Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
It's nearly impossible to create a new IP without people comparing the game to other games. Kingdoms of Amalur's inspirational games are evident throughout the game. Yet it is able to maintain its own separate identity.
As you start Kingdoms of Amalur, you get a short introduction to the world of Amalur and of the struggle between the Tuatha Deohn and the Younger Races. During the opening sequence you are able to choose between 1 of 4 character races (Almain, Varani, Ljosalfar or Dokkalfar) as well as choosing the sex of your character and your name. Then your lifeless corpse is dumped down a shaft with the rest of the failures.
You awaken on a pile of corpses and it's soon evident that the place is under attack. The Well of Souls serves as the basic tutorial portion of the game. You are able to loot a few items (weapons, armor, and gold) as you progress this stage. As you progress through the Well of Souls you meet with one of the two Gnomes from the opening sequence who serves as your guide and answers a few basic questions about where and what is going on.
As you head to meet the Gnome responsible for your resurrection, you are introduced to the basic archetype classes: Warrior, Mage, and Rogue. As you come across a couple of basic weapons (sword, bow, daggers, shield, staff) you'll get a brief introduction to ranged attacks, blocking, magic and sneak attacks.
You can do a variety of attacks on the fly so to speak. You can swing your sword; tap the Triangle for an attack with your secondary weapon, followed up by a magical attack. You are able to roll to evade attacks and use the shield to block and parry. It is very easy to mix up your attacks and combat flows very smoothly. There is no target lock on ability so you need to make sure you line yourself up for ranged or magical attacks
At the end of the tutorial section you are introduced the Gnome responsible for the Well of Souls. Formorous Hughes answers a few questions but you are interrupted before everything is made clear. He tells you to meet up with a friend of his and to stay alive.
Once you exit the Well of Souls and meet up with the Fate Weaver you were sent to meet by Formorous Hughes you are introduced to another combat aspect called the Reckoning. As you kill opponents you gain Threads of Fate. When the Fate meter is maxed out you can enter a special mode called Reckoning. This will slow time, enhance your attacks and then you can perform a special move that will unravel the threads of fate of the opponents around you for bonus XP.
As you level up, you have access to 2 different sets of skill points. The first set of skills affect non-combat abilities. Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Detect Hidden, Dispelling, Lock picking, Mercantile, Persuasion, Sneak and Sage craft. You get one point per level to distribute amongst these skills. The second sets of skills are combat related and fall under 3 categories: Might, Finesse and Sorcery. You get 3 skill points per level for combat related skills.
While the basic archetypes are present in Kingdoms of Amalur, you have access to a unique Destiny system, which sets it apart from other RPGs like WoW, Fable, Final Fantasy and Elder Scrolls. Fable and the Elder Scrolls series both say you can play any way you want, and you can, but you're limited. Once you make your choices, you can't go back.
In Kingdoms you can develop one play style and if you decide later in the game you want to try another play style, you don't have to create an entirely new character. You can spend gold to have a Fate Weaver to reset all of your abilities (combat and non-combat related) and you can respec your character. This is similar to WoW, but in WoW you are still limited to your basic job class.
Destinies allow you tailor your combat abilities to either a straight Archetype (Rogue, Warrior or Mage) or create a multi-class hybrid. As you learn skills from each of the 3 combat styles (Might, Finesse or Sorcery) you can unlock new Destinies. Each Destiny card offers bonuses. If you stick with one straight Archetype, you'll unlock the more powerful abilities earlier and receive hefty bonuses to your key stats. But with hybrid Destinies, you're able to unlock new unique abilities such as short distance warping (or teleporting) with the Arcanist Destiny or converting 25% of damage received as Mana with the Guardian Destiny.
As is common in RPGs today, each town or stronghold you come across serves as a basic hub for quests and shops. Not every area has access to everything you'll need. Some areas might have just a Blacksmith forge and an Alchemist lab but not a Sage craft table. Some areas do feature all 3.
Item creation comes in 3 basic types: Blacksmithing, Alchemy and Sage craft. What you can create with each depends on how many skill points you've invested in each ability. The more points you place in each, the more reagents you can use in item creation. Up to 5 different reagents can be combined in the Alchemy and Blacksmithing item creation. Your skill level also impacts your ability to find raw ingredients in the field.
The world of Amalur is vast. You can easily spend dozens of hours exploring the bright beautiful scenery, gathering ingredients for potions, killing monsters for loot (or for scared townsfolk) and delving into the various dungeons. Unlike most Western RPGs Amalur uses more than a half dozen colors. In some ways it feels more like Japanese developed RPG (if you look at the scenery.)
Everything up to this point has been great. It's a fun game. Combat's easy to get into and puts most Western RPGs to shame in this department. It's beautiful. Yet there's something missing from Amalur. A strong story.
With Western RPGs you usually come across either a game with strong game play but weak story lines or a strong story with weak game play. Unfortunately Kingdoms of Amalur falls a bit short on the story side.
Overall I enjoyed the story. R. A. Salvatore wrote a 10,000 year history and laid the foundation for Kingdoms of Amalur. He spent about 5 years working on this mega millennia history. After that the game's actual story was written by teams of writers who came up with the storyline and the quests.
If you are familiar with R. A. Salvatore's writings you can easily spot his influences, but you can also tell that he did not write the story. The story is one of your more basic story clichés. Evil Ruler bent on world domination. You are the amnesiac hero. In Kingdom's defense, their twist on the amnesiac hero is new. Being brought back to life by the Well of Souls by a Gnome bent on reversing death is not exactly a common idea.
As I explored the game, did the quests and the main story line, I never really felt like there was a real connection to the story line. It was there. It was good. But it wasn't a "suck you in" type story either.
On an ending note, there was the occasional graphical hiccup. Over the course of my play, I never saw more than a brief hiccup every several hours and never more than about 2 seconds. I personally never experienced any sound issues.
Presentation: 9/10 Overall presentation is a pleasure to play and to view. Game play is fun, fluid and fast. Graphics are beautiful. Voice acting is good.
Graphics: 10/10 Vibrant colors, gorgeous scenery, movement of the water is natural looking, character models are interesting.
Sound: 8/10 Solid game soundtrack. Good solid voice acting. Nothing horrendous, but nothing to stand out either.
Game play: 10/10 Very enjoyable game play. Combat is intuitive, fluid, fun and fast. Skills and Ability trees are solid experiences. The Destinies system allows you to change your play style easily. Nothing feels stilted or puppet like.
Story: 8/10 Decent story, but not great.
Overall Score: 9 out of 10