In February of 2012, Ymiris & I were playing Skyrim, DotA2, and Diablo III. Those three games were it, the pinnacle of our gaming year, and we were happy with that. Now, two years later, there are still Skyrim quests I wish I could go do, but I just can’t bring myself back to that white-washed world. DotA2 has gotten a lot better, with new tutorials, nicer players, and purchasable outfits, but it sucks up too much time and only I am interested in it. Diablo III – I admit it, I regret my time playing that; sure, it was a great hack-and-slash game, with it’s easy controls and progressively better equipment, but it felt so shallow when the purchaseable items could become outdated so quickly, like the game became too transparent for the underlying commercialism. (Sure, I know the point of every game is to make money, but it would be nice if the developers tried to hide it better)
Why am I recapping February of 2012 for you? Because that is when Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was released, and we missed it. I may have folded a page in PC Gamer for it, and Ymiris may have forwarded me an advertisement for it, but I can honestly say I was not interested. The cover art makes it look like a God of War or Gears of War lookalike, full of blood and gore and a one-path plotline with no interesting characters; an FPS meant to appeal to hard-core FPS gamers. I’m here to say : DO NOT LOOK AT THE ART ON THE BOX! It is not a GoW lookalike.
Amalur is Skyrim’s questing, fast-travel system, and skill tree diversity, World of Warcrafts coloring, Dragon Age’s choice-based dialogues, God of War’s monster battles, and Diablo III’s ease of controls. That’s it, if you are looking for a quick summary.
Now to tell you why a 2-year-old game has been our new apex to which other couple games will now be compared.
1) The diversity means it appeals to so many different play styles.
Ymiris & I don’t play games the same way. I play for characters, game changes based on choices, and to join a beautiful, complex world for just a while; I play as an escape where I feel like I’m progessing. I asked Ymiris why he plays games; his reply was “so my wife doesn’t beat me”, so I’ll have to answer for him. He plays as a way to be entertained that stimulates his mind, which usually translates to an FPS with monsters that can awe him.
Despite being a single-player game, there were aspects we both had input on. Which skill trees we put points in and how we answer questlines - these two aspects can drastically change how we decide to play a character.
The Destiny skill tree is the first obvious example of this. Ymiris is more hands-on in fighting, and I need to be a ranged magician, so we consistently put equal points in Rogue & Mage, a valid destiny tree that allowed us to cast spells as well as backstab to our heart’s content. There are even armor and weapons that feed this destiny that we could both choose – daggers with mana regeneration, or boots that increase poison and fire damage. Of course, we ended up with a Dagger-Chakram combo because Chakrams are incredibly more fun than staves, and I found that when I was really stressed out, the key-combination to cast spells was suddenly too complicated.
The Skill tree was the next place that we had to collaborate on what our Couple playing style was. We started out with a little in everything – Alchemy, Dispelling, Lockpicking, but ultimately maxed out Persuasion and Stealth first which meant that I could talk our NPCs into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise, and Ymiris could do some wonderful stabby moves, killing enemies in one quick movement (that took AN HOUR to get to! Seriously, sweetie, sometimes you don’t have to start the stealth from the NEXT MOUNTAIN OVER. GAH!)
Once you start down a skill tree, you start seeing what your personal Couple Play Style is. After finishing the main questline & trying out the DLC, we discovered how much fun it is to create our own armor & weapons. Into my second glass of wine, we created “Pugskin Stiletto’s” after our pug punctured my chest for the third time, and we created the “Pointy daggers of DOOOOOOOOM”, which has been WAY too much fun.
With your character defined, you now get to put this definition into the questlines. For the most part, the main questline is defined : you’re going to have to take on the bad guy. However, what & how you do it changes things. We are the Co-Queens of the House of Ballads with a crazy-but-realistic Maid. We also own a house in a village populated by people, instead of spiders.. though, the house once belonged to a guy we kinda’ turned in as a murdering asshole. The point is – the choices we made, we made together, which made it OUR game.. a couple game.
2) Low cost of entrance
Titanfall requires a mastery of the controls to play well. KoA:R does not. I first picked up the controller while Ymiris went to get a drink long after the tutorial, and was able to figure out how to do incredible damage pretty much instinctively. One button for one weapon, one button for another. Voila. So while getting the basics down is easy, the there are also ways of mastering
3) Parts to Play Apart
Every good couple knows that there are times you cannot be together. One of the first times I almost stabbed Ymiris is when we bought a motorcycle together when we were first dating. He would ride the motorcycle to & from work, and then I would want to go for a ride when he got home – but he wasn’t interested in doing so because he had just finished a 30 minute ride. I promptly bought my OWN motorcycle, thank you very much. Point is, if you both like to do the same thing, you need to find a way to play both together and apart.
KoA:R has the main quest line that you should do together, and there are faction questlines that you can play together if you want, and then there are side questlines. If Ymiris is outside in the cold, then I am taking off to help someone who’s husband was kidnapped. I have to run to the store, so Ymiris did some of the map research so we could fast-travel places. Side quests rarely change anything major, though they might, as with the village of spiders vs. NPCs, but they are still fun.
Now for some downsides.
I will say that this game IS buggy. As I write this, we spoke to a quest-give in a cage, and by the time the conversation was over, we had glitched so that we were now locked in the cage with her. Ymiris has to Fast Travel to get out, and run all the way back through. With the weird repetitive cut-movies and close-ups of creatures that appear after the movie, this was not the first glitch, but it’s one of the most annoying.
The game is currently free on PS3 (or was recently), with some DLC that costs $10 each. I suggest getting the Dead Kel DLC, especially if you are a fan of Futurama, which is really what made that entire $10 so worth it. Please go get it – we need to tell developers why this was good, and to please make more like it!