Just to be clear up front, yes, I’m going to take this opportunity to write about a game that came out five years ago. That game is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I’d been playing it on and off for three years and finally completed the final quest recently — and enjoyed nearly every moment of it. And as this blog is still in its early stages, I’m going to take a break from my writing journey to talk about this.
I remember first learning about this game when they were talking about the creative leads on it: Ken Rolston (game designer), R.A. Salvatore (author), and Todd McFarlane (artist), all well respected in their fields. While I don’t recall a ton about the marketing, I remember downloading the demo as soon as it became available, and seeing a rather expensive limited edition pre-order with a map, deck of game-relevant cards, and a small statue.
It got decent reviews, but didn’t seem to make a big splash in the gaming landscape (that is, until its lack of a big splash effectively put its developer out of business, at which point it made a big splash in the news). I think that’s a shame because it does some cool things like requiring you to read inventory descriptions to progress in quests, leaving surprises for exploring the entire map, or allowing non-social-interaction skills to be usable in conversations. I really enjoyed how this encouraged me to try new things as a player and discover what else the game could be hiding.
The story of the game begins your character coming back to life after dying in battle. In the world of the game, this means that you’re no longer bound by fate, but have the ability to shape your own destiny — and therefore the destiny of everyone/thing else, too. With this new power, it falls on you to turn the tide of war as dark elves invade your land. Of course, this is just your main quest. The game has 250+ (!) side and faction quests, with a variety of lengths. It’s enormous.
Even though the story itself is pretty linear, the game uses its emphasis on destiny to acknowledge your choices at key points. The coolest part of this is in a feature called “Twists of Fate” which mechanically give you different skills, but also serve as a record of the feats you accomplished and the choices you made. These, coupled with the “Destinies” you unlock (by leveling up and assigning points into Might, Finesse, and Sorcery abilities) help make your character feel very unique. And they all have really cool artwork.
There were a few issues like the occasionally uncooperative camera, irregularly occurring glitch, or a criminally small inventory for a game that throws so much loot at you, but overall I had a really fun time playing the game. Nowadays I imagine you can get it (and a couple DLCs) for pretty cheap on PC and the last generation of consoles. And if you like fun, somewhat experimental open-world RPGs (and don’t mind spreading a game over a long period of playtime), I recommend that you do.
Those are my main thoughts as a player, but as a writer/creator (to bring this back for a moment), what did I think? I still really liked it. Small things like granting experience points for finding new locations or interacting with bits of lore drove home the idea that this game is about more than combat. And that’s what I’d like to capture with any (interactive) fiction I create. I wouldn’t want to just reward the action, but the experience of exploring and discovering the world in a variety of ways. Easy to say, difficult to accomplish. But I think KoA:R offers a good example of how it can be done.