Gameplanet: As Amalur is a new intellectual property, there's the opportunity to innovate – what concepts have you introduced to this RPG?
Sean Bean: The single biggest thing would be the combat. We looked at all the things that role-playing games do well, and all the things they don't do well, and we decided to have an open world you could explore however you wanted. We wanted to have an expansive story, we wanted to have a cool hack'n'slash style system, and countless items to find. All that we did, but I think the thing that really stands out is the combat. The moment to moment combat in Reckoning is closer to an action game than you normally see in an RPG. It's very fast, very fluid, and it's extremely responsive. You hit somebody and you can feel it – I don't just mean the rumble in the controller, but the way the animations are built, the way the enemies fly across the field when you hit them, and the way you fly across the field when they hit you.
It's about the way the animations are done and the characters are controlled, and your ability to block or roll out in the middle of an attack instead of having to sit there and wait for your character to do something before you can do the next thing. And finally just the sheer breadth of stuff you can do in the combat, and gear too, for that matter. I feel that frankly it's above and beyond what the RPG genre has ever delivered before in terms of combat.
Gameplanet: Why do you have this quick approach to combat, does this tie in with the speed of the narrative? Will we be moving from area to area at a quick pace?
Ian Frazier: I think you'll move through the world faster than is the standard for open world games, but that said, the world is very, very large. We have five different geographic zones that are all completely different visually, so getting from one across to the other four can take quite some time, even at a pretty good pace.
Sean: I think also it's not just the speed of the combat, it's the immersion. I think that's what we were looking for. So you look at other RPGs and there's fantastic RPGs that have these beautifully developed worlds, they have all these quests and NPCs, and they allow you to be there and actually feel the emotion of the whole thing. You're going through and you get in a fight, and the moment that happens in these fantastic RPGs, it stops. In some games there will be a cut to a screen that is specifically used for wipes, and it's like this little game that exists in another game you were playing and having a lot of fun in. You have to figure out how to get through that to get back to the game you were enjoying. We wanted it to be just as immersive to fight as it is to do everything else.
Gameplanet: Ian, you worked on Titan Quest, which was a highly respected game. A lot of people were annoyed when Iron Lore got shut down...
Ian: We were also very annoyed!
Gameplanet: ...Is there any influence from Titan Quest in Amalur?
Ian: There's two that you'll definitely pick up on. One is our Destiny system, it's something I always wanted to do with Iron Lore, it was always "some day, we'll get to do this!", and some day we did, because we got to use it with Reckoning. The way that it works is that you start the game off, you've got these three different ability trees, and you'll notice the structure is a lot like how they looked in Titan Quest. You can invest in the abilities either on a single tree, or across all three trees. You may remember in Titan Quest you could have two different masteries, and you could combine them to make hybrid characters. We always loved that, it was something that was received really well by the community with Titan Quest, so we wanted to keep that hybridisation in Reckoning. We not only let you hybridise like Titan Quest did, but you can do it with three trees at a time, and we reward you with these dynamic classes, what we call Destinies – because of the decisions you've made, the way you've chosen to focus on a tree, or hybridise between two or three trees.
Another thing that is somewhat inspired by Titan Quest is the way we do loot. Normally hardcore open-world RPGs are all about exploration, they do tons of quests and all that's great, but the loot tends to be a little bit lacking. I saw no good reason to not bring over all the good aspects of the loot system from Titan Quest and full-on jack them into Reckoning, and that's what we did. We have a huge affix system that can generate countless items, so there's not only your "flaming helm of resplendent glory", but also hundreds and hundreds of hand-crafted unique items, much like Titan Quest. We also have custom art pieces that have their own history, names, facts and custom effects. So the loot experience is very much in the vein of Titan Quest.
Sean: There's standalone uniques as well as set items.
Ian: Yeah, collectable sets too.
Gameplanet: With the varied class builds and multiple weapons, how difficult has it been to balance everything?
Ian: It's been time consuming, I'll say that! It's not quite as bad as doing Titan Quest, which was a multiplayer game with a different level of challenge. The Destiny system we've been doing with Reckoning means there's so many different permutations, so many different kinds of characters you can build. We actually have a subset of our quality assurance team we lovingly call "Team Raptor" that are specifically dedicated to playing the game not as QA testers, but as normal people, and trying every different type of build they can think of, and trying every different kind of mix: "I'm going to be a wizard and wear robes, but use hammers" – just bizarre mixes that most people probably won't do. We've had them working for six months now, going through the game as it nears completion and playing it myriad different ways and letting us make adjustments based on that feedback.
We also have a pretty robust telemetry system, so as we've done passes both internally and outside EA – which is not a lot – we can find out how often people are dying, where they're dying, what's killing them, how many health potions do they use before they die, what kind of weapons were they using, what was the quality of their sword, etc. It lets us find patterns, so we can look at that and say that people who play a fighter robe hybrid suck, and they're getting killed, we should probably do something about that. It's been incredibly valuable helping us balance all those different combinations.
Gameplanet: How about Boss fights? What can we expect?
Ian: I'm afraid aside from saying they're awesome, we're not allowed to say a whole lot yet! There are bosses, I can tell you that!
Sean: We really have two levels of boss fights. As you're going through and doing some of the side quests, and even some of the main quests, you'll run into characters or monsters that in a singular environment, or with singular abilities will get their own little health bar off to the side. The music changes, the camera angles change and it becomes this fight you need to pay more attention to and think through more than you would the normal skirmishes.
We also have the gigantic boss fights. If you look at the end of one of the trailers, you run up to a 5000 foot monster that screams at you, that's one of the boss fights that exist.