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LIKE SO MANY long-form fantasy RPGs, the troubles afflicting the inhabitants of Amalur can all be blamed on the actions of a single mad gnome. Stupid gnomes.
This time one of them has decided to build a device called the Well of Souls to bring people back from the dead. You are its first and last success. It’s conveniently exploding when you wake up, so your first task in this combat-heavy third-person adventure is to escape the collapsing caverns that house the device before striking out into the Faelands, an idyllic land under threat from a bonkers elfin king and the dark god he’s trying to summon.
There are a few problems to deal with before you can consider saving the realm. Returning from the dead has consequences—being alive when you shouldn’t has supposedly jolted your character out of the grooves of fate, giving you the ability to change the fate of those around you. In theory, at least.
Spiny-toothed lizard vs. giant warhammer. No contest
In reality, at points in the story you’re told that dicing up murderous creatures has saved the lives of those they were “destined” to kill, but these moments are entirely dictated by the plot. Your ability to mess with fate never has any real impact on your adventuring.
While you can’t actually wreak havoc on the natural order, your supposed ability to do so attracts the interest of the great and powerful. It’s not long before you’re recruited by the High King of Summer, the leader of the good Fae, and sent off on a journey east to the crystal palace built by the evil King of Winter, leader of the bad Fae, to thwart his crazy plan.
Getting to him will take a long, long time. Your quest will take you through a series of wide open zones, each of which contains a central hub town. These vary from small clusters of huts to small forts, and all contain half a dozen villagers standing under yellow exclamation marks, ready to send you on quests to slay monsters or retrieve valuable items. You can choose to follow the main quest strand, which will lead you on a linear path through the Faelands, or you can linger and take your pick from a number of dull side quests. Alternatively, you can join one of Amalur’s five factions and complete their individual storylines for greater rewards.
Whatever you decide to do, it will involve hitting a lot of monsters, and hitting monsters is what Amalur does best.
MIGHT AND MAGIC
You can gradually unlock three skill trees as you slay foes and complete quests. Might will give you more attacks with longswords, greatswords and 5-foot mallets. The Finesse tree will let you sneak more effectively, and make you more efficient with knives. The Sorcery tree will unlock some powerful spells and increase your damage with chakrams: sharp circular boomerangs.
You can specialize in sneaking, smashing, or spellcasting by equipping the relevant destiny card. These will further boost relevant skills, increasing melee damage if you’re a fighter and improving your mana pool as a spellcaster. It’s a flexible system—you can visit NPCs to reset skill points and equip a different destiny card to change your specialty. As you grow more powerful, you’ll unlock dual-class destinies that let you wield a wider range of weapons more effectively.
Amalur’s environments look good but never feel like anyone actually lives there.
Amalur’s willingness to let you try out all its toys is one of its best points. All of its weapons are fun to play with, and high-level magic can be supremely satisfying.
You’ll commonly fight groups of half a dozen enemies. Weapon swings are tied to the left mouse button, and special abilities like spells to the right. The latter can be switched by selecting from a taskbar. Judicious amounts of rolling and blocking are needed to dodge attacks and set up combos. With a few skill points in the right tree, melee weapons gain charged-up heavy blows and new combos from rolling and blocking stances.
As a longsword specialist we’d commonly knock a foe flying with an upsweep, keep them in the air with a series of slashes, and then spike them with a magical ground stomp. If you prefer a more acrobatic style, Faeblades can be wielded with blinding speed. Magic is more sluggish, but deadly. Mystic staffs give off waves of elemental energy when swung. These keep enemies at bay as you wind up devastating shock spells to finish them off. Advanced spells can draw all of the enemies in the room into one place—the perfect precursor to the awesome meteor strike spell, which drops a great hunk of space junk on their heads.
Not just a goodsword. That there’s a greatsword.
If you get into trouble, you can activate your fate gauge, which slowly fills with each kill. When the gauge is full you can slow time to obliterate a field of enemies in moments, and execute the last one for a big XP boost. It’s a good way to win tricky boss fights.
Stealth is comparatively weak. You can adopt a sneaky stance to creep through dungeons unseen. As you tiptoe close to enemies, their awareness meter will fill up. If it maxes out, they’ll attack. With enough skill invested in sneaking, you can get close enough to execute enemies with a showy stab. It works as it should, but sneaking around picking off enemies just isn’t as fun as dropping a meteor on them.
There are a few niggles. The tendency to get trapped in combos while attacks are coming in can be frustrating, as can the interruption and knockback attacks that some enemies will constantly spam your way. For the most part, it’s a decent, satisfying combat system, but alone it can’t sustain Amalur for the 30-plus hours it takes to finish.
KLEPTO AND SON
Expect to find a lot of loot as you wander the world. Every road is lined with flowers that can be harvested to make potions. Almost every enemy drops loot, and there are chests everywhere.
The constant trickle of new armor and weaponry is addictive for a while, and there are plenty of ways to tweak your character for combat, but this can’t spice up the bland world you’ll be fighting through, or add any depth to your story.
Amalur’s Rogue skill tree is for the fast, the sneaky, and those who love inflicting poison damage.
For a character whose alleged talent is the ability to change your own fate, you’ll be making few decisions with any consequences. Big decisions at the end of faction quest lines offer the illusion of choice without changing the world in a meaningful way. Beyond wiping out its wildlife, there aren’t many opportunities to leave your mark on Amalur, and there’s something rigid and mechanical about the way its quests are dished out in clumps. We found ourselves clearing zones as we would in an MMO, turning in batches of completed missions as fast as possible so we could quickly move on and see something new.
The idea of playing a character free from fate is a nice one, but the straightforward quests, predictable cartoon character design and a lack of choice in quests stop Amalur from fashioning these ideas into an absorbing and coherent world.
BUFF AND GRIND
Kingdoms of Amalur is just too long. With a faster main quest and the filler quests removed, the scenery would change faster and progression would feel less like a grind. Extra care could have been given to making each area feel more interesting instead. The verdant forests and sunny plains are pretty, but always derivative. It doesn’t feel like a place where people live, and there’s no sense of discovery to exploring its lands. If you’re looking to hit things, level up, and manage a steady stream of loot drops then Amalur delivers, but with Skyrim and The Witcher 2 still fresh in our minds, Amalur’s world, story, and inhabitants can’t compete. It’s good fun for a while, but ultimately forgettable.
Satisfying combat system; interesting story—if you can find it.
Too long; too much filler; unmemorable.