Don't get us wrong – we loved Skyrim. We adored it. If we could, we'd marry it and move out to the country, have a couple of kids (half-human, half-fantasy RPG) who'd run around and go on quests, and we'd grow old together sat in rocking chairs by the fire, drinking cups of tea and smiling at each other. Well. We'd smile at the disk, anyway, and our reflection would smile back.
'I told you,' said the Knight as he hefted his bloody sword once more, 'S-Club 7 are better than B*witched, and I'll slay anyone that says different'
But now in the cold light of February, after all the Christmas cheer has poured out of our veins like tea falling out of a cup with no bottom, we've seen some cracks in the Skyrim facade. And along comes Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, from the amusingly-named Big Huge games, flashing its skirts at us and winking coquettishly, beckoning us towards spring. And we can't help but follow.
This is a bit controversial, but in some respects, KoA: Reckoning is a better game than Skyrim. In five respects, actually. Look, we'll explain:
1. The combat is, if you'll pardon our French, FUCKWIN
Combat was probably Skyrim's biggest flaw, even if it wasn't a huge flaw. It wasn't dynamic, though – at early levels, your character was very static unless they were frantically backpedalling to hose something down with fire without being attacked – and later on, once you got the ability to stun enemies with spells, combat becomes something of a formality as you rock through dungeons firebolting anything that so much as looks at you funny.
With two heads to smash open, Ettins offer an unparalleled level of choice
Reckoning, on the other hand, is dynamic. Your character leaps about the place like a squirrel on crack, raining down blows on enemies, before quickly switching to a second weapon - or a magic blast, if you'd like - to finish them off. Almost everything you could need is mapped to a button on the controller, and fighting shit looks awesome even if you're not playing the game itself and just watching your girlfriend play it on her day off. The combination of big, sweeping weapon movements that leave colourful trails in the air and the frantic rolling and dodging make it feel a lot like God of War. Which is NO BAD THING.
2. The weapons are neat-o
Let's examine the weapons of Skyrim for a second. Despite the wide range of weapon types, it comes down to three or so groups: 2-Handed Weapons that are slow and hurty, 1-Handed Weapons that are quicker and less hurty, and Daggers, which only sneaky characters would ever use because they do 15 times the amount of normal damage if you use one to shank someone in the bum when they're looking the other way. Oh, and bows, we guess, but whenever we tried to use one monsters get upset that we were shooting at them and decided to bite our faces off.
KoA's Staves made Gandalf look like some old bloke with a stick
KoA: Reckoning dispenses with this realism shtick and replaces it with over-the-top, balls-to-the-wall action. Every different weapon - and there are cool ones, like double-ended Feyblades and hovering firey discs called Chakrams and magical pistols called Sceptres - comes complete with not only its own distinct fighting style, but also a set of unlockable special moves which are both easy to perform and useful in combat. Even the bow is fantastic – if you get high-enough level with it, you can hold down block when you fire and unleash a rain of arrows on the battlefield rather than just shooting one straight at your enemies like a loser.
3. Levelling up is worth the bother
Skyrim had made improvements from Oblivion in the field of levelling up, but it still lacked feedback. If we're doing 20% more damage with 1-handed weapons because of a perk we earned on a recent level gain, that's doesn't actually change anything. That's barely noticeable, even if you spend hours hitting things with 1-handed weapons to test it out.
Chakrams might not do a lot of damage, but they are magic frisbees that cut off baddies' heads, so swings and roundabouts eh
Reckoning reverses this – you've still got your 'add +whatever to my damage with a certain weapon' skills because hey, it's an RPG1 – but, fairly often, when you level up your onscreen elf you get a new attack power, or a new spell, or an addition (and visible!) effect for your existing skills. You get visual and playstyle feedback at almost every single level – it's a bit of a nerdy concern to have, but that's a big deal to us.
4. The inventory system is, well, good
Skyrim had a pretty shoddy inventory system – despite never being able to see your character in menu screens, and therefore not really get a handle on what they were equipped with, certain things were in entirely the wrong place. For instance, if you wanted to find out if you'd been poisoned, you'd have to go to Menu>Magic>Effects and look there, which is less than intuitive.
This isn't a picture of the inventory screen, because that would have been boring. It's a ninja instead
Oh sure, it doesn't sound like a huge complaint, but recent studies2 show that the average adult male will spent over 15% of his life staring at a computer game menu screen, so they might as well be good. Which Reckoning's is. It's good. Really good. There's not a lot else to say about it. It's a menu screen. What do you want from us?
5.Buffs work properly
Buffs, for those of you who didn't spend your young adult years stuck to World of Warcraft, are positive effects that you cast on yourself or others. Stuff like “all my weapons are on fire, but in a good way” or “all my armour is inexplicably slightly better,” you get the idea. Skyrim does these just like normal spells, which means – almost inevitably – we never cast them. When we see a marauding bear our first thought is to set it on fire, not run away for for a bit and rub magical hands all over our helmet to make it slightly sturdier.3
We didn't have a picture of a buff being turned on either, so you'll have to make do with this SCARY MONSTER OOH
In Reckoning, you turn buffs on or off - a bit like Dragon Age. When they're on, they use a small portion of your total available mana (spell juice), rather than your current running total and spend it on running the spell – and when you turn them off, you get it back. It's really tremendously clever, cuts out micromanagement, and means we can concentrate on the killin'.
Kingdoms of Amalur is out on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on February 10, and we recommend that you give it a whirl.
1 And a fairly generic one at that, and one with a few flaws - the story's not great, for example, and the facial animation is poor. And don't get us started on the "Scottish" accents that some of gnomes bandy around like it ain't no thing. But hey - it's still a cracking game. Get back up there and carry on reading the praise
2 That we just made up right now
3 In-game, obviously. In real life we'd just cover on the spot in terrified immobility, soil ourselves, and let it maul us to pieces