by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Rising above mediocrity
Swords, monsters, and magic are hardly anything rare in the world of video games. Every year more than just a handful of games come out in the medieval-esque genre, and promise to deliver breathtaking worlds with unique combat and a story that will keep you invested from start to finish. The unfortunate truth is that 90% of these games never quite manage to live up to the lofty goals they set up for themselves. This being the case, I wasn't quite certain what to think when I first set out to write about the open-world RPG of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. However, after a bit of good old fashion research, I can say that 38 Studios' Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning really has the potential to be something special.
So far we haven't been lucky enough to see any actual gameplay from KoA:R, but the public was treated to a short trailer at SDCC 10. The trailer seems to be of your typical fantasy fair at first. Sketchy looking dungeon pit? Check. Creepy omniscient lady whispering about death? Check. Powerful looking man fighting skeleton soldiers with weapons that are way too big to be practical? Check mate. This all looked great, but it's all stuff that I've seen before. The part of the teaser trailer that caught my attention wasn't the action that took place, but instead the names that popped up. These names were R. A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane, and Ken Polston. Some of those names might not mean much to you, so let me explain. Salvatore is a New York Times best-selling fantasy author, Todd McFarlane is the comic artist responsible for the likes of Spawn among others, and Ken Polston was the lead designer on Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If that doesn't sound like a team capable of delivering a compelling epic fantasy experience, I don't know what does.
Bringing the story and action together
One thing that 38 Studios head Curt Shilling (yes, the baseball player - the studio was named after his number) is adamant about when talking about KoA:R is that he's out to fix problems that he sees with gaming. Being an avid gamer just like you and I, he feels very lucky to be in a position where he can actually do something about the things that bother him in the video game industry as a whole. One of those problems is the lack of focus placed on story in many games. By looking at games such as Bioshock and Mass Effect, we can see that every year video game stories are getting better and better. However, for every Red Dead Redemption or Enslaved, there's a dozen games who seem to only put a story in as an afterthought. This certainly doesn't seem like it will be the case here, as Salvatore has written a 10,000 year history for the universe at hand, from which the specific story of the game was picked. This history will not only serve KoA:R, but future games set in the same world.
However, as we all know, this might not be enough. A game can have the best story around, but if the gameplay isn't there, the game still won't be fun to play. Luckily for us all, Shilling seems to have a unique vision for how he wants KoA:R to play. Games like Oblivion are known for breathtaking landscapes and epic tales, but don't always have the most fast-paced or action-oriented combat. Conversely, action games such as the God of War series that do feature heart-pumping combat normally don't have huge worlds to explore on scale with modern RPGs. Shilling wants to blend these two elements together, creating a game that is both truly epic in scale and in combat. This might turn some people off of the game, as I'm sure that some gamers don't want their epic RPG to have lightning fast combat, and I'm sure some action game fans would like to stick to a more linear experience. I think, however, that the important thing is that this gameplay style is something that the creators have immense and genuine passion about. Passion can't guarantee a good game, but it's certainly a good place to start.
Beyond the horizon
So, with a tentative Fall 2011 release date, were still going to have to wait a while to see if Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be worth popping into our 360s, PS3s, or PCs. Until we see some actual gameplay, it's impossible to know if it will deliver on any or all of Shilling's lofty promises. 38 Studios has definitely assembled a team with enough talent to do something special. The minds at work certainly have enough passion to fuel the most epic of games. Overall, we can say that if everything comes together, gamers will be treated to the holy grail of all video games: fun.