Founded by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, developer 38 Studios has come a long way in its short seven-year life, landing its first title, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, on our list for this year's for this year's most anticipated games of 2012. However, just a week and a half ahead of its February 7th release, the fantasy action RPG appears to be playing a new kind of hardball with gamers and its industry peers.
In lieu of Bethesda's runaway success, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 38 Studios' subsidiary Big Huge Games wants to disseminate their opinion that Kingdoms of Amalur has a whole lot more to offer. One of the game's lead developers (and former Oblivion and Morrowind lead), Ken Rolston, chatted with GameFront recently and declared that Kingdoms is raising the bar for combat in RPGs.
"What makes Reckoning differ from Skyrim?... Reckoning has the best, coolest, fastest-paced, most tactile and silly-exciting fantasy combat of ANY video RPG. The pace, fluid movement, tactical richness, and physical and visual theater of fantasy combat has always seemed the weakest feature of video RPGs, and Reckoning offers a fresh new answer in that department.
Reckoning [also has a] more vivid, colorful art style, and easy-to-pick up, faster-paced gameplay in general."
Rolston didn't spend the entire interview flinging Elven daggers; he would go on to compare the two games in several lights. However, he did conclude by saying that Kingdoms, "tries to take a fresh look at the RPG genre."
Coincidentally, this wasn't the only instance where Big Huge Games attempted to instigate a staff-measuring contest with The Elder Scrolls. Lead designer Ian Frazier spoke to CVG in a long and thorough interview about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and revealed why he thinks Ken Rolston might have left The Elder Scrolls franchise.
"Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, they're all great games, and I think they're progressively better, but they're all the same game. It's not like they're radically changing with time. I think he wanted to do something new.
What can we do to take RPGs in a new direction? With Reckoning, there's a lot of things we've upped the bar on, but the really exciting one was combat: he was just excited to do combat well which, frankly, they didn't do in the Elder Scrolls series. They have a lot of other strengths, but combat isn't really their thing."
Combat in Skyrim (or the rest of The Elder Scrolls series, for that matter) has certainly shown room for improvement in the eyes of many gamers, but it's a bold proclamation to pan it altogether. We detailed a lot of the combat in Kindgoms during our PAX East preview of the game, and The Elder Scrolls it is not; the fighting style is orchestrated around button press combinations and properly timing gestures to initiate more lethal salvos. That said, fans of Fable and God of War would instantly recognize the formula, so whether or not Kingdoms can "take RPGs in a new direction" remains to be seen.
One new direction that's not just limited to RPGs but is featured prominently in Kingdoms of Amalur is the ever-controversial online pass. While we previously reported that the Mass Effect 3 demo would unlock some nifty N7 duds for Kingdoms, Destructoid has now discovered that the pass is needed to download it. Even worse, the so-called "online" pass is required for seven full quests in the offline single-player storyline.
This is probably the appropriate juncture to mention that Kingdoms is being published by Electronic Arts. The company has incorporated the pass into almost of all of their games, including their sports franchises and blockbuster releases like Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3.
The concept was originally devised for games that offered some semblance of a multiplayer component - and even then, it's been met with harsh criticism. When a single player game like Kingdoms of Amalur tacks one on (a la Batman: Arkham City), that's not going to separate it from The Elder Scrolls series in the way their development team has recently expressed. If anything, it will make us yearn for the days of horse armor all over again.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning releases on February 7, 2012 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
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