This is a post about an add-on for the game Kingdoms of Amalur: Recoking. You may wish to read the earlier post about the base game first, and indeed the piece about its first add-on. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
As I have said before, Kindoms of Amalur is too long. Yet, I still found myself enticed by its first piece of story DLC (that’s downloadable content for those not aware), The Legend of Dead Kel. Having come that far, I had to go all the way and also play the second and final bit of DLC, The Teeth of Naros. With undead pirates already covered in the first DLC, the premise for The Teeth of Naros is instead an expedition into the titular Teeth, which are unexplored lands to the south of the Fae forests of Dalentarth. Rumor has it they are filled with untold treasures. I was ready for a tale of frontiersmanship, establishing ourselves in a hostile wilderness, fighting off dangerous local fauna, and possibly a little commentary on colonialism as we imposed our will on some natives.
But it turns out that the expedition goes wrong almost immediately, and what The Teeth of Naros is actually about is a race of giant statue-people called the Kollossae, who are modeled after the ancient Greeks and who are struggling to finish construction of their flying city to appease their god and lift themselves out of their old, brutish ways and into civilized enlightenment. Huh.
Honestly, once I got over my initial disappointment over the lack of colonialist ethical dilemmas, I had to concede that the reality of The Teeth of Naros is more interesting. The Kollossae have never seen humans or Alfar (read: elves) before, and their response to my character’s arrival is decidedly mixed. The Kollossae are a proud people, convinced theirs is the height of civilization, eager to spread their wisdom to the lesser races of the world, so a diminutive creature claiming to have come from an advanced civilization of her own was cause to scoff. But, my character had apparently met the god of the Kollossae, Ethene (note: not the hydrocarbon), on the way to the Teeth of Naros and received her blessing, marking my character as the Beckoned who is prophesied to save the Kollossae. So, they reluctantly accepted my hero, especially after witnessing her combat prowess. It seems that, as elsewhere in Amalur, the Kollossae are stuck, bound by their fate to never complete the flying city of Idylla, which is their holy charge. The Fateless One is needed again, to break fate’s chains and free the destiny of the Kollossae.
The flying city of Idylla is very much the focus of the DLC. The lands beneath it are roughly the size of one of the many small areas which make up the main game, and serve mostly as a juxtaposition: a harsh land, full of savage Jottun and irritable pteryx (war ostriches, basically, who are new to the DLC). Idylla, by contrast, is a bastion of art and culture which has literally risen above its surroundings. Not the most subtle framing, but effective nonetheless, especially given the clear Greek inspirations for the Kollossae and their city. When I think of ancient Greek statues, I think of bronzes, but the Kollossae resemble stone statues instead, and have too many decorative adornments and angular edges to match the Greek style. Everything else about them, though — their attire, architecture, names, culture — is clearly copied from ancient Greece, including the fact that theirs is an early civilization in this part of the world. The Kollossae were once violent, instinctual beings like the Jottun and the rest of their giant kin, but the blessings of Ethene have led them to work to be something more. They’ve only gotten partway there.
This is driven home by the ways in which the Kollossae differ from the ancient Greeks, which stand out all the more for being so few. For all their newfound enlightenment, the Kollossae still believe in power as a virtue and a right. My character was able to participate in their debates, taking a side on various ethical issues such as whether the powerful have a moral imperative to lead. I could choose which arguments to present, but the victor of the debate was decided by single combat. Even in Idylla, might still makes right, a relic from Kollossae past. And not all Kollossae are on board with this newfangled civilization idea, preferring instead to live below in the Teeth and fight for their survival. By and large, though, they are trying.
Aside from the small detail that it flies, Idylla is similar to the cities featured in the main game. But I never really wrote about those, so I guess I’ll do so now. As is common in role-playing games, the cities of Amalur suffer from feeling very small, especially because they are divided into separate areas with loading screens between. They do all have a distinct look and architectural style, however, and are full of people who will tell you all about their cultural idiosyncrasies. Wander through the gnomish city of Adessa, and you will find a highly stratified society ruled by the Templars, who dictate the scientific and scholarly pursuits which drive gnome society. Non-gnomes are relegated to simple labor, working on the endless construction throughout the city. Travel to Rathir, and find a much older Alfar city with ancient noble houses and a long history of magical pursuits spanning over a thousand years. Idylla, in addition to being airborne, is largely open, filled with columns and arches, and Kollossae eager to boast of their arts and theater. It’s clearly distinct from the other societies in Amalur, but navigating its squares, markets, and living spaces feels no different to navigating the other cities in the game. Instead, Idylla hides the DLC’s principal design triumph: it has the best dungeons in the entire game.
I’ve already mentioned that the dungeons in Kingdoms of Amalur are a bit boring. They look fantastic, but they’re all the same series of giant corridors, their layouts never make any sense, and they start to feel the same far too soon. It seems the designers of the Teeth of Naros wished to tackle the challenge of making interesting dungeons, and they succeeded. Amusingly, the main dungeon players will visit is actually the sewers beneath Idylla. That’s right, sewers. Universally regarded as the least interesting part of any game they’re in, sewers nevertheless seem mandatory in so many of them, and are the last place I’d expected to find inspired design. But Idylla is a flying city, so its sewers are a bit different than the norm. Built more to channel the powerful magics that keep the city afloat rather than to deal with its waste — which I presume would just be dumped on the land below anyway — the sewers feature plenty of vertiginous views, as players traverse floating rocks haphazardly lashed together with only empty sky underneath. The vertical structure of the sewers make them stand out from anything in the base game, even if Amalur’s engine is strained to accomodate it. The place is rife with the jump points that appear throughout the base game, letting players leap down from ledges, but the ladders that let them climb up again are new, even if they work by essentially teleporting players to a higher platform. That is a bit awkward, but the joy of traversing this three dimensional maze far outweighs any clunkiness. I loved the criss-crossing ramps and bridges, loved gazing upwards at ledges far above and wondering how to get there, loved looking down on a pack of enemies far below before leaping down to engage them.
The other key trick of the sewers is that they’re treated like a real place, rather than a simple dungeon with some monsters in it. There are friendly Kollossae within, some working, some who apparently live there, and some who may just be looking for some solitude away from the bustling districts above. The sewers ring the city, so there are multiple entrances from different parts of Idylla, neatly avoiding the trap of linear design that plagues the dungeons in the main game. In fact, there are even some side dungeons that can be accessed from the sewers. I guess that’s the real secret of the sewers: they’re like the outdoor areas of Amalur, not like Amalur’s dungeons. They can be explored at one’s leisure, there are friends and foes to find, and points of interest to uncover, rather than a simple maze with a single goal to pursue. The side dungeons hew closer to those in the base game, tending to be linear and with a single objective to pursue, but they retain the wonderful visual design of the rest of the sewers, as well as the vertical structure that makes them so fun to traverse.
The Teeth of Naros hide another standout dungeon as well. As far as I could tell, it’s completely optional, but the designers cleverly led me to it via a different side quest. I was tasked to find a few items scattered around, and one of them was in this dungeon, dug into the earth of the land below Idylla. But I found it immediately, just inside the door. There was no reason to stay, and if this had been the base game of Amalur I don’t think I would have. But at this point I’d explored Idylla’s sewers and had a blast, so when I found myself in this large dungeon I was curious. Just ahead was an open area, and some fancy looking equipment enclosed in a cage. Three doors led off in different directions. Intrigued, and emboldened by the newfound quality of these spaces in the DLC, I took the bait and started exploring. I found a huge, three part dungeon full of bizarre and elaborate trap chambers, which employed the same vertical traversal tricks as the Idylla sewers to make some interesting navigational challenges. I followed clues left by an earlier explorer and eventually conquered the mad labyrinth and claimed the trasures at its entrance. If you disqualify the Idylla sewers for not being a true dungeon, then this one clearly takes the prize as the best dungeon in the game, including both DLC packs.
I also want to take a moment to talk about the dungeon doors in Kingdoms of Amalur. They’re a small detail, but I never wrote about them in my other posts and I feel they should be celebrated. Doors in most games are simple and boring, playing an important role in separating spaces to make things flow better but given little heed as they swing, slide, or otherwise open to let players through. The massive doors in Amalur’s dungeons, however, are always a joy to open. There are a variety of doors based on the type of dungeon, but each is accompanied with a wonderful opening animation. In a mine, three massive locking mechanisms will rotate and slam open in sequence, each with an echoing boom, before the door itself slowly lifts upwards. In a Fae hollow, tangled roots and branches will writhe and retract, slowly revealing the space beyond. The runes on the doors of a wizard’s lair will spin and align, glyphs glowing in beautiful patterns, before the door itself slides apart in two halves to allow entry. In short, the doors are great. And The Teeth of Naros may have the best doors yet. It helps that the huge size of the corridors, so strange in the main game, actually make sense for the giant Kollossae. But the new doors sealed the deal for me. Two massive slabs of stone block a passage, each flanked by a statue of a Kollossae, with arms grasping the stone. Opening the door causes each statue to lift its arms, heaving the stone slabs upward and away from the opening. It’s absurdly ostentatious and yet perfectly in keeping with the Kollossae character, and made me smile every time I saw it.
Beyond these excellent dungeons, The Teeth of Naros is standard fare for Amalur. There are some new items, including a new type of magical weapon that strips away enemies’ resistances to elemental attacks, and some silly looking unique gear, but these don’t leave much of an impression. There’s nothing like the player-owned keep from The Legend of Dead Kel to change up the formula. But I think I enjoyed the story of The Teeth of Naros the best, even more than the story of the main game. The villain is certainly the more interesting than any of the others encountered in Amalur, more so because in the beginning it’s not obvious that there even is a villain. The Kollossae are struggling with themselves, not against an external threat to their world, and that makes everything much more compelling. The ending doesn’t make much sense, but I found that easy to forgive, given what came before.
Those who are playing Kingdoms of Amalur for the first time may be tempted to travel to the Teeth of Naros early on. The path there is near the beginning of the game, and there’s no character level requirement like there is for The Legend of Dead Kel. But it felt like a final story to me. How strange it would have been to return to the Faelands, under threat from the sinister Tuatha, after having met and aided the Kollossae. Surely my character would want to share their story wherever she went? No, the Teeth of Naros are a place for a hero to visit after the rest of the world has been saved, because there are always others who need help, whether they’d like to admit it or not. When it was over, however, it did seem strange to have nowhere else to go. I wasn’t at home among the Kollossae, so I decided to travel back to the keep on Gallows End, where my character had finally built a home after dealing with Dead Kel and his crew. There was no reason to do this. It just seemed like the right place to be when I quit the game for the last time.
Somewhere along the way, I realized my character had attained the highest level possible. She was no longer accruing experience points or unlocking new skills. I hadn’t even noticed. I was too engrossed in the story of the Kollossae and their city. Even without the promise of new abilities to unleash in combat, Amalur still managed to keep me interested, and it still felt strange that there was nowhere else to explore once everything was done. But Kingdoms of Amalur is definitely long enough. Time to move on.
If you’ve read this far, you already know that I recommend Kingdoms of Amalur. It’s not perfect, it’s too long, and yet somehow I also recommend playing its DLC packs which make it even longer. But even if you tire of it partway through, you’ll still find a surprisingly interesting and beautiful role-playing game, fused to a fun and bombastic action game, that’s certain to entertain for at least a while. And maybe you’ll find yourself drawn in, as I was, in which case you’ll be pleased to hear that the two DLC packs are well worth a look.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and its two DLC packs, is available from Steam and Origin, as well as for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.