A lot can be done with 30 hours in The Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Factions can be betrayed, fate can be challenged, a greatsword wielding warrior can even become equally adept in the fine art of sorcery. The thing that is yet to be seen is…will you want to spend anymore time in this world?
I have yet to finish the main storyline of Amalur, but I have put every minute of 30 hours into the world. There are definitely interesting experiences to be had. All of the faction quests have highs and lows in gameplay variety, but they also each have an interesting story to tell about their place in the world of Amalur. The House of Ballads are a group of Fae that relive epochs of their ancestors by taking the place of the brethren that these ancient stories originated with. It’s an idea that could easily lose track of itself, and certainly can easily lose the player with all the talk of fate’s requirements of the Fae, but the storytelling works well enough to not go off the rails and leave the player totally missing the plot. The three other factions are equally as entertaining, even if their stories are not as tied into the overbearing presence of fate (I feel like fate was its own character in Amalur, and probably deserves to be addressed as Fate) as The House of Ballads. The Travellers (thieves guild) dealt with internal politics and a shadowy thief that shows up to feed you just enough info to keep you moving to the next big score, until you have to make a decision on who to side with. The Warsworn (fighters guild) has you chasing down leads as to why their ancient vault was ransacked, and aside from an abrupt ending, never felt like a slog. Finally the Scholar Arcania (you’d almost think these were the mages right?) has a pretty great series of fights with possessed characters that honestly reminded me of Evil Dead a bit.
Now, the reason I highlight the faction quests is because Big Huge Games got those right. There might be some kinks and a few bugs, but for the most part the quests were interesting and provided story beats that made sense, and ultimately endings that felt earned and rewarding. The problem is that it seems like none of the remaining content received this attention to detail. The world is littered, and I use littered because it’s the way too appropriate description, with quests. Right now I have two quests in the main story line to pick from, and without counting, I would say somewhere between 75 and 100 side quests and tasks. I left an obscene amount of quests untouched in the world as well. A quick scroll of the map near the Warden’s Bridge area shows 5 fluctuating exclamation points begging to be acknowledged. Sorry NPCs I’m not going to do it! It’s not that I don’t want to help…well no that’s it exactly. Far too many NPCs in Amalur have mind numbing quests (or worse, tasks) that are completed at out of the way places that faction and story quests will not take you to. This in itself is not an issue, as proven by The Elder Scrolls series. It becomes an issue because Amalur is not a world you feel the need to explore.
Amalur is truly a large world, but it’s a disheveled world. There are funnels leading you from area to area, but there is nothing helping guide you to what would be the best thing to do next. You could choose to focus solely on the story, the freedom provided certainly would allow it, that is until you enter a zone where the enemies are far too powerful for you because you did not want to spend hours collecting books, or delivering letters of introduction, or some other tedious request. Now, I have played many videogames. I have performed an insane number of fetch quests. The number of wolf pelts I provided to the citizens of Goldshire alone should keep their children’s children warm. In Amalur though, I have no incentive to help with these things. The quest log does not present you with any clue what the reward will be. How much XP? What kind of weapon? A substantial amount of gold or even gems? Who knows! So you spend time running around finding the herbs the nice lady needs to heal her daughter, and she offers…500 gold. Great, except I already have 1.7million gold pieces. It costs at least 20k gold pieces to repair my armor. I am so grateful for this 500 gold. Maybe it will get me a coffee and bagel in this fucked up economy of Amalur. And that leads to the issue of itemization.
You will have gold. There is no question about it. Every single character needs to pick up the detect hidden talents to show you the chests and hidden doors in the world, because without it you may find new gear even harder to come by. I chose to play my character as a warrior with secondary points in sorcery. Whenever I have the option of a battlemage in an RPG I usually take it, so Amalur’s freedom of choice gets plenty of credit here. I eventually picked up a longsword that on proc would steal mana. This was perfect! Now I can be relentless with my use of spells, and really enjoy myself. The problem was that I had this sword for close to 8 hours. This was not one of the epic quality named items in game either, it was a blue quality sword I bought off an innkeeper (and why are innkeepers selling weapons instead of the blacksmiths?) for a pithy. Eventually I moved into more difficult areas where the low DPS on the sword was starting to show, but with the mana stealing proc I was able to handle myself using mostly magic. I found an epic unique greatsword, and also picked up the talent to add haste to all weapon attacks. Deciding I finally needed the weapon upgrade I changed my spec to greatsword mastery (a charge of 14k gold at the Fate Weaver, a negligible dent in my at the time 2million gold pieces fortune) and went on my way to smash faces and shock asses. Except asses could not be shocked because I was now always out of mana without the proc from my old weapon to steal mana.
I reviewed my options of carrying an obscene number of potions, picking up some mana regen gems, or swapping out some gear in my stash. Unfortunately the only real option was carry as many mana potions as possible. All of the gear I had picked up with mana regen required a substantial amount of points in sorcery. Now I had something like 17 points in the tree by now, not a tiny number I thought. I would need 11 more in order to wear the least restrictive piece of mana regen gear. But gems! There are so many types of gems in the game, let me do that. The issue there is that zero items I wore had gem sockets. In fact, I think gem sockets hang out with Bigfoot and Elvis. In 30 hours I am positive I could count on one hand the number of items with slots I received from questing or drops. I grumbled my way through a dungeon, starving for mana the entire time, and found a new unique epic longsword…with mana stealing proc! My needs have been met, I can spec back to longsword and all will be right…wait. 78dps? Let me look in my bag at that old longsword I bought so many hours before and….110dps?
Wait, so this crap vendor item I bought in the first major zone is of higher quality than this unique epic sword found at the conclusion of a truly awesome battle near the end of one of the excellent faction quests? That’s just inexcusable. These weapons should scale to your level, or be of higher level requirements, something. This epic sword had a level requirement of 10. My vendor item was level requirement 12. I was level 28 when I found the epic sword. A level 10 character could not make it to this area of the game. At level 28 the enemies offered a substantial challenge (tip: like always, casters die first) so the thought that a level 10 would somehow make it that deep into the world, complete the questline opening this dungeon, and receive this sword is ludicrous. It couldn’t happen. It would be 100% impossible in this game for that to happen. The open world enemies do not scale to your level like in Skyrim. They are what they are. Items in those areas should reflect that.
I did mention a stash briefly. Please allow me one moment to comment on player housing. It is available. And it is handled poorly. I stumbled upon the first house entirely by accident. A town was infested by spiders, and through a short questline I was rewarded with a home for clearing the town of this issue. I did this somewhere around hour five of the game. Nothing led me to this town, or to the fact that housing was even available in the world. It was luck that I discovered this so I could use the stash to put the set pieces I discovered and nice gear for other talent specs. I have to believe that plenty of players never discovered this house, and went for many more hours without a place to keep extra pieces of gear, or crafting materials. The second house I received was after completing the mages guild line, and the third house I was awarded (very awkwardly) for just showing up to the capitol city of the gnomes. Neither of these houses are possibly attained by lower level characters due to the same reasons that the unique sword would not be available. There is zero argument to be had that the world needs to do a better job of letting players know what is available to them in the world, and that can be done without hand holding.
In the final hours of my time with Amalur I found myself in quite an impressive battle in a fortress under siege. It actually reminded me a bit of the EA Lord of the Rings hack and slash games, and felt like a proper battle for Minas Tirith. I inserted myself into melees that filled the halls and battlements, rescued Fae soldiers being held prisoner, fought the evil general, and broke the will of the bad guys by defeating their version of a WMD, a towering behemoth of a troll that eclipsed the castle itself. What a great sequence!
Then off to more fetch quests, and based on the size of the map left to be explored, at least another ten hours or so of content. I’m sure many more if one was to pick up all the side quests. I begrudgingly began work on these, but was quickly asked to return to a dungeon I had just cleared a few quests back. That was it for me. I decided I am done with Amalur for now, but drudging through a dungeon again after completing it not 15 minutes before was enough.
So why spend 2,000 words on what sounds like a game I was disappointed in? Because I wasn’t. Because of the promise. Because of the hope for a second chance. The game shines when it is concise and allows the quest to flow into one of the few well developed storylines. When given proper set pieces the simple and elegant combat shines, and allows your character to actually feel like the fate denying badass that everyone believes you are. Amalur has its share of problems, there is no denying it, but despite that I think any RPG fan will find a plenty to enjoy. There is most assuredly plenty of content for the dollar.