For the sake of our beloved readers, I’ll shorten the awkward handle this game is saddled with to “Reckoning” for the duration of this post. But there’s good reason for such grandiosity: the world revealed by Curt Schilling (yes that Curt Schilling) and his team at 38 Studios at PAX East hopes to rival the depth of lore and history created by the likes of J. R. R. Tolkein and the late Robert Jordan. To that end, Schilling has assembled a dream team of sorts; with a world envisioned by R. A. Salvatore of Forgotten Realms fame, art direction by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, and lead designer Ken Rolston, who brought us Morrowind and Oblivion.
Mr. Schilling was on-hand to introduce and interject on the session, and while his pronouncements had the vaguely inspirational quality of a star athlete’s press conference (understandably), his passion for gaming and pride in his team and their work was evident. I must admit that Reckoning was not even on my radar prior to the show, and in my hasty research I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mr. Schilling is an avid gamer. His resume includes several popular MMOs, and in fact goes back to the table-top classic Squad Leader, which I remember my father recalling fondly in my youth.
The gameplay session began at the start of the game and progressed through the opening sequence and tutorial. The player inhabits a fallen hero who is brought back to life by an arcane experiment, the first and only successful subject. In the time period of Amalur in which Reckoning takes place, magic is slowly returning to the land. Over time the player learns to harness and adapt these new energies to become more powerful. The demo moved on to showcase some impressively large and detailed outdoor and dungeon environments, as well as some advanced combat from the warrior and mage archetypes. Level progression is broken up into three trees covering standard combat, subtlety, and magic. A sort of class system takes shape by hybridizing these trees, rewarding special titles such as “Crusader” that bring their own unique benefits. The stated purpose is to discourage the typically unbalanced approach of over-specializing, and rewards uniqueness and experimentation.
The standout gameplay element showcased in the demo was definitely combat. There is a concerted effort to break from the relatively sedate approach of other open world titles such as the Elder Scrolls series. Fighting in Reckoning is a decidedly 3rd-person affair, with multiple enemies employing impressive AI to harry and surround the player. Each archetype shown employed a number of stun, evasion, and other techniques to manage the battle, leaving room for personal preference in strategy. Also on display were dramatic, slow-motion finishing move techniques that elicited satisfied “oohs” and a few cheers from the panel audience. Combat moves were also accented with colorful lighting and blur effects to enhance the visual style.
The only flaw amongst all the sumptuous action and eye-candy was the blatant abuse of so-called “hammerspace”. The player can simultaneously equip a primary and secondary weapon, as well as a shield. However, only the last-used weapon is ever shown on the player character out of combat, and the player can seamlessly switch between all three mid-combat! Yes, while swinging away with your sword you can instantaneously pull a shield out of nowhere to block, and then just as quickly produce a giant two-handed hammer and start smashing. This capability was actually touted as an innovative feature, but I imagine a lot of players (myself included) will find it silly and distracting.
Reckoning is an introduction to the Kingdoms of Amalur IP, which is also slated to include an MMO-type game codenamed “Copernicus”. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but the commentary from the panel indicates that the celebrity artists involved are more than just names, and are in fact deeply involved with crafting every aspect of both games. Time will tell whether this new world’s story and characters will be engaging enough to back up the impressive visuals, combat, and role-playing mechanics seen so far.