Developer: Big Huge Games / Publisher: EA/38 Studios / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MS points / ESRB: Mature
Let’s clear one point up at the outset: eight out of 10 is a good score. It represents a game worth buying. I gave Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning that score, and a few months later, and now over 80 hours into the core game and the expansion DLC, I feel like the time committed + enjoyment factor divided by score ratio is a little off kilter. But I’m not wrong. Reckoning has problems, like its repetitive quests, clunky inventory system that consistently causes you to break any flow in the narrative, and voice acting that’s both limited and jarring when the voices and physical appearances of the characters are way out of whack.
So with new DLC comes new opportunity, but with Dead Kel, the formula of the original game is retained 100% intact. Sure, a few additions make it worthy, but there’s nothing here to convince someone who took a pass on the original to perform a change of heart and dive in.
Don’t get on a ship called the Calamity. I mean, that shouldn’t need saying, really. It’s like boarding a plane called Drops From The Sky or a train named One Way Ticket Off The Cliff. But that’s what you’re supposed to do when the feisty (and blue) Captain Brattigan seduces you with tales of derring-do out on the seas surrounding the city of Rathir. So long as your character is at least level 10 you can set sail (and all the encounters on the island scale to whatever your character level, so it still delivers some kind of challenge). What you discover is that a pirate named Dead Kel has kept the inhabitants of Gallow’s End virtual prisoner by not allowing boats in or out.
Naturally, he has some buddies who act as mini-bosses in what’s a six to 12 hour jaunt across a brand new island area. There’s no fast travel between the mainland and Gallow’s End, so you have to make friends and build your communities after—shockingly—your calamitous ship is wrecked and you’re washed ashore.
You quickly uncover the general despondence among the stranded inhabitants, and that leads to a slew of side quests involving recovering shipwrecked items or people, and a rebuilding project that gets you a real throne in what starts as a disused keep but becomes your palace and base of operations.
This Dead Kel DLC is entirely built on the same premises and gameplay format as the core game. It introduces new items and some new monsters, but fundamentally this is a straight plug-in of a new island to the core experience. The structure is also familiar with small hub areas housing the characters who dole out quests, and cave or dungeon instances offering the focal point for various objectives and bosses.
With a 33rd level character I added a couple of levels in completing the main Kill Dead Kel quest plus a whole bunch of the side missions. If you want, you can blow through that core path in probably four to six hours. Add on all the side options and you can potentially get about 12 hours out of the content. One particular aspect of the side options worth pursuing is the renovation of Gravehal Keep. This overgrown and abandoned collection of buildings becomes your home, and with the help of an architect called Paddy, you can build out a few rooms, have it decorated with paintings, and even have a couple of pets running around. Each pet, once chosen (and you can own up to three) provides a stat boost, and while they don’t join you on missions, you benefit slightly from their presence back at the keep. Same goes for the paintings; while the artist demands paints concocted from the blood of creatures you slay, each painting adds another stat bonus just because it’s there.
The house system in the main game was interesting, but fell apart as you consistently moved progressed through the world, so at best they were mere save points, not permanent locations generating any attachment. Gravehal Keep will feel like it’s yours. Paddy hires staff to man the shop, a healer, and even a diplomat to play a variant of a mini-game as you pretend to trade with, spy on, pay tribute to, or make alliances with local towns. It’s a bit of nonsense, but can generate goods useful for crafting or items handy in battle. And given high level characters will have tons of gold at this point, the cost to do business with these potential allies is tiny.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
All the new monsters and characters follow the core formula from the main game, with little enhancement, if any. Some of the higher-end weapons are backed by impressive sparkles or effects as they wail on each enemy, but it’s all consistent with the original game.
That said, the voice acting again is quite wonky. For a start, everyone on this island—pirates, ship captains, religious figures—is evidently English. No big deal, but some of the dialogue gets a little racy. A hidden Achievement is available if you woo the feisty, blue-skinned captain of the Calamity. She professes her interest in and appetite for sex…but she sounds 12…maybe 14…perhaps 16, but definitely jail bait. It’s a little off-putting. A couple of other more adult choices provide pause for thought, like the murderer who’s hanged, or a situation where if you act quick enough you can save a hostage, but fail to protect him and his story and rewards are gone.
Reckoning is amusingly playable. Fundamentally simple its combat is colorful and effective and consistently makes you feel like the real star of this show. Dead Kel furthers that same format without adding skills or abilities to your character’s progression. This addition won’t make anyone change their mind who already finds the premise of a single-player MMO-format game design distasteful. But as an additional distraction and addition to your character and the world fiction, Reckoning fans should feel duty-bound to save the inhabitants of Gallows End, and become proud keep-owners in the process.