Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur and why it needs your help

Can you remember the last time that a brand new intellectual property got you excited? For me that was Demon's Souls, back in 2009. The truth is that every single year there's a plethora of new brands, like Demon's Souls, that appear on the market. Unfortunately, few truly make it, and even if some get that taste of success, oftentimes the game will soon after quietly fade into obscurity.

Kingdoms of Amalur is hoping to break this formula with its audacious attempt at melding several genres. What kind of fate awaits 38 Studios' first title? That's up to us. And I'm here to tell you why you need to care.

Take one look at Amalur. It doesn't seem very special, does it? A third-person RPG akin to Fable, with an unmistakable MMO vibe? If you were like me, you wrote this game off right from the start. However, 38 Studios released a demo for the game and I decided to see it for myself. As the demo finished downloading, a friend and I were entirely prepared to sit down and bash the game. I mean, it was just going to be another derivative fantasy world with a terrible subtitle, right? Reckoning? Hah! But something magical happened as we began traipsing through Amalur; we had absolutely nothing berating to say.

My personal anecdote aside, Amalur is surely one of the biggest surprises in recent memory. Its intrepid design philosophies follow a unique path by attempting to mix several genres that normally wouldn't ever be whispered together. It takes open-world cues from The Elder Scrolls series, a questing system similar to World of Warcraft, dialogue options from Mass Effect and Dragon Age, combat mechanics from the likes of Devil May Cry and Fable, and a whole lot more from other various titles. Say what you like, but this kind of over-ambitious design is what can kill a game. Amalur's vision is certainly grandiose, but as ridiculous as it seems on paper it comes together in a package that is extremely enjoyable and accessible to absolutely everyone.

Unfortunately, just being fun isn't good enough for a game to continue its natural progression into DLC and then, perhaps, a sequel. Developers need the coin, and if something doesn't sell then we simply don't see it again. If you couldn't already tell, Amalur is a myriad of ideas and gameplay functions that come together in one beautiful motion. More than that, it's something we haven't seen before, something brand-spanking new, and we owe it to the developers to give it our attention.

Why do we owe it to 'lower-class' developers to support their games? Think about it. If we don't show interest in companies extending their reach into unused regions, which allows them to experiment with other imaginative ideas, we'd get what we've been getting every year - more Call of Duty. That isn't to say in any way that the this particular series is terrible, but since it has become a multi-billion dollar juggernaut it's been obvious that the games have been degrading in quality over the years. Yet people are still buying them. As this trend continues, Call of Duty will eventually meet the fate of both the Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk franchises. Both were phenomenal in their own right, and both were completely wiped out as a result of pure over-saturation and diminished quality. Saying that, there's no reason to embrace something that's sub-par in the quality department, but Amalur is far, far from that.

The biggest reason I'm such a proponent of this game is how much effort 38 Studios has put into it. Huge names like R.A. Salvatore, Ken Rolston and Todd McFarlane are all on board the Amalur train and, as with the examples above, it's obvious that the developers have learned from contemporary games about what works and what does not. Implementing these features is one thing, but making them work and actually enjoyable is something else entirely. You also cannot forget the demo, which is what sold me in the first place; how many games give you a feature-length demo with an open-world to do what you want with after the showcase has ended? Not even Red Faction: Guerrilla's original demo allowed its world to be traversed, and that game was all about roaming around. If that's any indication, these guys want you to explore their game; to do what you want, when you want. For that, I have immense respect.

Playing into the hand of ignorance and literally judging a game by its cover, like I did, can condemn a series in a heartbeat, and that's why a game like Amalur really deserves your attention. Is it the be-all and end-all RPG of all-time? No. Of course not. But Amalur is a familiar world set with seminal design, and it's fun to boot. Ignoring something like this only brings harm to the industry as a whole and yes, I know that the retail prices for games hurt nowadays, but just ask yourself what you're picking up this year.

Give Amalur a chance. Because we all know what happened to Okami. And I do not want to get into that again.

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