This review is to help prospective buyers of a game that has received much hype. KOA: Reckoning has been off my radar until the last 3 months or so. Then the "names" (Curt Schilling etc) associated with this product started appearing frequently but more importantly screenshots and previews were positive.
Having played the first 20 hours of KOA:R I can say that this is a real gem of a game that only just misses out on gaming greatness, it is not outstanding at everything it does (though the combat is pretty awesome, and character development is immense though a little on the simpler side) but it near excels at almost everything it attempts to do, but not quite.
KOA:R is said to have started life as a MMORPG and if you have played WoW you will see the influence of that title all over this but the game has more than enough flair and artistic design to make it so that you don't feel like you its a poor knock-off. You will also see this influence in the character design, though KOA:R's is less "cartoony" looking than WoWs. Graphics wise it isn't going to knock your socks off, but this is one of those games where the artistic design punches above its weight, in much the same way that Skyrims graphics and textures may not be state of the art but their clever artistic design and use make the "whole greater than the sum of its parts" very applicable to KOA:R.
Speaking of Skyrim, KOA:R has obviously gone to the same school with regards huge world to explore, loads of quests; main and otherwise, character options, skills, abilities, crafting... all here, Huge RPG boxes dutifully ticked, with a KOA:R twist obviously. There is quite simply a ton of stuff to do and explore; I have 4 more lands still to get around to exploring.
Storywise I think KOA:R has had an unfair time of it, I've read in some parts that it is considered generic (what isn't considered generic these days!), this I feel is a bit harsh as I am both enjoying the story and its developments (so far) and I like the way they have "inverted" the "generic" fantasy story. The lore of the land is interesting and detailed though it is not in the same league of detail as Skyrim. All in all I like being in the KOA lands and lore and it plays its part in keeping me coming back to the game.
Character development is a flexible smorsmaborg of fun and experimentation, allowing you to redo your complete character at will (for a cost); don't like that Battlemage you created redo it for an Arcanist etc etc You can choose your destiny and effectively alter your supporting stats to augment your exact play style, pretty cool. The problem I have with it, is I feel that the development that is available to you is great but I feel like you want more (largely because what is there is quite good); more combat moves, more spell choices etc. This is a another great area of KOA:R.
Combat is for me a defining and outstanding feature of this Action RPG, this is simply one of the best feeling and rewarding combat systems I have used in a while, the fluidity and sense of mobility reminds me of Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta. It is not in their league in terms of breadth and scope of moves to deal with enemies but it is more approachable than those games and can present (require; on hard level) a deeper layer to the player who is willing to invest the time; for me I am a mid distance Mage/Rogue and my style of battle is teleporting next to opponent, striking and then teleporting back out before they have a chance to strike and when I pull that off on the hard level with multiple enemeies without getting hit, yeah, I get chills.
Its good to see an RPG with a large roster of both big and small monsters who attack in different ways and demonstrate a simple level of tactical awareness and mobility. The fact I am playing 20 hours and not bored with combat or just button mashing is a testament in itself. However it isn't perfect, the interaction between trying to block and certain long combos doesn't feel right and more variety of moves would be awesome, also the enemies doesn't feel challenging enough, the camara has its moments of craziness, I almost feel an "Extreme" level is required but that would require more combat moves to help cope with it... KOA:R 2 perhaps.
Sound and music is awesome the music can be both rousing and delicate, and hasn't grated on me, which is a bonus. Voice acting on the whole is good, not exemplary, just good, and there are some ropey ones however they really murder the Scots accent in this game ...lol... please Big Huge Games employ Scots next time. Ambient sound is excellent if sometimes too loud in places, but nothing immersion breaking.
Equipment/Loot is a little bit disappointing for me, but not because of a lack variety; there is plenty of equipment and a real chance to find some cool equipment. Its the look of the equipment that disappoints, a lot of items, even if they have siginificantly different stats, look exactly the same, armor, weapons many look exactly alike, there are a few different looking variants but not enough to make your characters look unique and your own, I wouldn't have minded so much if the different loot had different color highlighting to emphasise some form of difference however it all ends up looking a bland shade of non-descript colour.
The game for the first 5-7 hrs may not grip you instantly as you try to earn enough points to define your character and understand the choices you have but once you understand and realise the potential the game has, it can quickly suck you in as you experiment within its combat and character development sandboxes. I can say wholeheartedly if you want a "Action Skyrim Lite" then you need look no further, this is a promising game with plenty to draw you in and keep one occupied but like games of this type you only get out what you are prepared to put in. If you button mash, it will bore, but if you tap the deeper level of combats, you can come away feeling like your character really is an awesome tool of destruction; artfully dispatching foes.
KOA:R is not a game that can be broken down (like I have just done here) and analysed in isolation, though all of the parts may not be exceptional the sum of its solid parts is greater than you would first be inclined to belive. The fact that it is my game of choice (currently) with an unfinished game of Skyrim and an unopened Batman: Arkham City waiting for my time goes some way to explaining just how much fun I am having with KOA:R. I look forward to a KOA:R 2.
UPDATE: I am now 65 hours in and the end is still nowhere in sight. I thought an update would be of value to people interested in my review. Combat is still fun but depending on your play style you may find the game a little easy even on hard. If you are a completionist do every quest in an area before leaving, enjoy the combat too much and ace the blacksmithing skill you will find that eventually you will out level the creatures of the area you are in and from then on the game will struggle to present you a consistent challenge. This is a shame but is something that afflicts these games to some degree; they need some form of dynamic difficulty scaling.
Because the combat becomes a bit on the easy side, you will seldom use the cool looking and deadly Reckoning mode, which is a shame because it is a hoot, has a cool 'gamble' aspect and slo-mo effect.
The new environments of the new lands are as detailed as the starting areas and the world is very vibrant.
My initial complaint about the similarity of how the loot looks has eased somewhat, with some beautiful sets and unique items to acquire but since anything you can blacksmith will usually trump what can be found or bought (provided you have salvaged enough gear), you'll seldom choose to wear it. But the stuff you create seems to come in standard looking templates and there doesn't so far seem to be much variety. However loot fiends will jump for joy on what can be found and will jump even higher for what can be created. In that respect the blacksmithing skill seems too powerful. Though I do love the trend in these games to name your created gear, creates a nice bond. Now just give me some colour highlighting to make that weapon/armour unique looking.
I'm now playing a Rogue/Mage instead of Mage/Rogue (the nice thing in KOA:R is that distinction matters and is yours to use as you choose) and it is still a barrel of laughs with a poisoned teleport for a dodge; I can use it as a weapon; teleport through an enemy and they have a chance to be poisoned... awesome. KOA:R has made mage like characters deadly weapon using freaks with some cool weapons; Chakrams... they rule. Its nice to see the magic using class re-interpreted.
The game suffers from some of the usual problems that afflict the genre, one in particular is in the imbalance of skills and their uses, with powerful and weak ones. Lockpicking and dispel skills should have been combined and there should be far more "Very Hard" locks with totally awesome and unique rewards; far too many hard chests had nothing of worth in them, which makes it difficult in a subsequent replay to want to choose them. Mercantile and Persuasion should have been combined too because all in all I didn't find any desire to use them separately, the game just doesn't provide compelling reasons to have them.
Stealth feels like a bit of an afterthought; it works but its hard to pull off stealth kills all the time, even as a rogue, as the monster layout design is somewhat haphazard, ie monsters staring at each other, few obvious patrol routes etc however this ups the difficulty and pulling off sneaking through a Jottun (giant) stronghold and slaying the target stealthily is very rewarding. Read more ›