Few games appear as pretty as Reckoning. Every branch, stone and leaf in the world designed by Todd McFarlane is delicately placed and the otherworldly appearance of the Fae races of Amalur seem at home in their sculpted dwellings and outdoor spaces. I was content just running around the fields, forests and plains, looking at the gorgeous scenery.
The visual appearance of Amalur is doubly impressive because Reckoning is not a tightly-paced and structured role-playing game. You are free to explore and investigate every nook and cranny. You want to talk to every character and learn just that small bit more about the world around you. You will explore - at first to smash boxes and find loot, but later just to see who is under that tree, what is past that ridge. Through it all, the art is striking.
As fantasy settings go, the lore of Amalur takes a bit to fully grasp. It's probably unfair for a fan of Tolkien to say this, but the onslaught of names, places and terms makes it difficult to understand the nuance of what's going - especially in the first few hours. Eventually, you suss out the difference between the Seelie and Unseelie Fae - also referred to as the Summer and Winter Courts - and how they are immortal, unlike the two elf races of Ljosalfar and Dokkalfar. Men and gnomes fill out the Children of Dust, as the Fae call the lesser races, and they all are under attack by a new rogue branch of the Winter Court called Tuatha. All those are terms and names are stolen from other sources, and not very far from most fantasy conventions, which is perhaps why it's difficult to keep it all straight. The easy dialogue and well-acted characters - not to mention the excellently crafted loading screen bits of lore - allow you to ride the wave of confusion until you start appreciating the intricate connections.
R.A. Salvatore wrote 10,000 years of history for this setting, but the designers picked a dramatic moment for Reckoning. After a clever character creation sequence, the main character wakes up in a pile of corpses, left for dead. The magical experiments of the gnomes finally had a positive result - you are the first mortal to regain life through the Well of Souls. Protective of their own immortality, the Tuatha try to kill you as you search for allies among the lesser races and the immortal Fae of the Summer Court.
For how much of the lore is delivered through dialogue, it would have been nice if more energy was spent in how conversations are presented. I'd care more about what the Fae with crazy tattoos on his face said to me if the weapons strapped to my back didn't consistently block my view of him. The same two or three facial animations get tired quickly, as do the alternating over-the-shoulder shots. Once you've traveled to enough locations, fast travel from the world map is essential for efficiently turning in quests, but this is where the loading times become interminable. Installing Reckoning on your console's hard drive alleviates some of the wait, but that's not an option for everyone.
Even if you care nothing for story or which elf did what to who, Reckoning offers several fun options for fighting monsters and taking their stuff. The trees of Might, Finesse, and Sorcery feel like standard action RPG fare, but by investing skill points in different trees, you can forge your own hybrid class as you level up. Even within the talent trees, you can build a unique character without feeling like you are forced to make choices too early. Combat is not easy - learning an enemy's rhythm of attacks is essential for melee warfare, while magic-wielders must discover how to keep enemies at a distance. You can even gain new weapon moves, and string them together for combos, but ultimately you must learn how to effectively kill with a style that suits you. Every player will fight differently in Reckoning, and that shows how deep the combat system is.