I was told that behind the name R. A. Salvatore lay a fierce following. When I read Reckoning’s synopsis, the only elements that rang bells were the names of the mythical races. I’m versed enough in fantasy lore to know the difference between a Dokkalfar and Ljosalfar, but beyond that? It’s all Gnomish to me.
That being said, my lack of familiarity with the work of Salvatore by no means hindered my ability to enjoy this game. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this brand new world filled with elves and goblins, but I rather enjoyed setting out on my adventure with a clean slate. Literally. You begin the game as a dead body. You burst up, jack-in-the-box style, out of a mound of rotting corpses, which is now the worst possible way to wake up, and begin your quests for answers. What’s going on with the Tuatha? Why are you Fateless? Why would anyone want to bring you back? Why won’t the Well of Souls stop moaning?
I thought draping a morgue sheet over a player character is a pretty clever way to segue into the customization menu. I was delightfully surprised when I discovered that tapping the right trigger switched my burly male model to a curvy female one. I proceeded to make the most beautiful Varani ever. Your options are actually rather diverse, providing you sliders for skin tones, hair, tattoos, and a few other categories. Oddly enough, my character ended up looking almost exactly like my first Revan in Knights of the Old Republic. It was a satisfying experience that left me feeling like this character I’d created was uniquely mine. I was prompted to chose a patron deity (or absence of one for a 10% experience gain perk.) After that, you’re on your own. There’s no specialization selection, as your “fateless” status equates to “classless.” Or more accurately, one who can change their class at will. You define yourself when you level up, which is a refreshing experience.
Players won’t be boxed into a class, but rather change their “fate” according to their play style. It’s a welcome addition that keeps gameplay fresh and dynamic. This is the “Destiny” system Curt Schilling described, a process of ever-shifting specialties that present themselves to you upon leveling up. Skill points are fed into familiar-looking trees, which then unlock specialties depending on the attributes you invest in: Might, Finesse, and Sorcery. This is a clever method of creating a sense of organic class evolution, until you realize that you’re not going to get to that Duelist fate until you balance your points across your trees better. There’s going to be some level of planning required if you have a specific combat style in mind, but players won’t be punished for allocating points wherever they feel like it. Those hybrid classes just might not appear until much later.
I decided to play a sword-y, leather-clad, dagger enthusiast with an accidental affinity for archery. This meant that not only could I stealth into combat and carry out a coup de grace, but I could immediately draw my broadsword afterward and lay waste to whatever boggarts were alerted to my murderous presence. You’ve got the option to block, dodge, or just plow through one attack with another– which doesn’t work. This is one of those games where you’re going to have to dodge or block, unless you want to sacrifice considerable hit points to the troll you’re fighting.
You get into combat pretty shortly after the mini-tutorials flash across the screen. You’ll notice immediately that everything you do, from running and jumping to hacking and slashing, is strikingly similar to the combat in Fable III. Even your character’s at-rest posture resembles this exaggerated style. Once you enter combat mode, the camera zooms out and locks, defining your battlefield. Players may use a mix of swordplay, daggers, and magic to engage opponents, much like in Fable, but it also adds to that mechanic. In addition to those three standard combat types, you’re offered stealth attacks, ranged, and a variety of learned abilities that will call on either your physical of magical prowess. Blast an opponent with fire bolt one second, then use your sword to rend the ground itself in a staggering attack. It does, however, lack that on-the-fly fluidity that Fable III accomplished in its transitions between ranged and melee abilities. Sure, it’s more realistic, and it’s not too difficult to switch from mashing square to triangle, but the controls are just a tad behind. Still, combat is diverse and, overall, fun.
Players need to commit to their style of play and change tactics responsibly. Players are not invincible, and they will be reminded of this quite often if they charge into battle with a blazing broadsword and scraps of leather armor. Watch as your health bar shrinks, mocking you for your mismatched equipment. The real fun manifests when you enter “Reckoning” mode, a state which builds up as you engage enemies. Activating this mode slows time and allows you to wail on your foes until you’re clear to finish them. The killing blow is determined by a QTE, and the final sequence of button mashing determines bonus experience gained from the encounter. Watching your glowy-eyed self rip the heads off trolls is sickeningly satisfying.