Infinite Replays: Kingdoms of Amalur

And welcome to Jumping in Headfirst's newest column, Infinite Replays; a column dedicated to my final thoughts on the (very few) games I've both played and beaten.  For our first edition we're starting with a game I spent quite a bit of time with in 2012, Kingdoms of Amaluar: Reckoning.  After a ridiculous amount of hours, I finally finished this game.

That terrible screen is of my television the day I hit the finish point, the day before I started school again this year.  It's far shy of their "over 200 hours" claim, but Kingdoms of Amalur represents something vital at this point in my life as a gamer.

The truth is, I was slowly falling out of love with gaming.  It's true, one of the first things I did with my college loan money (aside from pay off bills) was buy a PS3, but I barely ever used it.  I bought Star Ocean 4 and Final Fantasy XIII but XIII sucked and I never really bothered to play SO4.  I bought MvC3 but that's about the time I learned fighting games aren't my friend (though I'm giving Injustice a chance because it's DC and I bought Soul Calibur V and likes that), and while there were periodically other games that came along in 2010 and 2011 there was always one reason or another I didn't much care for them.

Kingdoms of Amalur was the first time in YEARS I was genuinely excited for a game to be released.  It was a fantasy game that didn't delve into a boring realm of dark and depressing (seriously, what's the point?) for its graphics, and it offered a vast world full of quests and the chance to really save the world.  I knew from the first video I saw, which detailed all the various guilds you could join in Amalur, that I would love the game, despite it being written and designed by people I couldn't say I was a fan of.

After learning about the game's existence in November 2011, the wait for the actual release was longer than I could have dreamed.  I found myself re-watching the videos the company had uploaded, visiting their website and reading the detailed Histories of the races and the world itself, even registering on their forums and becoming apart of their short-lived community.

Finally, the demo came out a scant few weeks before the game itself was scheduled to be released.  Though many found problems with the game (either in terms of programming glitches or undelivered promises), I was addicted--it was a very short demo (timed for 30 minutes) but I played it at least three times, trying to solve all of the different quests that this trial game offered.  On the day the game actually released, I was ecstatic and rushed to GameStop to pick up my pre-order copy.  I took it home and spent several hours playing--learning the battle system, completing quests, getting a real feel for the world of Amalur itself.  I only stopped that first night because I had class the next day.

This was a feeling I hadn't had in at least three years--losing one's self for hours at a time to the pleasures of a video game.  Of wanting to spend as much time playing it as possible.  It was a feeling I had been acclimated with since 5th grade, after my mother bought me a Playstation for Christmas along with Tales of Destiny, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Final Fantasy VII, and Suikoden.  A feeling that didn't fade in the slightest when I played through Final Fantasies VII and Tactics, or Thousand Arms, or Star Ocean 3, or even Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.  But somewhere along the way in my early twenties I started to lose it, and even wondered if I would ever get it back, until this game came along.

As far as games go, it's not perfect.  There's no shortage of people on the internet who will call it bad, or say it has a stupid title or whatever.   And while I love it, I know it has it's flaws.  For one, you level much too fast.  One of the main reasons I stopped playing (the screenshot above is of a game that is as complete as I care to make it) is that I hit level 40 around 110-120 hours in, and I spent the next 30-40 playing as a character who would experience zero growth.  Considering one of the main points of an RPG is to gain levels, this became intolerable over time.

For another, the loot system is pretty awful.  It's tiered, but the tiers are meaningless and there are wasted concepts in them: for instance, the idea of Set Armors.  Set Armors were pieces of armor that belonged to a set because they had some sort of lore that told you more about Amalur's history.   They would give you bonuses that stacked as you found more of them.  Trouble is, there's no specific way to find them.  And finding one piece does not set you on a course of finding the rest, so you end up with a ton of mismatched pieces, making the entire concept pointless.

Also, because of some very silly design choices made by some of the higher-ups, you can complete everything in the game in one go.  Some people tried to support this, but to me it seemed to ruin the immersion factor.  Nostariel (my character) became the master thief, the master magician, and the master warrior of the Faelands.  Certainly she was a bad-ass, but there's a limit to everything and she was basically a god.  They explained it in-game well enough that it made sense, but I just wasn't a fan of the fact that I could do that.

Lastly, there was something...missing.  I cannot say I know what it was, because I haven't the faintest idea.  There was just something about the game--largely in the way it told the story with almost a complete lack of cutscenes so the characters always had this lifelessness to them that kept you from fully immersing yourself into the story.  It did not help that the main character had no voice, so even the star of the show felt flat.

Still, in spite of all these flaws the game was a gem in my eyes.  I complain about the immersion factor, but on some levels it completely delivered in that area.  One of the first things I noticed about the game was that the story did not seem to be so much about the main character, but about the world of Amalur itself.   I picked up on this from day one, with the clip above.  It even starts with "the world of Amalur", because that is the most important character.  Powerful the Fateless One may be, but he/she eventually dies, which is why the game's site's most prolific section was the History portion.    I knew (or believed, at least) there would be plenty more stories from this game's universe, and I looked forward to all of them, eager to learn more about the story of this world.  The game itself seemed eager to please in that way too.  Characters you met for some quests in one part of the game would be brought up elsewhere.  You could become embroiled in the mining families' war in Detyre (the game's desert area), and you could find out what happened to the warring elven families of the Caeled Coast.  The quests were occasionally fetch-quests, but they did an amazing job weaving them together to make you feel like you were truly interacting with the gameworld.

Also, the game makes you feel like a complete BAD-ASS.  From Reckoning Mode's ridiculous kills to the powerful weaponry they give you, Amalur went out of its way to make you feel like a demigod that was capable of destroying any and everything that got in your path, something that went a long way to my continued playing after I hit the max level.

Lastly, the world itself is beautiful.  The Faelands are DRENCHED in magic, so you can often see it flitting about in fields and in the cities.   I had really looked forward to seeing if the rest of Amalur was like that, but unfortunately we all know how that ended.

Unfortunately, right now there's no game I'm playing that I'm quite this into, but it's still nice to know I'm still capable of feeling what this game did for me at all. 


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