While Chad already previewed the excellent Kingdoms of Amalur demo, I wanted to say a few words on a large part of the reason that I found it so enjoyable: it was very much akin to the way a good demo ought to be. While all games don’t have the luxury of a sandbox nature that Kingdoms of Amalur has, I do hope that other upcoming sandbox games pay attention and take the same demo model from the game. What I mean by this is that Kingdoms of Amalur channeled one of my favorite classic methods of demos in gaming and modernized it to work amongst the current marketplace.
38 Studios and EA have essentially brought back the awesome concept of shareware in their demo. It isn’t perfected, as Shareware tended to give you an entire game, but in today’s world it is hard to actually expect that. Shareware was a concept that was especially popular back in the 90’s, most notably popularized by Doom in 1993, where a large portion of a game would be released for free and the rest of its content locked. Essentially, the theory was that people would play to a certain point, than feel compelled to pay for the game to unlock the rest of the content. With Doom, it was 9 levels (the first episode) while other games varied. Kingdoms of Amalur pays tribute to this model in the best way. You download the ~4Gb demo, and then you get a significant amount of time to really explore.
Kingdom of Amalur, in spite of any other issues it might have, deserves praise for its approach to the demo. You get the (presumably) full opening to the game, character creation included, and then begin the somewhat lengthy tutorial mission. The tutorial mission is actually fun, and grants you about 25 minutes of gameplay. Then you are told to go meet somebody outside the first dungeon and get some more free time to explore the lush valley surrounding the (now blocked) entrance to the first dungeon. There are a few neat things to find here if you explore, including a full cavern. While it isn’t the truly open world, it is a pleasant expanse that offers a few things to do.
When you finally exit the valley after the tutorial, you’re greeted by the man you were meant to seek out. After talking to him, the game informs you that you have 45 minutes to explore and essentially do whatever you want. Better than that, the game encourages you to take your time with the story; the game’s clock freezes when you talk to NPCs. This has the effect of basically letting you experience the game at your own pace, allowing you to have plenty of time to explore the surprisingly large game area at your leisure, yet still talk to NPCs and get a true sense of the deeper world at hand.
Due to this setup, I spent just over an hour and a half with the game. I got to see a whole slew of the things the game has to offer, from the subtle political conflicts between the two races of the immortal elves to helping a wolf that had been turned into a man. It was presented so perfectly that even though I was able to get a lot of things done, I never felt rushed. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is now near the top of the list of titles I’m looking forward to this year. They lured me in with the promise of items for Mass Effect 3, but kept me interested with a deep and detailed world. Had the demo been a standard “mission or two” demo, I doubt I would be nearly as excited for the game. But because 38 Studios decided to channel freeware, let me relax with their game and give me a significant amount of time with their new world, they successfully sold me a copy of the game, just like Doom did nearly 20 years ago.