Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning lead designer Ian Frazier has told OXM that character customisation no longer sets role-playing games apart from other genres, adding that class-free specimens like Skyrim can be dissatisfying.
Asked (like Mass Effect 3 producer Mike Gamble) which feature or mechanic RPGs simply cannot do without, Frazier argued that piling on skill points is no longer enough. "The RPG genre is really hard to talk about in that sense, because there are very, very different definitions."
"I think that for a long time the core answer would have been, well you can upgrade your characters and customise your characters. I would like to say that's true, but that's not it.
"So many genres have absorbed those elements. When's the last time you played a game that didn't have some way to advance your character and customise it to some extent? So while I'd like to say that, I don't think I can. Hmm. What would it be at this point?
Frazier thinks role-players need to offer a better balance of choice and structure, and Amalur's (fresh) take on character classes is nuanced accordingly. "For us in particular I think it's being able to build a class that you want to build. Because that's something that's unique to Reckoning, it's an RPG with a twist. If I was only going to keep one thing, that's what I'd keep: the system that lets you change your fate and play how you want to."
Amalur gives you three distinct upgrade trees and a deck of "Destiny" cards like "Arcanist" which buff different skills and attributes. You can reset your upgrade points entirely by visiting Fateweavers in the game world, and swap in different Destiny cards at any time.
"When we set out to build this game, and looked at the Destiny system at its earliest level, there were two things we saw in RPGs that bugged us, in opposite directions," Frazier went on. "I'm going to try to not name games here, but - there are some games where you choose a class at the beginning, and I hope it's good, because you're stuck with it for 80 hours.
"And then there's the other model that says you can do whatever you want. There are a couple of franchises that use it. You can shoot a bow, throw a fireball, swing a sword, and if you're willing to spend a bazillion hours eventually you'll be good at all those things.
"That's nice in its freedom, but I hate that as a player I don't have an identity, I'm just this mush. And at the end of the game we might all be wearing different hats, but you and I have pretty much the same character if you've played through to completion. Right, we're all good at everything! Yay for us!
"I wanted to find a solution that was somewhere between those extremes. So in Reckoning you technically can do everything, but you can't do it all at once.
"You have to choose the scope of what you'll let yourself be good at, both in terms of skills and combat abilities, and you do get that title - you get the nice little tarot card that tells you this is what you are, which for me at least as a player of table top games, I want that. I want to know that I'm a Paladin, and this is what a Paladin is, and Paladins are cool."