing, in my book. Combat is almost as simple, since you're basically mapping weapons to a single button and spamming them in a fight. Reckoning does offer talent trees though, so you'll have infinitely more abilities to play with over time. Said abilities can be accessed quickly by bringing up a radial menu with LB, and you may also map an addition skill to each of the four colored buttons, which are then activated by pressing RB simultaneously.
Simple in theory, but this method doesn't work very well with a controller, and the combat ends up feeling pretty clunky. In addition to some cumbersome controls, the camera seems keen on doing its own thing any time you're in a fight with multiple foes. The way the controls are setup makes camera adjustment pretty difficult while you're in battle, so it ends up rotating or zooming back and forth, like it just can't decide which enemy to focus on.
The menus could also stand to be more intuitive, but this is a lesser complaint. What did make me happy is seeing some of the later specializations, because Reckoning actually supports the "Jack of all trades" play style. The various unlockable bonuses offer boosts to multiple talents, rather than just Sorcery, Finess, or Might, so you're free to play around with any combination of your choosing -- two at a time or all three.
Can't say I'm entirely put off from Reckoning, despite my issues with the demo gameplay. My initial enthusiasm has been curbed, but interest still lingers. After all, the story seems to have some potential. Give it a shot, if only for the Mass Effect 3 gear.