So, now that I've introduced the concept behind Kingdoms of Amalur, let's talk about the demo for Reckoning, the single-player game set in this franchise.
I've said a lot that I'm a big fan of fantasy RPGs. This is understating the case a bit. I've been a fan of them going all the way back to the "Gold Box" series of SSI D&D games on the Commodore 64 and third generation IBM PC. Yeah. I've been gaming a long time. ;-) Still, my favorites in this genre have been first person perspective games, starting with the old Might and Magic series and then with Daggerfall, which started my long love affair with The Elder Scrolls. Coincidentally, these games tend to be open world.
Still, this type of game hasn't been as popular in the marketplace as third-person isometric perspective RPGs. The champions of this type of RPG have been Diablo, Baldur's Gate, and Neverwinter Nights. With Skyrim released late last year (and no doubt soon to have a number of expansions) and Diablo III to get a release date any moment now, we're going to have the latest contest to see which one does better in the market. Hint: Diablo III is almost certainly going to win, thanks in large part to its multi-player component. Coincidentally, though, these games tend to be linear world, though some -- like Neverwinter Nights -- throw a certain amount of open-world content in.
So, the first question to be answered is where does Reckoning fall in this contest? The answer is it's a third-person isometric perspective game... sort of.
But let's take a step back. My favorite types of games are open world RPGs, RTS, 4X strategic combat games like Sins of a Solar Empire, and tactical games like the Silent Hunter series of submarine simulations. Based on this, it's no surprise I got into EVE Online. In the middle for me are FPS and vehicle games. My least favorite types of games are fighting games, tunnel shooters, and platformers (though I thought Braid was brilliant). I feel these last three types of games lack depth. So again based on this, it's no surprise I got into EVE Online. ;-)
The typical mechanic of RPGs is that you choose your character's race (and associated advantages). Then you choose and start to level a class. And then you purchase items, spells, or advantages that this race and class can use to advantage. They tend to be tactical games in that a fight is won or lost at the preparation phase, and depends on how well you prepared the right weapons, spells, potions, or whatever to win a particular engagement. There's also a certain amount of trial and error involved as you determine what that correct strategy is. Still, once you start applying the correct strategy, you find that it quickly overwhelms your opponent.
The typical mechanic of a fighting game or platformer is that you learn combinations of key-presses (combos), moves and counter-moves, and potentially apply quick-time events to win a fight. Preparation needed by the player is minimal or non-existent. The key component of victory is learning the tells that announce that your opponent is going to use a particular offense or defense. Once you learn these tells, you apply timing and quick reflexes to apply your attacks at the right time to inflict damage.
Granted, a certain amount of this creeps into the most tactical RPG. For instance, in Skyrim, nearly all flying dragons will hover for a bit before launching their characteristic breath attack. This gives the player sufficient time to raise their shield, find cover, or prepare some other defense. But a fighting game or bosses in platformers will revolve around this mechanic. Your opponent doesn't much care if you're using a close-up or ranged attack, or if you've consumed a potion of fire resistance or whatever.
With all this in mind, if you haven't tried the Reckoning demo yourself, here's a game-play video that you can check out.
You'll notice the third-person isometric perspective right away. But then you'll start to notice other things as well. Like combos. Like quick-time events. Like the very fast and fluid combat. Play a typical RPG of either standard type and the combatants tend to be fairly static. There's a bit of tactical movement here and there, but that's it. Playing the demo of Reckoning, I was constantly surprised at how much and how fast I was moving around. It was completely different from any other RPG I'd ever played. I still chose race, class, and items, but Reckoning is a bit more coy with these as well. These concepts are de-emphasized.
Get into a boss fight and the elements of a fighting game come to the forefront. The bosses have tells and platformer-style area attacks to avoid or counter, and your reflexes become much more important. Granted, there's a certain amount of pre-fight strategy that you can employ. There are a few potions and the like in the game. But these elements are likewise de-emphasized.
Then you start to move around Reckoning's landscape, and you realize that there are 3D platformer elements as well! Granted, there are only a few elements of this in the demo, but you can almost feel a lot more of this going on in the background. I suspect that in the full game, they'll make many more appearances.
Realizing this, I asked my friend who is working on the Amalur MMO... "This is a kitbash, isn't it? A kitbash of a RPG, fighting game, and a platformer!" He replied, "Sure is."
The demo itself includes about 45 minutes out of the main storyline mission, followed by 45 minutes in the open world environment. The controls are a bit wonky on the PC platform... all of those combos and defenses require an almost dizzying myriad of keyboard combinations. This is one of those games that will greatly benefit from playing it on a console or with a console controller, I think. I found the controls much more manageable with this interface. I was quite impressed by the graphics, too! They're a bit more cartoony than I'm used to in an RPG, but once you get into the setting, they fit quite well. The combat animations are a real pleasure to behold.
So, color me intrigued. It will be damned interesting to see how many of these elements make their way into the eventual Kingdoms of Amalur MMO. I tried to get my friend to answer that question, but he stayed true to his NDA. ;-) The idea of a open-world fantasy MMO employing these concepts is sure interesting! If the fighting-game twitch aesthetic is used for the game's PvP, I might end up being at quite a disadvantage.
But now I have this picture in my head of 30 or 40 of these characters fighting a pitched battle for control of a village in the game's world that's kind of hard to shake...