Curt Schilling, former star pitcher of the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox, never shied away from competition. Now retired, Schilling and his 38 Studios look to make their mark on the competitive fantasy RPG market with its initial offering, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Lucky fans got a chance to see the first gameplay footage of Reckoning at PAX East in the form of a 40-minute demonstration.
In humorous fashion, Schilling opened up the presentation by asking the audience if they had ever bought a game that “sucked.” After the vociferous response from the audience, he responded that he had as well. Schilling then spoke about how excited he was about the work his team had done on Reckoning and that he was very excited to finally show it off to the gaming public. Before turning over the panel to Ian Frazier, the lead designer on the title, he encouraged PAX attendees to get excited if they saw anything they liked. Based upon what was shown, the audience had plenty of reasons to cheer.
If the level of talent alone attached to this project could guarantee a hit game, Reckoning would be a huge success. Legendary comic book artist Todd MacFarlane has contributed to the art style and animation of the characters. New York Times best-selling fantasy author and creator of Drizzt Do'Urden, R.A. Salvatore, wrote 10,000 years of history for the world of Amalur to instill depth and texture to the world and to provide players with a reason to care about saving this fantasy world. Lastly, the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Ken Rolston, contributed to the game’s design.
38 Studios’ goal with Reckoning was to create a hardcore action-RPG title with a twist. The title runs on a brand new engine designed from scratch, and for a pre-alpha build, it looked incredible. The level of ornate detail seen in the background environments was amazing, especially since there was no apparent slowdown in frames during the action. 38 Studios insisted that all of the structures in the game will have meaning and a history to provide a higher level of immersion. Frazier joked that his team’s goal was to have the “best doors ever seen in a RPG” and while he was half-kidding, each door shown was a unique and highly detailed structure.
The game takes place during the “Age of Arcana,” as magic has begun to make its return. Magic is so predominant in the world that even warrior combatants possess powerful spells. In this world, players will be forced to determine their place in the face of an oncoming war. While doing so, players will explore five massive zones without loading screens while traversing within one zone.
The character creation tools shown appeared to offer a high level of customization over the face and body type of your character. So much so, that Frazier joked that you could actually make your avatar look exactly like Curt Schilling. Players will be able to pick from various races, each with their own set of bonuses, gender, and a patron god that will bestow small bonuses throughout the game.
Unlike other fantasy games, in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, players don’t initially pick a class for their character since you start the game deader than a doornail. Somehow you are brought back to life, but you don’t recall who you are, know where you are, or how you came back. As the game progresses, players will be able to select “destinies,” which allow their character to specialize in different forms of combat. How many destinies are available in Reckoning? Schilling simply stated “a lot.” Frazier then explained that, in most role-playing games, trying to be a Jack of all Trades usually results in an underpowered player. In Reckoning, hybrid classes won’t have that problem so players can create their character in the exact manner they wish.
The actual gameplay demo started from the point of the main character’s resurrection in a dungeon. The warrior protagonist grabbed a weapon from a nearby dead body and then started hacking enemies. Those looking for a strategy RPG, ala Dragon Age: Origins, should look elsewhere, because the combat is an instant gratification system where players chain attacks through button combinations. However, players will not be expected to memorize button combinations to pull off more advanced combat moves and the combat is more paced and deliberate than a simple button masher. Targeting is controlled by a “softbox” system, which will direct attacks in the direction that the player is facing.
The main character will have access to two weapons types at all times with the X button accessing the primary and Y using the secondary. For the fighter/warrior build shown, a huge hammer and a sword were used in back to back attacks without any break in the action. Warrior types will also be able to equip a kite shield block and parry incoming blows. Attacking after a successful parry will result in different attack chain.
At certain points during combat, an option to perform a “fate-shift kill” appeared. These are quicktime moments that are reminiscent of those found in the God of War series. Frazier demonstrated such a move where the main character jumped in the air with his large hammer cocked back over his head while in slow motion and then he brought the thunder down on his fallen enemy, which caused quite the bloody squish.
After seeing the warrior build in action, Frazier demonstrated how the mage destiny functions in an area called the “Ruin of Urul- Tusk.” Mages are not as fragile or weak in combat as in other fantasy games. For example, mages can use magical shields to parry their enemies attacks. We saw a fire shield cause a kobold to burst on fire to dramatic effect. Additionally, mages can use weapons as well as Frazier destroyed several of his enemies by throwing fiery shakrims (circular disc weapons like that seen in Xena), which would then return back to the mage. Unlike warriors who have the ability to roll out of the way of incoming attacks, mages can teleport through their opponents and outflank them.
Of course, the mage’s main powers are magical spells and the ice and fire powers shown in several fights against kobolds were visually impactful and rewarding. We also saw the mage “mark” several enemies and then cast a spell to blow them up simultaneously. For the coup de grace, Frazier showed off a mage AOE meteor attack, which easily cleared a room of kobolds in explosive fashion.
Enemy AI appeared to have received a lot of thought as groups of enemies worked together in an attempt to take out the hero. Rather than attack one at a time like a bad kung fu movie, monsters will attempt to flank and outmaneuver the player or will perform a more powerful group attack.
One feature that really excited the audience on hand was the inventory system, which can be handled without exiting the main action. Picking up a new item will show you how your currently equipped item compares and you’ll be immediately able to equip the new item if desired. Don’t need the loot you picked up? You can designate it as “junk” and during your next visit to a shopkeeper, you’ll be able to sell all your junk through one-button press. For those who love to heavily analyze their equipment, no worries. You’ll apparently be able to use a traditional inventory screen if you prefer.
Other game details mentioned:
- Don’t expect multiplayer. This is a single-player experience only. A Kingdoms of Amalur MMO codenamed Project Copernicus will be released in the future.
- You’ll be able to fast travel to locations already visited.
- Like Diablo and Borderlands, there will be approximately 2 million randomly generated forms of loot and hundreds of handcrafted unique items. Set item bonuses can also be obtained. No word if players can equip the Legendary Bloody Sock of Beantown.
- The world has a day/night schedule and the characteristics of equipped weapons may change during these cycles. Additionally, each NPC will have their own daily schedule.
- There is a crafting system that allows players to create magical gems and to bind gems to weapons or armor.
- Players will be able to wander off “into the weeds” to discover treasures and other items of interest so that the game feels more open and real.
- The main character will be presented with morality choices in the game that could affect his or her relationship with a specific NPC. However, there is no overall morality system.
- Unlike Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the enemies will not auto-level to that of the player. Each area has its own designated difficulty level (huge cheers from the audience upon this announcement).
Schilling ended the panel by saying that, “we expect this game to kick ass,” and that he was, “very confident in what [he had] seen.” Schilling acknowledged that the fantasy genre is not an original one and that Reckoning needs to do something special to separate itself from rest of the competition. From what was shown at PAX East, Reckoning certainly looks to be off to a promising start.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is scheduled for a early 2012 release on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.