It was the power of adorkableness that convinced me to buy Kingdoms of Amalur. Seriously. I tried the demo and was resoundingly apathetic towards it, but when Day9 streamed it with Felicia Day at his house, and with the ridiculous hilarity that resulted by their combined dorkiness, I was dazzled by the geekiness and shelled out a full sixty bones for the PC version.
Which then proceeded to sit on my HDD because, again, I'm fairly apathetic towards the game.
So there Amalur sat, gathering digital dust, as I hemmed and hawed about in some other equally tepid-to-bad console games (Armored Core V: tepid, Deadliest Warrior: bad, Tales of Graces f: lukewarm), and as I piddled and poked about on my usual PC fare (Minecraft, Minecraft, Minecraft, going /afk in Rift).
And then something curious happened. At PAX East I witnessed an upcoming massively multiplayer online (MMO) (Tera) that looked like it had some actually interesting combat mechanics. And I was craving an MMO with some good combat, as Rift's combat is strictly traditional fare. So I prepared myself mentally to go poke about in Tera.
And then something even more curious happened: I realized that I already had a game with a better combat system and MMO trappings, downloaded to my HDD and waiting for me to double-click its icon.
And that is how my affair with Kingdoms of Amalur started.
That's not to say it's somehow an amazingly good game. Amalur's story still hovers between "meh" and "slight chuckle;" the world is still somewhat hollow despite the large number of NPCs; there's no horse or other mounts, which in a gameworld of Amalur's size somehow seems criminal; and the voice acting… sounds like the voice director told everyone to be as needlessly hammy as possible (Cam Clarke is in it; that should say everything right there).
But that combat. Oh, that combat.
Whenever I visit the GameFAQS boards for a new game, many of the new threads will be "I've played X, will I like this game?" Which always makes me want to tell people to rent it and see for themselves, despite how the former Gamestop manager in me already knows that people won't rent it for themselves and will just ask other people. That's the whole basis of "word of mouth" after all. So with that in mind, here are the comparisons I actually managed to come up with in the event you ever go "I played X, will I like Amalur?".*
Amalur vs Skyrim – Skyrim is a slower, more methodical action-role-playing game (RPG), more focused on giving the player a country and a story hook (if they want one), and then turning them loose to do whatever the heck they want without feeling the need to be constrained to the story at all. There's more things to do in Skyrim as opposed to Amalur, and more ways to go about doing it. Amalur, meanwhile, is fairly linear in it's expected playstyle: outside of completing quests and exploring zones, there is nothing else to do, no player houses to personalize with decorations (though there are player houses), no friends to make or spouses to marry, nothing. There is you, the quest, and the combat. Amalur has less quests and random caves than Skyrim, but to compensate each of those quests and side areas feel more unique than Skyrim's. Even if Amalur reuses art assets, none of its areas feel exactly cookie-cutterish.
Amalur vs Dark Souls – Amalur, and I realize that this might sound silly, has the more comprehensible story, if by that I mean only that the story is explicitly spelled out in Amalur while in Dark Souls the story is fed to the player in bits and pieces, and even then some of those pieces don't seem to make sense, and the story overall is heavily on the cynical side. Dark Souls, of course, has the more unique environmental settings, and a far more difficult and punishing combat that feels more rewarding once mastered. Amalur is far more expansive in size of the world and content, but the extra areas start to feel like padding after a while.
Amalur vs Diablo – The longevity of Diablo and its clones comes from the ability to take your character into progressively harder difficulties for progressively better gear to make your guy progressively more super-powered so you can repeat the entire process until you get bored and tap out. Amalur throws loot at you wildly, lets you craft your own gear, lets you chose the hardest difficulty upfront, and once the game ends, that's pretty much it for that character unless you have some sidequests you need to finish or buy some DLC. Amalur is finite with more more side content to compensate; Diablo is designed to be repeatable and encourages you to replay to experience randomly selected quests.
Amalur vs Fable – This is, by far, the closest comparisons one could make between two like-minded games (at least on this list). They have similar combat, similar world layouts, similar quest schemes… the major differences occur with story presentation (I can hate all I want on Fable's stories, but I have to admit that the stories are generally entertaining up until the point I get disappointed/annoyed with them) and the character's interaction with the world. There's no morality system in Amalur, and again no spouses. No property mini-game to buy and/or manage. Amalur has the greater setting diversity as it takes place throughout a continent as opposed to Fable's kingdom (with a few exceptions in Fable). Amalur has the tighter combat with more depth, but Fable II and III give you a dog and has the NPCs in the world react more to your presence and your choices. It's a difference of degrees.
Amalur vs The Witcher – I've played all of ten hours of The Witcher 1 and one hour of The Witcher 2 and I have to say that I have absolutely no opinion either way because 1) Whitcher 1 was made using the Neverwinter Nights 2 engine, so the combat is suboptimal due to system mechanics, and 2) I don't actually recall much about The Witcher games except that Geralt gets laid a lot and there's some decapitations and a lot of bad stuff happens to various people. So I guess, um, The Witcher series is a lot more adult-oriented in terms of tone, setting, and gameplay while Amalur, despite the blood, is a more light-hearted, arcade-style affair.
Amalur vs MMORPGs – Obviously Amalur is strictly single-player and MMOs are multi-player, so that's an apples to oranges comparison I won't make. So to compare it to things that are applicable: the MMOs I've played were boring and repetitive when it comes to their gameplay elements. We all know about the "press 1 to attack, wait for cooldown" style that World of Warcraft (WoW), Rift, Champions, et al have been using for years. Combat in MMOs are generally static affairs with individual skill boiling down to how well a player can do the same repetitive actions against the same monster in the same fight day in and day out, week after week, while waiting for a particular piece of equipment to drop that will make their same-old rotation generate a slightly larger number once those buttons are pressed (with the occasional move slightly to avoid environmental hazard throw in for variety). It's a Diablo-clone taken up to 11 and filled with arbitrary gimmicks to stretch out how long it takes a person to accomplish anything. Amalur may not have fishing, or zones that require minutes to cross, or mounts, or raids, but it is more dynamic in its gameplay, and that can carry me for a long time, because dynamic means "challenge" and challenge means I'm not in any danger of falling asleep in the middle of a raid again. Perhaps the upcoming Amalur MMO will be a different story, once a social component is thrown in.
So I'm almost 40 hours into Kingdoms of Amalur and I'm digging it. It reminds me of those few times in WoW when I took my character through every zone, completing each and every single quest they came across, for no other reason than I get some sort of amusement out of completing every single possible quest a zone has to offer. The fast travel system is a large boon to this type of gameplay as, in the absence of a mount, I can just pop back to a town, turn in a quest, pop back to the nearest place I was, and continue to blaze a trail across the entire country. The only real time I've backtracked for a length of time longer than a quest-turn in was when I hit max Detect Hidden and I went around hitting all the lorestones I had missed (each set completed gives a small stat boost in some way). Amalur makes me feel like I'm always progressing, and I do so enjoy the quest for progression.
*Subject to my own opinion and observations, blah blah blah, not an endorsement of this or that, I love puppies.