I finally got to sit down in front of Ye Olde PS3 last night around 1am, and I tried out Kingdoms of Amalur since I was pretty eager to see how it'll play and obviously getting some co-op going wasn't an option at that hour.
In some respects, I agree with Bakken. The lore, writing and storytelling seem pretty solid. Quite a bit more engaging than in Skyrim, frankly. I certainly wouldn't say the game felt especially fresh or delivered anything particularly new (at least in the demo) but what was on offer was nonetheless well executed.
The graphics, however, suck leaky deflated balls. I'd say Reckoning almost looks more like a PS2 game than like a modern title running on (relatively) modern(ish) hardware. Textures are low-res, everything has a blocky, cartoony look… ugh. And it became an actual gameplay problem when there were traps, because the bland, blocky, muddy bear trap graphics just blended right into the bland, blocky, muddy cave floor graphics, and not in a cool, stealthy way, just in a 'jeez that was cheap' way. My eyes got really tired (and really pissed) from struggling to pick out features in the mine I went dungeon-crawling through. Blearrghh.
The demo also seemed to have a pretty big bug… unless maybe this is just how the game is, which I'd be interested to know. Once I finished the mine and went on to the village, nobody had voices anymore. People's mouths would move when they were talking, but the text interface would kind of judder and then their subtitles would show up on top of the screen instead of on the bottom, and I didn't hear any speech. Background sounds continued — insects and whatnot — but no dialogue. I really hope that was a glitch and not just the way things will be because the developers didn't record audio for most of the dialogue in the game.
That pretty much covers the major negatives, though. Character creation was fun, if not in any way unexpected, and while I wasn't a fan of the camera, especially during fights — it moves a little spazzily, it never quite felt 100% under my control, and it often made an extra little swoop and landed somewhere other than I wanted it to due to some internal calculation, which irritated me almost without fail — it was really refreshing, after Skyrim, to play an RPG in which combat isn't a rote and simplistic matter. (Or at least it seems like it won't be simplistic; obviously in the demo there wasn't enough time to really get a feel for the depth of the combat system.) I've seen a bunch of previews and promos in which the developers liken their combat to God of War's, but that's ridiculous. Nothing about it comes close to the smoothness, fluidity or responsiveness of the combat in God of War. The animation isn't there. The detail isn't there. The finishing moves aren't there. The brutality isn't there. The precision of move and counter-move isn't there. Enemy lock-on frequently twitches away from your selected target at the last possible second, just as you're attacking, frequently to an enemy who's not even onscreen, and combat as a whole just feels way clunkier and nowhere near as awesome as GoW's. But Reckoning is an open-world RPG, not an action game like God of War, so it would be some kind of impossible miracle if the combat was just as good. Expecting parity wouldn't be fair or reasonable.
I do hope they tweak the targeting issue, and I think they're generating some very unrealistic expectations by leaning on the GoW comparison when they really, really shouldn't, but the swordplay, staff-play and magic all felt involving in a way that spellcasting in Skyrim has not. In Skyrim, you just have two hands, and while you can switch what weapons, shields or spells you have assigned to each hand (albeit in a somewhat cumbersome way) you can't ever do more than two different things at once, and you never really feel like you have an actual, physical body you're operating because the combat is so overly simple and gives you so few things to do. In Reckoning, you can dodge and roll in whatever direction you want, you can block, you can use a melee or ranged secondary weapon as well as your primary weapon, and you can cast spells. There's just a lot more to do, and different enemies have different attack patterns — and even better, it seems like at least some enemies have multiple different sets of attacks they can choose from. For example, Kobolds tended to either take one really big swing or launch into a series of three smaller blows, but then there were the ones who had a ranged attack and also a ranged-and-then-roll-into-melee attack. It's not that any of these attacks were especially amazing to behold, or that any of the fighting had the kind of fluidity and intrinsic joy of the combat in a God of War title. It's just that I had to pay attention and engage, and timing and player skill actually mattered, unlike in Skyrim. So I can see where they tried to apply some of the systems from God of War, and that's a very good thing even if the notion that combat in Reckoning is even remotely comparable to GoW's is laughable.
Returning to traditional point-based upgrades and leveling from Skyrim's learn-by-doing mechanics will be a bit of a bummer, though grinding out repetitive tasks in Elder Scrolls games just to level up skills obviously has its own drawbacks, and I have a feeling that harvesting reagents will be much less absorbing than in Skyrim because of the sheer craptasticness of the graphics and the fact that the world just doesn't have the awesome and immersive look and feel of Bethesda's latest, but that probably just means the game will have a somewhat different set of strengths and weaknesses.
At this point, I guess I can count myself cautiously sold… at least more than enough to rent it, which was all that had been on the table, anyway.