Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

The lord of the dead ringers.

Do you believe in fate? And perhaps that's not up to you anyway, eh? Well, 38 Studios - founded by ex baseball pro Curt Schilling - is staffed by the likes of Ken Rolston (Morrowind, Oblivion), Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and RA Salvatore (loads of nerdy fiction), and whether or not those guys believe in fate, it was certainly mathematically improbable that a game they worked on together would be anything other than a high-fantasy role-playing game set in an open world.

Debuting at the Game Developers Conference, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (presumably their first task was to build a random RPG name generator) kicks off with a bit of slider-bar character creation before you wake up as a cipher in a pile of corpses, and the game presents you with a simple mystery: who killed me, and how did I come back?

According to 38 Studios and co-developer Big Huge Games, the idea is to suck you into Amalur with a personal story, before the game gets onto the more significant and inevitable issue of having to save the world from whatever's going to go wrong with it.

So, it turns out that the dude who brought you back from the dead is a gnome who created the Well of Souls, an iconic aspect of Amalur lore that allows people to return from the dead - or at least allows a person to return from the dead, since you're the first one to make it back in one piece.

Life, death and destiny are all areas the developers want to explore with the story, and, as a starting point, you are special because you have been reborn without fate - something that everyone else in Amalur has, and something that you will be invited to shape and reshape in yourself and those around you as the game progresses.

The first people whose fates you dabble in, to run with that, are some half-finished Well of Souls rejects - horny little blighters who leap out of the gloom to attack you as you explore the gnome's dungeons, and who serve as an introduction to combat.

The combat is distinctly action-orientated, almost akin to Fable or God of War. Single face buttons map to particular weapons - longswords, hammers, magic staffs, etc - which can be hacked and slashed about or developed into different combos, swipes and juggles with longer or more rhythmic button presses.

But the developers also promise that everything in the game has an RPG backbone to it (in other words, you can rely on someone to be hiding behind every treasure chest and stone wall shaking some dice to help determine the outcome). As such you won't be able to battle through the whole game using twitch skills - you'll also need to level up to remain competitive in combat.

We see a warrior type of character dealing out hefty combos, smashing down hammers and summoning stone spikes from the ground with his finishers, and so on, and this variety is also true for other specialisms, like a mage, who is more about damage-over-time, area-of-effect, and robes and wizard hats.

Specialism changes the basics of your character - for example, a warrior rolls sideways to dodge while the mage teleports - but while there are four races to choose between in Amalur, you don't actually pick a base class. Instead you specialise based on how you choose to upgrade your character in sorcery, might or finesse areas of the tech tree, and focusing on one area means those traits will be emphasised in appearance and behaviour as well as your capabilities.

The developers claim that while most RPGs only pay out the best benefits if you max out particular areas of the tech tree, Amalur's system of "destinies" allows you to continue experimenting with untapped potential in, say, might and finesse, even if your core focus is sorcery. It remains to be seen how this works, but if it can be pulled off then it should be interesting.

Meanwhile, just in case the fact that this is an RPG isn't at the forefront of your mind at all times, whenever you kill an enemy a big XP bar pops up centre-screen to illustrate your progress towards the next level. You can also loot corpses, crates and so on for gold and randomly generated pickups.

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