Kingdoms of Amalur is to Skyrim what Torchlight 2 is to Diablo 3. It was developed by one / some of the developers of its predecessor, it’s similar yet different in that it uses more traditional gameplay in place of the popular brand’s newer take on things, and the graphics and general aesthetic is more colourful, and less… gritty. Oh, and it’s also exactly what you’ve been looking for when searching for alternatives to the more mainstream franchise.
Now, as far as I can tell, I’ve just spoken heresy. Some of the user reviews for Kingdoms of Amalur beg you not to compare it to Skyrim, stating that it’s a very different game. And whilst partially, I agree, given its third person driven point of view and its more hack-and-slash combat, I also disagree. Now, to be fair, I’m only ten hours into the game as of now, but I can already see many similarities pop up between the two franchises, such as how stealth, lockpicking and pickpocketing works, how it has persuasion and crime, different guilds (sorry… houses) with their own questlines, and a myriad of other things. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; nor am I saying that this was unexpected, given that one of the lead game designers was prominent in Oblivion’s creation. In fact, this pleases me. There’s enough similarity here to feel right at home whilst still being a completely different and brilliant game.
Take abilities, for example. Not to bash Skyrim’s exemplary collection of spells (see: fire hands, fire bolts, bigger fire bolts, fire floor), but I’ve always felt that something was… lacking. It is primarily, I think, due to the fact that spells are bought, not earned by levelling up. Not only do you learn them in Kingdoms of Amalur, but you can also put more points into them to make them more powerful. This is, like I mentioned in the introduction, a more traditional take on the game mechanisms of an RPG. It is also, however, better, removing simplicity and allowing far more customisation of your character’s ability to function in combat situations.
Now can we talk about scenery? I applaud Bethesda’s dedication to make an RPG that doesn’t think it necessary to include every biome, and this fits in with their apparent ideology that fantasy can be gritty and real instead of constantly airy-fairy. It attempts to immerse its players solely in one continent at a time, thereby building a more fleshed-out and believable environment instead of a handful of half-realised lands. And I respect them for that. But, man, sometimes I want to stop shivering when playing Skyrim and find somewhere warm to go bandit killing. And whilst, admittedly, I’ve not yet made it off the first continent in Amalur, I have visited Webwood, an area with an entirely different atmosphere to the surrounding lands. It’s full of, erm, big pink fluffy bunnies.
Finally, whilst I can’t exactly comment on it’s value as a whole yet, I can say that I’m enjoying the main storyline more than Skyrim, as well as many of the side-quests. The characters have more… character to them. When I arrived at the town of Gorheart, and I went through one of the merchant’s personal possessions and found a diary detailing the loss of her husband and her grief, and then found out more by talking to her about it. I then found notes by her husband’s graveside from his brother who promised to look out for the merchant and, well, I won’t spoil things. But as far as I can tell, there’s no accompanying quest. It’s just story for the sake of story, and it’s more interesting than half of Skyrim’s main questlines. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that they have more than three voice actors per gender. You know, soft spoken, rough spoken, and that one voice which says, “I’m going to betray you later in the questline because I’ve got that shifty voice.”
It’s a shame there won’t be a Kingdoms of Amalur 2, really. This was a game world unconnected to any other franchise who’s story wasn’t afraid to do things differently, who’s graphics weren’t afraid to look a little fantasy, and who’s game design wasn’t afraid to use tradition. And it does it really, really well. Hell, they even made me like gnomes.