Come with me to a strange and magical world. No, not the Kingdoms of Amalur. I'm talking about the real world of videogames - the big business extravaganzas of interactive entertainment. It's a world that our hero, Curt Schilling, hopes to conquer. Schilling is the superstar pitcher who retired from baseball in order to create videogames, and Reckoning is the first game from his company 38 Studios. For his initial delve into the dungeon of digital entertainment, Schilling has assembled a team of veteran warriors, each of whom is credited on Reckoning's cover.
The first name belongs to R.A. Salvatore, the bestselling author of Dungeons & Dragons novels and Star Wars fiction. Whatever he did for Schilling, I'm sure that Salvatore didn't write the story of Reckoning, because it doesn't really have one. For hours I traipsed through the sunbeam-dappled forests and rubble-strewn dungeons of Amalur looking for a plot. But all I found was a world full of history, mythology and characters who want to talk about it at length.
The game's beasties have been designed by Todd McFarlane - he of comic book and toy fame. Perhaps Reckoning was something of a vacation for McFarlane, because I didn't see any visuals that struck me as original. There were no otherworldly entities that defied description, and no landscapes that seemed to come from some unexplored corner of someone's imagination. Instead, Reckoning looks like a storybook version of World of Warcraft, and the creatures look less mysterious than McFarlane's old work on Spider-Man.
Ken Rolston is also listed on the cover, and you probably don't know him. That's too bad, because he was the lead designer of the game Oblivion, which is one of the greatest games ever created, and also one of the greatest sources of inspiration for Reckoning. But, instead of making a pure Oblivion clone, Rolston also sampled from Fable and God of War, making sure that he didn't take anything too good from any of them.
The highlight of Reckoning is the real-time combat that allows players to attack Amalur's creatures with a variety of customizable weapons. Daggers, swords, spells and arrows are the standard options, but they've rarely been used as dynamically as they are here. I constantly found myself rolling into new positions, switching weapons and mastering subtleties of timing so that my button pressing resulted in specialized attacks. If Reckoning had been only about fighting, it would have been superb.
But Reckoning isn't about fighting. It's about trying to conquer the kingdom of videogames. It's as if the designers simply took some of the most successful videogame franchises of the past decade and blended them together. But they forgot to take the daring concepts that made each of those games so magical - the way that Fable changed depending on how players played it, the escalating battles of God of War, the boundless and unsleeping world of Oblivion. Maybe Mr. Schilling was scared of the risks he found in his new kingdom. Too bad, because by playing it safe here, he'll never win.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning can't quite reconcile its fantasy ambitions with its borrowed gameplay.
Editor's note: This is Marty Demarest's final column for the Source. Demarest, a former staff member at the Inlander, is moving on to new endeavors. We hope to have a new gaming column in place soon.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Rated Mature; 360, PS3, Windows PC