Game Reviews: Amalur & The Darkness II

So many games, so little time.
As you can tell by the date stamp on my last post, I’m way behind on my blogging. What can I say, I’ve been busy. I’ve been working hard on my adventure/suspense necromancer novel, The Fourth Channel, and playing video games. If you’re missing my snark, feel free to subscribe to my Twitter feed. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I love to chat.

I’ll talk about the novel in a few days, as I have some exciting news to share about it. For now, let’s talk about some games!

The gaming world has seen a lot of exciting new releases over the last couple of months. I’ve been avoiding the mainstream games for my reviews (with the exception of my Skyrim review) because I wanted to branch out into quirky, eclectic games that not everyone has seen. But I do play a lot of mainstream games. Today we’re going to do a double-header of mainstream games, so grab your controller of choice and strap in.

A few weeks ago, Alan Edwards posted a comment here on the blog asking for my review on Kingdoms of Amalur, a new RPG (role-playing game) that was released with much ado. I aim to please and you know I take requests (requests, anyone?) so I agreed. This game was released with a lot of hoopla because it has mega-nerd-celebrities Todd McFarlane and R.A. Salvatore attached to it. Before the game’s release, industry insiders and gaming professionals were coming out of the woodwork, proclaiming Amalur as “better than Skyrim.” And that’s when I smelled bullcrap.

Bullcrap: like bull$hit, only much more potent.

Kingdoms of Amalur starts with the typical prologue, catching us up on what happened in the world of Amalur thus far. And I have to be honest, within the first five seconds of the story I was really confused. I thought I took a wrong turn and ended up in some low-rent Lord of the Rings knock off. We’re told about fate and destiny and some evil elf unlike all the other elves — powerful and aggressive. But then in the very next shot, it shows him with a bunch of other evil elves acting powerfully and aggressively. So he’s really not as unique as they’re making him out to be. But I got the gist of what they were trying to say: bad guy is bad.

After that strange prologue, the story switches to us, the intrepid protagonist. Unfortunately we’re not that intrepid to begin with, because we’re dead. The game opens with two dwarves tossing our corpse down a trash chute.

Luckily for us, we spring back to life… but we’re buried in a pile of rotting corpses. So if we weren’t totally dead before, we’re about to be, thanks to a bunch of disgusting diseases that are festering in the mound.

Intro 4
Worst bed and breakfast ever.

After we dislodge ourself from the corpses, we’re led through the training area. Truth be told, the training area is spectacular and focused. The game moves quickly along the path while keeping you curious about what’s happening around you. You gather that the tower above (and the Well of Souls that resurrected you) is being invaded by bad guys, and you’re on a path to intercept them. You know a big fight is coming and, as you run through the tutorial, you can’t help but be excited about it.

The Well of Souls. Oooh, pretty.

The end of the tutorial results in a fun, quasi-challenging boss fight. The gnomes who brought you back from death are all killed and the Well of Souls is destroyed. You are the only survivor of the attack, and the head gnome sacrifices himself so that you can live. (Thanks, Dude!) You are the only evidence that the Well of Souls worked, and it’s your quest to, um, go out into the world and… uh…

You know, it isn’t entirely clear what we’re supposed to be excited about after that.

Hi, guys! What's going on? Oh. Nothing, huh...

The most focused and exciting storyline happened inside that tutorial and, upon being shoved into the world, there’s really not much to do except interact with a few NPC’s and pick flowers for trade skills. The point of the game really seems to be lost here, and so did my interest. Because so many insiders and professional game reviews called this the successor to Skyrim, I expected a lot. And maybe that’s where this game went wrong, because Skyrim is an open world, where the player can find exciting things anywhere and everywhere they go. Many players avoid Skyrim’s main quest line completely. In Amalur, I was let into the world, and found myself languishing in sandbox hell. There was absolutely nothing to do except delete the game from my computer.

So that’s what I did.

If you’re interested in checking out the demo for yourselves, you can download it for free from Steam. (Warning: you will need to set up an account.)

Try this one on for size.
I’m really excited about this next game as it’s the first FPS (first-person shooter) I’ve reviewed here. The reason this is a big deal to me is because it’s generally perceived that FPS and girls don’t mix. I don’t know why. Stereotypes persist, I guess. And it’s probably true that more guys than girls play and purchase FPS games. I suppose an FPS could be off-putting because it’s challenging. FPS games involve hand-eye coordination and, discouragingly, it’s not always something a person is immediately good at. Being truly good at an FPS often involves practice coupled with a desire to be a better player.

Or, at the very least, learn how to be pwned with dignity. If there is such a thing.

That’s probably a big turn-off for most people in the digital age, when the majority of folks just want to come home after work and turn their brains off. Maybe that’s my problem. My brain never shuts off.

But back to the schism between girls and FPS games. FPS games are also associated with testosterone-infused military themes, and I wonder if that doesn’t turn girls away from them. Maybe girls need to be introduced to other styles of FPS, ones that star believable female characters. I’ve played the military-themed games (the Call of Duty series, for example) and I do find them enjoyable, though they aren’t my favorite. I typically prefer a fun science fiction or paranormal romp.

Hence The Darkness II.

The story is based on a popular comic book series that follows Jackie Estacado, the Don of an Italian-American crime family. This game is a sequel. In the previous game, Jackie’s true love, Jenny, was shot and killed right in front of him. Jackie’s never gotten over it. He’s also host to an ancient evil entity called “The Darkness.” The Darkness has been around since before heaven and earth. It is wholly evil. When Jackie lets The Darkness out, he changes into a demonic beast-looking thing with two awesome demonic tentacles. Let’s call them Billy and Bob.

Oh, wait. I’m a writer. I’m supposed to come up with clever names. How about “Ricky” and “Francisco”?

Guess who's coming to dinner!

What, you don’t think the one on the right looks like a Francisco?

I really love idea of this game. It’s the kind of thing I wish I had come up with. Seriously, a hitman who is the host to pure evil? I don’t know who thought that up but I want to give them a medal.

Another neat aspect to this game is that it introduces quad-wield. Most games are dual-wield, where you hold a gun in each hand (two guns, hence the “dual”). In The Darkness II, you get to control two guns, but you also get to control Ricky and Francisco.

Come at me, bro.

Depending on what kind of abilities you purchase, Ricky and Francisco can rip, slice, and dice better than a Slap-Chop. They grab objects and throw them, impaling or slicing foes, and they can perform different finishing moves that restore health, give extra ammo (incredibly handy), grant a temporary shield, and more. And mostly they’re just fun to hang around with.

The game starts out at a restaurant where Jackie is attacked almost as soon as he sits down at a table. It turns out that the hit came from a group called “The Brotherhood,” headed by an evil bastard who wants to siphon The Darkness out of Jackie. Of course, The Darkness has a mind of its own, and would much prefer to stay inside Jackie. The Darkness shows Jackie a vision of Jenny’s soul in hell. The ultimatum is clear: Destroy The Brotherhood and capture their siphon, or The Darkness keeps Jenny’s soul.

Get shootin’, lover boy.

I completed the game on “Hitman” mode, which is just below the highest difficulty setting, and it was mildly challenging. Two of the bosses gave me a little bit of trouble. Overall, I found it fun to shoot, chop, slice, beat, rip through… I’m not able to complete games that often, so the fact that I finished this says a lot. I think the key is Ricky and Francisco. The more I used them, the more fun it was. I’m looking forward to going back and playing it on the hardest mode, “Don.”

If you want to check out The Darkness II, you can see the video trailer and demo on Steam.

Don’t let the challenge or the violence deter you from playing a first-person shooter. Who said girls have to be all sugar and spice, anyway?

Have you played either of these games? I’d love to know what you thought of them in the comment section below. Or is there another game that you’d like me to review? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Controller Girl photo courtesy of Girls Are Made From Pepsi.

Published by Jen Kirchner

I write funny things.

12 thoughts on “Game Reviews: Amalur & The Darkness II

  1. This. Is. AWESOME.

    Thanks for reviewing KoA. It’s pretty spot-on. Your advice is good advice. I’ve (and my wife) have been intrigued by the commercials for Darkness II. We might have to give it a shot, if ME3 ever lets go of my brain.

    You make a great point about FPS games and the FemSheps of the world. My wife had never played a shooter that I recall until Mass Effect, and that’s third-person. The first true FPS she ever wanted to try was Left 4 Dead, and after some initial frustration with her skill, she’s gotten really good at them. I daresay she enjoys them. It does take something more than ‘you are a soldier: go” to make either one of us want to play one, though.


    1. Thanks, Alan! Glad you liked the post. I had to cut out a lot of my negativity about Amalur… I don’t know why I hated on that game as much as I did. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. And this folk prefers a storyline.

      In my heart, I’m an advocate of getting more girls to play games. I don’t know how to do that or what it would look like, but these blogs posts are my contribution to the cause. I don’t know if there’s a better female-oriented FPS out there, but there should be. “The Relic” was written in that spirit, in the mindset of trying to push a typically male-oriented genre into something more female-friendly. Hence why the main characters of my VYA’s lack assigned genders. In true fashion, the protagonist is YOU, whatever you are.

      You know something? I’d love to write a novel that would reflect my idea of a female-friendly FPS. A Ripley-type chick with guns. Going to have to think about that more.

      If you get around to playing The Darkness II, let me know what you think. It’s not ground-breaking like Mass Effect or the Halo series, but it’s at least satisfying to run around and blow crap up. And that’s what it’s all about.


  2. I just wanted you to know that your gaming review for girls has actually broadened my knowledge of gaming. I’ve thrown a few terminologies around to my guy lately that have knocked his socks off! He knows I know nothing about this stuff… Atari anyone? Super Mario Bros? That’s my extent of gaming.

    Anyway, he recently picked up Reckoning at the store for the main reason RA Salvatore was attached to it. But he didn’t know enough about it and put it back on the shelf. And FPS games (hahahah, look at me – First Person Shooter) – he loves to shoot things. I’ll have to pass this along…. thanks, Jen!


    1. Woo! I’m glad this is giving you a chance to at least talk on a level plane with your man. I will continue my endeavor to arm you with more useless gaming knowledge. LOL

      He’s dead on about Amalur: it’s NO Skyrim.


    1. Hah, I’m glad you liked it, Steven! It’s not ground-breaking like the ME or Halo series, but it’s satisfying. I swear, every time you slice a dude in half by throwing a car door through them, you’ll giggle.

      Or maybe I just have a sick sense of humor.


  3. Thanks for the reviews Jen, very informative. I am going to give the Darkness a try now as well. I need something to keep me busy until Diablo III comes out, and it sounds like a lot of fun!


    1. I really wish the gaming powers-that-be had thought to spread out the awesome 2012 releases, because this drought of games is killin’ me. I, too, am holding out until D3 release. And GW2. And Torchlight 2. And Borderlands 2. And…


  4. The toddler prevents me from getting much gaming done, but these reviews fill the emptiness the lack of gaming leaves.

    It also lets me prioritize what games are worth making the time for.

    You rule.


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