The first thing that struck me about Kingdoms of Amalur is how heavily it borrows from other games/literature in its genre and the fantasy mythos in general. From the initial dungeon romp/tutorial to the generic character who’s conveniently forgotten who he is, it reeks of all the staples of fantasy we’ve come to expect.This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It feels like slipping into old clothes that you haven’t worn in a while; comfortable and instantly recognisable. The initial dungeon you “wake up” in simultaneously reminds me of the Mines of Moria, the secret passage through the jail in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and the first time Zoe Castillo materialises in Arcadia in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (A game which everyone should play if they haven’t already.). All of which are book/video game moments that I cherish to this day.
Without spoiling much (There really isn’t much to spoil at this point), the Kingdom is under attack and no one seems to have a cohesive plan on how to stop the invading army due to their sheer number although I have a sneaking suspicion that the main character that you control is going to end up saving the world… Call it intuition if you will. Anyway, you are supposed to be dead (Probably a casualty of war) but are mysteriously brought back to life (How I will not divulge). The demo offers four races to choose from with a wealth of customisation features as well as the ability to choose one God/Goddess signs to decide strengths and weaknesses. I chose the elf-like looking character because you can’t really go wrong with elves with a major focus on magic.
The demo takes you through a dungeon, teaching you the basics of the combat while expanding the story as well. The combat itself is very rewarding. Its easy to master and the dodge mechanic is something Batman: Arkham Asylum could learn from. Fighting with a long sword has the weighted down movement that it should. While daggers give you the expected greater sense of speed. The stave allows for more nimble attacks and greater range and the bow is the perfect long range weapon. I do have an issue with the fact that the bow’s auto-aiming is pretty much broken sometimes and it hardly aims where you want it to but otherwise, the combat is stellar. You also learn your first magic spell before all is done. Even the magic is very well done, conveying a sense of power and recoil as you unleash upon an unsuspecting enemy. The developers have worked hard on making the combat system almost palpable to the player and it shows.
You have to save a gnome on the way out of the dungeon who becomes your temporary travel companion, guiding you through and filling the gaps in your non-existent memory. He tells you to go meet this scientist (also a gnome) while fending of legions of enemy soldiers, giant spiders and finally a Rock Troll (Which turned out to be a very satisfying first boss battle). Eventually you get out of the dungeon and enter a forest- which reminds me of Du Weldenvarden from Christopher Paolini’s mediocre Inheritance cycle and the Sylvan forest in Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes- which is where I stopped playing. I’m sorry for the lacklustre story explanation; I tread lightly in the fear of spoiling things for unwary readers.
The game isn’t exactly a looker nor is it particularly bad graphically. Yes, you can tell that it’s a console port, yes the textures aren’t as good as they should be and there is some pop-in to be found here and there. The saving grace, however, is the brilliant art style that pervades the entire first dungeon and even beyond when you get to go outside for the first time. The forest itself is by far one of the best environments I’ve seen in video games, period with all sorts of neat particle effects and a sprawling vista that you just want to lick; sorry about that. The character models are well done and each has its own personality as opposed to for example, the stiff and generally unresponsive faces in the Elder Scrolls games. There were a few inexplicable frame rate drops that I encountered which I’m assuming is because of lack of optimisation but overall, I was satisfed with Amalur’s graphics.
A random detail I noticed about the game is that it’s very gory. Blood is plentiful and severed heads seem to be a very common thing. The game doesn’t shy away from these grotesque details and in fact, embraces them. Nothing important but I was somewhat taken aback at first. Then desensitisation kicked in and all was good.
I definitely think that Amalur’s Demo is worth checking out and while it could still use some more polish before release, I can very well see this being one of the biggest games of 2012 barring some unavoidable catastrophe. It’s more easy to get into then the Elder Scrolls series and surprisingly deeper than it looks. The combat is generally well done and the story, while generic, is by no means badly written. If the game world is as big as the developers are promising, I’m sold on it.
Anticipation Rating- 8.5
Disclaimer: As is my policy, I didn’t play through the whole demo, just enough to get an idea of the game’s mechanics, basic storyline and graphics so as not to spoil it too much before I buy it.
As a bonus, here’s a list of my system’s specs:
- EVGA GTS 450 clocked at 783 Mhz
- Intel Core i3 530 @ 2.93 GHz (LGA1155)
- 4GB of Corsair DDR3 RAM
- Native resolution of 1280×1024.