The tone and tenor of reviews in this batch is definitely much more on the positive side of things, with scores tending to be in the 80% or better range (although Entertainment Weekly didn’t particularly care for the game). One notable highlight is Ten Ton Hammer’s mention of the game’s “anti-grind” formula — the game really has been architected in a way that lets you level up by completing quests, rather than by having to kill countless scores of monsters.
GameBanshee had a lot to say about the game as well, in a four-page review. Here’s a couple of choice quotes:
The odd thing is, Reckoning actually gets better as it goes. Most games are front-loaded with their content, mostly because they want to impress gamers right out of the gate – after all, most players don’t finish games and they want to see all the cool stuff to justify their purchasing decisions right off the bat. Reckoning starts out as an okay action-RPG with some good combat, but the early focus on side-questing around monotonous forests and caves doesn’t do it too many favors. However, stick with it long enough and the game’s better elements creeep out of the woodwork. The game’s first city, Ysa, marks the turning point, and is when the story really begins to come together. Many players may not get that far, which is a real shame as it’s when Reckoning hits its stride; frankly, it should have happened five hours in instead of 25.
All of this that I say about Reckoning’s repetition is worth bearing in mind, but there’s a flip-side to the game that also makes it one of the best action-RPGs seen in years. Though the action-RPG genre has always struggled to marry fast-paced, responsive combat with the depth and breadth of a genuine RPG character system, Reckoning might well be the first game that really succeeds at it. Part of this comes down to the fact that that combat is up there with other dedicated action games like God of War in terms of fluidity and responsiveness, and part of it also comes down to the fact that it doesn’t cut out the role-playing in the name of that action. Reckoning provides a very solid stable of both combat-oriented character development and non-combat options, and it makes previous attempts like The Witcher 2 and Divinity II look clunky and awkward in comparison.
Which, I suppose, isn’t really that surprising, given the game’s heavy reliance on Celtic and English influences in its characters and architecture. It really is quite a contrast with the generally Nordic & Germanic trends in other RPG series.
GameBanshee’s Eric Schwarz discusses the game at Gamasutra, and draws out what seems to be a fairly common criticism of it — that it’s almost the first single-player MMORPG:
Aside from the sheer size of the world, Reckoning also does some curious things regarding the structure of that world – namely, it draws very heavy inspiration from MMORPGs. As mentioned above, the world is broke up into distinct zones, connected by convenient canyons and passes that are probably serve both technical and gameplay functions. The player’s progress across the map is more or less west-to-east, with things opening up a little bit more at the midgame point as the player’s objectives expand.
Most lacking from Reckoning, I think, is that sense of emotional attachment. At one point in the game, the player is given the option of destroying the town of Canneroc, a small silk-harvesting village in the middle of a spider-infested wood. In a more traditional RPG, the decision to destroy this town would not be something taken lightly: chances are the player would have spent some time there, got to know its residents, its place in the world, been given some sort of investment into its well-being, etc. However, in Reckoning, it’s just another quest hub to move on from, and whether it continues to exist or not has no impact on the game as a whole. What could have been an interesting moral decision is cheapened significantly by the lack of gameplay repercussions and the structure of the game itself.
I think it’s very strange that Reckoning subscribes to this MMO-style world design. As a single-player game driven largely by its quests, story and exploration factor, there’s very little reason for players not to want to complete every bit of content (at least in theory). Even if a zone’s enemies are cannon fodder, or the loot is no good, players want to be able to tick those quests off one by one. By segregating the game world in this manner, there’s a fundamental conflict of interest between the world design and the motivations of players in navigating it.
And to be fair, there’s an air of validity to his criticisms…although it’s worth noting that inasmuch as modern MMO world design inherits from the Ultima Online tradition, it inherits from a tradition that intended to transpose the large, open world of a single player RPG universe into a multiplayer context. Although, to be fair, MMOs have iterated and permuted how the open world concept is handled quite a bit.
The criticism of the lack of moral impact of a decision in the game is…you know what? I think I might have said this before, but I (for one) am glad that Reckoning doesn’t make much of a bother about moral decision-making. Not that I don’t like that mechanic in games when it’s there…but it’s nice to have a break from it, too. And, as I am sure I said before, it fits in with the lore of the world. Because really, what is morality in a fully deterministic, fully predestined world? What is a murderer, in such a world? It’s not like he could choose not to kill the other person, after all. Does such a one have moral agency?
CNET actually posed the question, and the consensus at their end tends toward a positive response to the question. GameBanshee doesn’t quite agree, although their disagreements mostly focus on quibbles over the PC version’s controls. Which, yes, are a bit different from the standard WASD-based control scheme that has become typical in PC RPGs…but which are hardly an insurmountable (or even a significant) hurdle as far as getting into the game is concerned.
We already know the answer to this question!