Into the Steam Backlog: Kingdoms of Amalur

I’m working reeeeallly hard to tear myself away from Kingdoms of Amalur long enough to stretch my out-of-shape writing muscles.

(Technically Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning but the “:” is highly unnecessary given the franchise’s tragic standalone game fate. Then again, abbreviating to KOA:R prevents all sorts of confusion with campground chains.)

As if I wasn’t already struggling to write about games these days – I have no regrets walking away from social gaming but single player adventures are way less exciting to share – KOA (:R) is huge, has just the right amount of grinding (sweet spot juuuust between “not enough” and “what’s the point?” and is so ridiculously and unexpectedly fun that I find myself thinking “I could dust off the blog… OR! I could do ONE MORE QUEST!”

Kingdoms of Amalur: It’s not cutting edge, but it’s pretty.

For background info, it’s the usual story of I bought the game during a Steam sale. Black Friday I think. I can’t remember what I paid, but it was a good deal. Especially since, unlike most Steam purchases, I’m actually playing the game and staying focussed requires no effort on my part.

I had heard of it before. It made headlines a few years back, though it was less for its contribution to the industry and more for the unfortunate bankruptcy it inflicted on its creators. Flashback to the era of gaming companies racing to birth the “WoW killer” (which I always thought was stupid, but then again, for all my decade of serious WoW playing, I despise other people in my games and don’t care for MMOs so I’m kinda biased. I suppose it’s better than today’s trend of thinly veiled micro-transaction storefronts masquerading as games.) 38 Studios jumped into the race, ran out of money, wrapped up their MMO as a single player game, defaulted on their loan payment and crashed out of existence. The game got decent reviews but didn’t sell well, and when you play it you completely understand.

My memory circa 2012, the year it was released, is a little foggy but I feel like this is a game that plays better now as nostalgia fodder than it did as a new release.

It was came out early that year, a few months after giants Skyrim and SW:TOR and a few months before equally giant Mass Effect 3. There were other big games around the time, but those are the three I’ve played and they target a pretty similar demographic to KOA. And, poor KOA, didn’t perfect exploration and open world the way Skyrim had, the writing wasn’t as solid as SW:TOR and, well, you can’t really compete with the final installment of a beloved series in any circumstance, but compared to Mass Effect 3, the story is shallow and the graphics are shit.

So KOA is hardly the only game to do this, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. Dark to be edgy? Trashy but forgivable. So dark you can’t see anything? WHYYYYYYYY! And this is with brightness turned all the way up.

But played as an “old game” nowadays, it scratches the classic RPG itch I didn’t know I had. I’m constantly reminded of my first love (or at least one of my first loves) Might and Magic VI, but with smoother combat, better inventory management (not perfect by any means, I NEVER SAID PERFECT, but better), good voice acting (I hear Cullen’s voice everywhere, I can’t complain!), decent writing, less weird story. You can forgive the shitty graphics because old game! You can live with the bugs because, hey, unlike my other vintages games, it doesn’t crash every 15 minutes. The game-play is brilliantly flexible, one of my favorites ever. Possibly my favorite ever. I started off thinking I’d play a mage, then I ended up in warrior style and eventually settled as an uncommitted stabby, creepy rogue. I swap my weapons around by rolling my mouse wheel and I use all 12 of my thumb buttons. I don’t know if I’d want this in a modern game but in an “old game” the freedom is the best! And all the skills, talents trees, stats, collectibles! I feel like the game was designed by people who genuinely love old style RPGs yet totally respect modern gamers’ attention spans.

Oh, and there’s none of that dated D&D style rolling based combat. I know there’s still a market for that (they come out of the shadows when they overhear me complaining about I never finished SWOTOR 2 because I hated the combat so much – also Redbeard at Parallel Context even wrote a guide to it a few days ago in the Baldur’s Gate context – worth checking out if, like me, that style of play doesn’t come naturally) but, me, I sing high praise at whatever gives me that old RPG feel without that detested randomness.

Unlike some recent releases which may or may not have been flops for their creators (*cough* MEA *cough* Destiny 2 *cough*) you can totally tell where the money went. The scale of the game is HUGE. I don’t know if it’s Skyrim huge (it’s been awhile since I’ve played Skyrim) but I think the size is comparable. Yet each of the hundreds of NPCs has a story, a personality and a quality voice actor. The Amalur lore is interesting, Dragon Age Thedas interesting (clarification: the lore, not the story itself!). I hadn’t even made it out of the first zone and my mind was blown by how much TLC was poored into sweet Kingdoms of Amalur. The investment was probably misplaced: I think depth over sprawl could have secured Kingdoms of Amalur legendary game status and thinking about it makes me sad.

There you have it though, Kingdoms of Amalur (:Reckoning): a sad casualty of the WoW killer race, but still worth a few 100 hours of playtime. Would recommend. Am going back to playing.

Isn’t my character just adorable in her tribute to Mass Effect armour?

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3 Comments on “Into the Steam Backlog: Kingdoms of Amalur”

  1. Redbeard Says:

    Heh. I realize that the D&D style of combat isn’t for everybody, and it was more suited for pencil and paper RPGs anyway, but yeah, I get what you’re saying.

    There’s a lot to be said for the more modern MMOs/RPGs that utilize the advanced capabilities of PCs to determine hits and misses, and getting rid of the D&D round system is step in the right direction. But for me, BG’s implementation of AD&D 2e rules scratches that itch without having to deal with getting a bunch of people together for an RPG session. (I’ve already got that, so it’s nice to play at my own pace.)

    I may have to check out KOA just to see how it is. I figure that with Marvel Heroes already having shut down and I can’t see Age of Conan lasting more than a year or two, I should keep my eyes open for good games to try. I’ve got Divinity in my “to be played” pile, and KOA looks like it scratches the same itch.

    • Ophelie Says:

      Oh nooo I actually love that you wrote a guide to Baldur’s Gate! I linked it because I hadn’t seen anything, you know, helpful about that style of play in as long as I can remember. I’m constantly being told “You’d love the story in Baldur’s Gate! Oh wait, you couldn’t stand the combat in SWOTOR 2. Nevermind then.” Baldur’s Gate is regarded as one of those games with legendary status, so if you can help people like me who’d enjoy the game but are put off by the mechanics, I’m 100% supportive!

      I think it’s because I’ve always played games that were mostly execution based. Or games forgiving enough that you could have a smooth run if your execution was decent. I hit a wall with SWOTOR 2 where the EXACT same execution on the same fight could result in me insta-losing, or a long drawn out fight, or me insta-winning. *brain explodes* (For some reason the original SWOTOR didn’t get to me. I think the randomness was only apparent early on whereas in SWOTOR 2, no amount of gear and abilities make the game any less frustrating.)

      Ed actually says almost the same thing as you about D&D mechanics. He plays Baldur’s Gate a lot (and spends hours rolling his characters, much to my bafflement). When we talk about it, he’ll say that he actually enjoys it because of the D&D he played when he was younger but can see how someone (like me) who never played D&D wouldn’t understand the appeal. Which makes me want to encourage my (currently non-existent) children to get into D&D at a young age. It seems to help develop patience (which is a neglected stat in todays fast-fast-fast environment).

      KOA plays like a single player MMO, so it depends how important the social aspect of MMOs matters to you. I never got around to saying it in the original post, but it reminds me a lot of Burning Crusade era WoW – more convenient than Vanilla, but still lots of freedom when it comes to building your character. So if that’s the itch that needs scratching, I highly recommend it!

      I hear great things about Divinity too. I’ve watched Ed played it, though, and I’m turned off by the top-down playstyle so I never wanted to play it myself. I just can’t get into top-down games. I’m also not sure if that’s the game where you have to play with spreadsheets because the tooltips are wrong… There is a top-down game I watch Ed play sometimes where he has to imput all his gear into a spreadsheet to figure out what it does, I don’t know if that’s Divinity 2 or something else. Anyway, I tell him it looks awful but he swears it’s great.

      EDIT: Asked Ed about it, Path of Exile is the game with the bad tooltips but that is otherwise a lot of fun (apparently)

      • Redbeard Says:

        Believe me, I’m not offended or anything. It’s more that RPGs on the PC have advanced to the state where D&D mechanics are obsolete, and in its own way that’s a very good thing.

        That isometric look was the best way at the time to handle a multiple “person” party, because the computing and graphics capability that you’d find in MMOs such as Everquest and WoW –and yet still look pretty– was years away.

        For people who were into D&D –and Forgotten Realms– when they were younger, Baldur’s Gate definitely scratches that itch. My D&D teeth were cut on Greyhawk, which predated Forgotten Realms as a setting by several years, but even I say “Hey, that’s Elminster!” (think Gandalf + Yoda and you get the idea) when I see him in-game. The one thing I’m eternally grateful for is that Bioware didn’t recruit the creator of Baldur’s Gate, Ed Greenwood, to write the story. Ed’s writing style is…. well… it kind of sucks. Let’s just say that Forgotten Realms has stood the test of time in spite of Ed than because of him.

        As for KOA, it sounds right up my alley. I’m personally waiting for Vanilla WoW to make a return, so in the meantime I’ll be happy with games that scratch that itch.

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