As with so many longform fantasy RPGs, the troubles afflicting the inhabitants of Amalur can all be blamed on the actions of a single mad gnome. Stupid gnomes.
This time one of them has decided to build a device called the Well of Souls to bring people back from the dead. You, a third-person fantasy hero, are its first and last success.
The device is conveniently exploding when you wake up, so your first task is simply to escape the collapsing caverns that house it. Next thing you know, you're in the Faelands, an idyllic realm under threat from a mad elf king and the dark god he's trying to summon. You must save the land. This being a combat-driven RPG, you must do so by hitting things. Lots of things.
Returning from the dead has its consequences, however. You're not a zombie in the grey, smelly, decomposing sense, but being alive when you shouldn't be has supposedly jolted your character out of the grooves of fate that determine the life and death of every creature in Amalur, giving you the ability to change the fate of those around you. That's the theory, at least.
It's hard not to feel sorry for Amalur's lovely bears.
In reality, at points in the story you're told that by dicing-up a murderous creature you've saved the lives of those it was 'destined' to kill. But as these moments are entirely dictated by the linear plot, your ability to mess with fate never has any real impact on the world. You mostly just hit things.
But while you can't actually wreak havoc on the natural order, your alleged ability to do so attracts the interest of the great and powerful in the land. It's not long before you're recruited by the leader of the good Fae, the king of Summer, and sent off on a journey east to the crystal palace built by the evil king of Winter, leader of the bad Fae, to thwart his crazy plan.
Getting to him will take a long, long time. Your quest will take you through a series of wide open zones, each of which contains a central hub town. These vary from small clusters of huts to small forts, and all contain half a dozen villagers standing under yellow exclamation marks, ready to send you on quests to slay monsters or retrieve valuable items from the surrounding wilds. You can choose to follow the main quest strand, which leads you on a linear path through the Faelands, or to linger and take your pick from a number of dull sidequests.
Alternatively, you can join one of Amalur's five factions, and complete their individual storylines for greater rewards. Whatever you decide to do, it will involve hitting a lot of monsters, and hitting monsters is what Amalur does best.
The best way to start a flame war.
Three skill trees are gradually unlocked as you slay foes and complete quests for experience. Might will give you more attacks with longswords, greatswords and five-foot mallets. The finesse tree will let you sneak more effectively, and make you more efficient with knives. The magic tree will unlock powerful spells and increase your damage with chakrams: sharp circular boomerangs designed to keep enemies at range.
You can further specialise in sneaking, smashing or spellcasting by equipping the relevant destiny card. These will further boost relevant skills, increasing melee damage if you're a fighter and improving your mana pool as a spellcaster. It's a flexible system. You can visit NPCs to reset skill points and equip a different destiny card wherever you are to instantly change your speciality. As you grow more powerful, you'll unlock dual-class destinies that let you wield a wider range of weapons more effectively.
Amalur's willingness to let you try out all its toys is one of its best points. All of its weapons are fun to play with, and high-level magic can be supremely satisfying.
You'll commonly fight groups of half a dozen enemies. Your weapon swings are tied to the left mouse button, special abilities such as spells to the right. The latter can be switched by selecting different abilities from a taskbar. Judicious amounts of rolling and blocking are needed to dodge attacks and set up your combos. With a few skill points in the right tree, melee weapons gain charged-up heavy blows and new combos from rolling and blocking stances. If you chain these attacks just right, you can keep your enemies in the air for the entire fight.