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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Game Play: Kingdoms of Amalur Demo

It's been about a month, faithful reader (or both of you - if the other guy is still around) ... the holiday drag is now nearly officially over and the gaming hangover which has been the survival of all of those November releases is behind us.

I could tell you about Uncharted 3 - which is simply one of the most technically impressive games on any platform to date.  It's just so ... so ... insanely solid.  The writing, the animation, the graphics, the inner mechanics - everything just clicks.

But you probably already knew that.  You might not have known about the Kingdoms of Amalur demo which just dropped on PSN and XBLA.  It's gotten some legs in the press because of Ken Rolston, of Morrowind and Oblivion fame, coming out of retirement to help retire it.

The main feeling on the net, even before playing it, is that the game is a mashup of Skyrim (or more generally, The Elder Scrolls in general) and Fable.  There's a little truth to that - but I think either comparison is dangerous.  Rolston's stamp is certainly all of this game - in the latter portion of the demo you can essentially go and do whatever you want.  So I tried to steal from a store, got caught, busted out of prison and went on a killing spree on the townsfolk as they tried to reign me in.  And that was all in like twenty minutes.

But the world design feels more like World of Warcraft, or I suppose Fable - if Fable was far less linear.  You don't quite get that "what is over that hill" feeling you get in Skyrim - but that doesn't mean the world isn't open to explore.  The combat mechanics are very difficult to describe - they easily transcend the usual button mash + power attack of most action RPG's by forcing players to dodge and defend themselves ... as well as pay close attention to the tactics of the enemy which change impressively from one type to the next, but I certainly wouldn't call it "strategic".

The thing is - Amalur is so clearly utilizing the playbooks of other games that describing it without making comparisons is difficult.  The problem is if you were honest - you would be making comparisons not just to Rolston's previous games, but WoW, Fable, God of War, most Bioware RPG's and probably wear yourself out by the time you remembered Nethack.

What Amalur has going for it is some excellent design and mechanics.  Unfortunately the demo appears to be plagued by more than a few bugs - I noticed a few "hall of mirrors" ... a graphics glitch when the rendering engine doesn't know what to render.  Other players have reported crash level gltiches.  As anyone who has read Cathode know, I've beaten on the rotting corpse of the horse which is Bethesda's miserable QA process in the past ... and hope Amalur won't have such issues.

One thing that I noted: I don't know if the lack of specific save is because it is a demo, or will be part of the game.  Not being able to have multiple save points would give the game a sort of permadeath like quality (not really, but actions would have consequences you can't take back ... like murdering a whole town).  I'll be curious to see what the full version has in the way of save game control.

Full version comes out Feb. 17th - very much looking forward to it, if it isn't too crash-laden.