Open world RPGs are popular and are influencing other games to open their worlds up as well. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning are both great examples of this genre. Skyrim is obviously the more well-known of the two, but I feel this is an injustice to Reckoning. However, Skyrim doesn’t have the notoriety of having a company that went under behind it. That wasn’t before 38 Studios put out some DLC, but that’s about as far as the extra content went. While open-world RPGs have become very popular and… I’m not going to talk about open world versus linear types of RPG’s. That’s a topic for another post. Let’s get into what both of these games do and how well they do it shall we?
In Skyrim you are just some random character that can get caught up with a civil war between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks and you can eventually pick a side to help in the war (if you so choose). Also a few minutes into the game you can help kill a dragon and basically take its soul. That’s when you learn that you are something called a Dragonborn. (Not so regular after all.) Dragonborn’s are a legend in the land of Tamriel where dragons haven’t shown their faces for a while. This is also the beginning of a story about how you fit into the world now and why dragons are returning. That is unless you never actually go to Whiterun and follow the quest to go to an outpost. If that’s the case, you’ll actually never see a dragon in the game at all. (It fits for story, but still kind of weird.)
Reckoning begins a little different; you’re already dead. By the power of Gnomish engineering you are brought back to life. Every person in the world has a fate that they apparently can’t escape. You, having been pulled back from death, are not tied to that original destiny. You can affect/change other people’s fate now as well. The elvish/plant-looking Fae are mostly bothered by this since they relive ancient stories (quite literally) as traditions and you eventually get put into the middle of them and you change their stories. You don’t really fit into the “story”, and that’s a good thing since the world as a whole isn’t really working out as well as it should since another version of the Fea (the Winter Fae as apposed to the nicer Summer Fae) have learned the same concept of changing stories. (Stinking bad guys always ruining the world and stuff!)
Exploration is one of the main things people love to do in open world RPG’s. Skyrim and Reckoning start showing their differences right at the very beginning of each game. In Skyrim you have the ability to wander off and explore whatever and wherever you want. It’s easy to get lost in the land of Tamriel and its many ruins, dungeons and caves. There are the occasional quests to pick up and finish, however, you are still just some guy who walks into a place and offers to help. Sometimes the fact that you’re a “dragonborn” plays a role outside of the main story quest lines, but it mostly doesn’t. There aren’t many areas you’re not allowed to go either. There are some difficulty walls that can, with massive patience, can be overcome like giants and the undead-mask-kings/guys. For the sake of argument, you can just walk from one end of the world to the other.
In Reckoning you can also start to explore as well although the open world is more reminiscent of TERA where areas are connected by paths and not completely open on all sides. There are also definite difficulty walls in Reckoning and when you stroll into an area earlier than you should, the bad guys will let you know. Like I’ve said before, in Reckoning, you don’t really fit into the story. A lot of the time, even the side quests deal with you being different. You stand out from the crowd of people just wandering around. I appreciated this to some extent. With so many quests (and there were way more quests here in Reckoning) and the fact that most of them deal with you standing out, you are constantly reminded of the story or your role in the world. This is compared to Skyrim where the side quests don’t really reflect on who you are as the main character. Most bad guys were just upset that you intruded in their hideout and when you turned a quest in, it didn’t seem to affect the world at large. That is unless you consider gaining popularity in a single city and thus getting access to buying a house as affecting your world. It was kind of nice though (Markarth FTW!)
Speaking of quests, as I mentioned before, Reckoning has more. Almost to its detriment, Reckoning had so many quests all while you can only track one at a time. You get flooded with quests, small and large, everywhere and while you may not forget the story to the game it almost kills the replayability. When you play MMO’s, you know what I’m talking about. There may be some quest hubs you look fondly back on (the original starting area of the Dwarves in WoW for yours truly), but there are always a few areas you lament having to go through again with a new character. Being restricted to only track one quest at a time was just so annoying especially when I’ve played other games that allow for more. There are a ton of quests in Reckoning and you’ll want to track more than that at a time… just argh! At the same time, it does kind of make you focus on the task at hand… but mostly it’s just annoying.
Another way to interact with the world is by ruining others. In Skyrim it is easier to kill random NPC’s, but it’s not that much harder in Reckoning. It’s basically a mode you initiate. Stealing is easy in both games as well, however, you can’t pick up and put buckets on NPC heads like Skyrim, you’ll need skills that help make you invisible in Reckoning. You’ll need to level up your Finesse skills to make this super easy.
Speaking of skills, Skyrim could take a lesson from Reckoning in simplifying skill trees. I love all of the options that Skyrim gives you, but navigating it can be a bit of a pain. Even on a PC, it’s not the easiest thing when compared to the console alternative. Reckoning has three distinct skill trees that lean towards the rogue, warrior, or mage type play-styles. You can pick and choose to make any class that you wish and 38 Studios went to great lengths to make all your possible choices work. Skyrim didn’t make me fee like all of my choices were very viable. That is unless you go straight melee, then you can beat anything… and it’s awesome. In Skyrim, mixing a lot of different skill trees often left you less powerful over all. There wasn’t a fisticuffs option in Reckoning, but I didn’t realize that until I just typed it. There was something lethargic about punching a dragon in the face until it died from it.
Crafting plays a major role in both stories, however, it’s worlds more important in Skyrim due to the game not have a ton of fancy drops. Items do drop in Skyrim, but the best gear is made by your hands (except for the cool masks). If you play long enough, you can sometimes come into some materials that help you craft the nicest items in the game. You’ll still need to level up to be able to get to that point, but that’s common practice. However, you’ll also be choosing to improve your crafting ability rather than your combat ability. In Reckoning, the story is a bit different. You’ll get a ton more drops that are tempting to replace what you’ve got. It is very much more of a loot game than Skyrim is.
In both games, items that are dropped can be broken down into crafting materials. Skyrim has a more World of Warcraft like methodology. You get mats and recipes and those are your options until you level up and you basically make the next thing over and over. (I do miss leveling up completely on iron daggers, as broken as that game mechanic was.) You also level up while you’re crafting. The only real difference in the items you make will be if you enchant them.
Reckoning’s crafting method gets much more complicated that Skyrim all the while still being rather simplistic. Unlike Skyrim, you don’t level up with crafting more items. Leveling up your crafting comes from leveling up normally, you know, killing stuff and turning stuff in. You can choose to put points into crafting or something else like lock-picking. It’s a choice. Like I stated above, you get plenty of items from drops that will fulfill most of your needs. That is until you realize what you can craft in Reckoning. It gets pretty cool with the amount of customization and control you have over what you create.
In Reckoning, you collect items and pieces of gear from across the land that you can choose to either sell or break down into materials. When you put points into crafting, you can unlock the ability to add more components into what you’re creating. When you start, you can only create basic items with three separate materials. You can eventually put five components in to create gear with specific resistances or add fire and life steal to a dagger. Different quality components add different specific attributes. When you get to where there are more rare components in your inventory, you’ll be making some seriously cool stuff. This process takes a bit longer than it does in Skyrim, but it’s definitely more satisfying. What Skyrim does have going for it is simplicity and a lack of “hoping to get the right mats” to make cooler gear.
Normally game controls wouldn’t be something I’d bring up in a review. I was told not to unless they do something so drastic that it bears bringing up. Reckoning, though, decides to do something most action RPGs don’t: it doesn’t allow you to jump. There are some people who find this to be a deal breaker and I can half-understand that. At the same time, I realize that you really don’t need jumping and let’s face it, a lot of the time it’s used in some weird platforming that kind of doesn’t really fit perfectly into the game in the first place. What did you really do with jumping in Skyrim? Well… you scaled mountains and got stuck in places you shouldn’t have jumped into. So what’s in jumping place? It’s a defensive move that helps add to the fast pace(ness) of the combat. Well played non-existent 38 Studios, well played.
The combat in Skyrim is good and solid. Most of it works well enough, but where it shined the most for this player is the punching only method and the sword-n-board. Actually utilizing the shield in Skyrim was awesome. In some games just having it is what gives you a chance to block and it’s done automatically. In Skyrim, you’d better push the block button or your enemy will just bypass your shield and score a nice boop on your well-groomed face. It felt amazing when you got some really sweet blocks in because it made me feel like a tanky-boss… and I love feeling cool when playing an RPG! Punching everything in the face still wins out. Sniping with archery is a close third.
Reckoning’s combat is faster. Without your ability to jump, you’re given a lunge or some form of “bamf” (like Nightcrawler) ability where you traverse a short distance instantly. On top of that, you’ll have an assortment of special skills to unleash upon your enemies that are much more aesthetically pleasing than just varied shouts from Skyrim (as cool as some of them were). It’s a Schwarzenegger VS Jackie Chan fight-scene thing. Both beat up the bad guys, but Jackie Chan is the flashier of the two.
In the realm of replayability, both have it in some form or another. In Reckoning, you’ll have a few paths to take to get to your ending and there are places where you can make different choices, but other than being nostalgic, Reckoning does kind of fall flat. Luckily, the combat is just so fun that you may just come back for that. That and because any combination of skill-tree-speccing is supposed to work in Reckoning, you can mess around to your heart’s content. On the same note, the writing in the game is good and fun, like coming back to a good book you’ve enjoyed before. That’s not something I’ve ever really done, but I’ve met people who can read the same book over and over.
Skyrim, being a game that was a bit more moddable and not having undergone some financial struggles, succeeds in a less personal struggle for replayability. The community will help you enjoy your second or third or fourth playthrough of the game. There are mods galore to play with including building your own house, having a flying house, changing your character’s look drastically, having dragon’s faces replaced with creepy Macho Man face, or completely new other continents made by other dedicated players. Let’s not forget the plethora of little camps and caves to explore! On top of that, DLC plays a part and while Reckoning got some DLC, Skyrim has more. This may have been a much more fair fight had 38 Studios not gone under.
The last thing we can touch on is the visuals just because if I didn’t bring it up, someone would complain. Let’s just get it out-of-the-way that Skyrim does look really nice with its realistic look and all that jazz. On the other hand, it took the community to make Skyrim look next-gen with better looking water, fuller trees, and atmosphere. The players are the real reason Skyrim looked as good as it did. When compared to what the community did with the game, vanilla Skyrim looked good, but not great. Shame on you developers for not catering to your PC crowd, but no worries, we’ll help you out. Reckoning went with the more cartoony (not really cel-shaded) look which works a different angle. In a fantasy setting, I like what Reckoning did more. When it’s more cartoony, you’re more prone to looking past certain things and it helps build on the fantasy setting itself. When it’s dingy and bland, you’re reminded more of the real world than when you are bombarded by wild colors and crazy architecture that transport you to different worlds not known to your imagination. In that sense, Reckoning does fantasy right for me and Skyrim makes me want a gun (which there is probably a mod for that.)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning