Kingdoms of Amalur has to be one of my most anticipated games this year. Needless to say when the demo came out on Xbox Live I snapped it up and impatiently waited for the two gigabyte download to complete. Check out our hands-on of the demo.
Whenever you begin your time in the land of Amalur you’ll be treated to a bit of story about the state of things. The basic gist is some powerful Fae, usually peaceful and good, have turned into baddies and are trying to wipe the land of mortals. Your character starts this endeavor dead, which is not a place an adventurer usually begins. As a race of short scholars, essentially gnomes, kart you to your final resting place they pull back the veil on your body. At this point you’ll dive into the character creator and customize your hero which you’ll be hundreds of hours with. There are four total races though it basically boils down to two with different visual differences.
The first two races are human for all intents and purposes, though one has a Norse feel and the other is more your standard variety hero templates. Also available are two elvish looking races whose names escape me at the moment. Basically one race is your standard elf and the other is a blue skinned (Drow *cough*) elven looking species from the tundra. Each race has a nice variety of faces, hairstyles, and scars to add to your character before his epic quest. I settled with a standard elf, but for awesome factor I added a nice beard. Shortly after, I was looking at my recently created hero on the meat cart just before they dumped me on a pile of bodies.
Of course this demo would be really lame if you actually remained dead so your character suddenly comes to life and from there you’re off on answers and a whirlwind adventure. I made my way through an opening sequence where they ease you into your different choices in the game. This is done pretty well as you have a chance to try on the armor, moves and different advantages of each play style before you’re ever asked to pick one. I dabbled with a staff I found, twin daggers and a standard sword before I choose to remain with the agility and stealth kills of the twin daggers. After about 30 minutes of play, give or take, your dropped out into the world on your own and told that you have 45 minutes to play in whatever manner suits you. During this time you can complete quests, craft, hunt wild animals, or generally just go kill stuff. It’s completely up to you and this freedom is the reason I’ve played the demo 3 times already. The whole thing from start to finish took me nearly two hours each time which is exceptional for a demo.
One of my favorite things about the game was vastly apparent when you first step out of the starting “dungeon”. Most western RPG’s lately seem to be a study of bland greys and browns with little color in between. Kingdoms of Amalur in comparison features a more vibrant art style with bold splashes of color everywhere. The glade you step out into is absolutely gorgeous and seems to be filled to the brim with plant life. It makes you eager to explore and that is just what I did.
I completed as many quests as I could in the time allotted and leveled up a few times. Leveling up is a mostly standard RPG affair as you have 3 overall trees to choose from with focus on magic, might, and finesse. In addition, you have fate cards you can choose that boost a particular area. These cards are switchable as you level up and the skills are as well. Since your character lives in the world where he is the only character that’s fate isn’t written in stone it makes sense you can experiment with play styles, or mix and match to make your own unique class. I haven’t made it far enough in the game in my 45 minutes to see switching skills but I have tried out each tree and all of them are fun, balanced, and unique.
The combat itself is very tight and controls well. With the touch of a button you can switch between magic, primary weapon, and a secondary weapon. In a gaming world where Skyrim is almost universally panned for it’s lackluster combat this could well give KoA the leg up on it’s competition. Before I knew it my time with Amalur was up and I was already creating another character.
The story so far seems good and there is a lot of it. Whenever your introducing somebody to a new world there is of course tons of lore and history you can wade through if you like. Crafted by a great fantasy author, RA Salvatore, the content is interesting and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the plot. My only hitch with the game was the conversations that you get into with NPCs. At times I had difficulty selecting responses as it seemed to lag a bit. In addition, I’m replaying Mass Effect right now in anticipation of the third installment and the conversations aren’t quite as dynamic as that RPG. The icing on the not so delicious conversation cake though is your hero being mute; a decision I think is a little outdated in the world of modern gaming.
It’s also worth mentioning that upon starting and completing the demo you’ll unlock items not only for KoA but also for Mass Effect 3. Whenever the Mass Effect 3 demo comes out there will be unlockables for Kingdoms of Amalur as well. This little bit of cross promotion would usually be annoying to me, but since it features the free demos of games that I already plan on buying it’s a nice bonus.
Other then the conversations everything about this game feels epic and I can’t wait to dive into this game when it releases on February 7th. If the first couple of hours are any indication we are in for quite a ride.