Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Could Be 2012's Sleeper HitS

Everything about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning seems designed to lose my interest. There's the title, the high fantasy setting, the silly race names. The entire game seems like a pastiche of all of the action role-playing titles that came before it.

But then I played it and suddenly I was enthralled.

I suppose it stands to reason that a game developed by Big Huge Games with the help of Ken Rolston (The Elder Scrolls III and IV), R.A. Salvatore (famed sci-fi and fantasy novelist) and Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn) would be anything but forgettable.

It's odd then that at first glance, second glance, long demo, it's still easy to dismiss it.

That's how I felt as I set through a demo of the game last week at Electronic Arts LA studio. Sean Dunn, studio manager at Big Huge Games, walked us through the backstory of the game, rolling out place settings and race names like Amalur, Almain, Varani, Ljosalfar, Dokkalfar. There were even a few I recognized like gnomes.

As he spoke, the television filled with gameplay and video showing off a detailed, colorful world, but one not easily separated from its action role-playing game predecessors. He showed us some neat twist additions in his game, like the ability to sneak up on anyone and try to pickpocket, that getting caught can mean in-game jail time which can result in a fine or lost experience points.

That you can create weapons from other crappier weapons and then tweak five basic components of your creations resulting in something special and unique.

You can, while running up to folks in the city for quests, skip their conversation and skip straight to a text summary of your quest. When you loot a treasure chest you can go straight into an option to compare your existing weapons and even switch out what you're using straight from that menu.

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There were a lot of tiny touches that perhaps only hardcore action RPG fans would notice. There were also some bigger ideas, like the notion that you are classless, that your abilities and the sort of character you are is drawn entirely from your choices of skills allowing you to create odd new classes like Shadow Master.

The game's underlying story draws in part on the notion that you are in a world where everyone lives according to pre-ordained fates but that you are fateless. You can, though, find these fates and use them to create special talents in your character.

It's something new, but wasn't enough to get me interested. In fact, I sort of put off trying the game during the nearly half-day event at EA. Fortunately, I finally settled down into a couch in a backroom and played.

While combat isn't anything entirely new it was instantly satisfying. It sort of felt like an amalgam of what I love about God of War and Diablo. There's that clicky-button mashing need to obliterate your enemies backed with gratifying, graphic and clever take downs and abilities.

My character, for instance, could teleport through people, leaving in his wake a poison trail, a trail that was absorbed by enemies as he passed through them. Armed with a chakram and knives, my character was able to toss out waves of damaging attacks. I could also sneak up on enemies and deliver devastating, visceral sneak attacks.

The game, designed as a solid PC role-playing title, worked so well on the Xbox 360 controller, that I wondered aloud how they would make it work as well on a computer. "We're working on that," I was told.

The graphics and backstory may not have a lot of instant appeal, but the fantastic combat system and colorful attacks and specials are sure to get gamers to stick around long enough to start caring and understanding about those things. And with a promised 60 hours of gameplay, it probably makes sense to slowly ramp that up over the course of the game.

There are four playable races, three class trees, each with 22 abilities to sort through. I played around with a few, like planting ice land mines or that venomous teleport, but there were many, many more I didn't get a chance to experience. That alone feels like it will make the game worthwhile.