Despite being a huge fan of western RPGs such as Skyrim and Dragon Age: Origins, I somehow completely missed playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning when it originally released back in 2012. After THQ Nordic bought the rights to the series from EA in 2018 and released a remaster of this cult-classic RPG (available on PC and current-gen systems) this past September, I knew it was finally time for me to delve deep into Amalur. Sadly, I’m extremely disappointed to report that my time with Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (yes, they’re being cute with the title) has been very underwhelming.
What Is It?
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is an action RPG developed by Big Huge Games in collaboration with 38 Studios and the brain child of bestselling author R.A. Salvatore, Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane, legendary video game composer Grant Kirkhope and Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolstone. Despite this star-studded development team and backing of a big publisher in EA, the game saw catastrophic sales, which subsequently forced 38 Studios to disband. Matters were even more complicated, especially since the game had been built using loans granted by the state of Rhode Island, and it all culminated with a long and infamous series of lawsuits which completely buried the IP.
Enter Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, which, through the efforts of publisher THQ Nordic and studio Kaiko, is not only meant to be a remaster of the base game and all its released DLC, but also a revival of sorts as Re-Reckoning is set to receive a brand-new expansion called Foresworn, sometime in 2021.
Why Should I Care?
Kingdom of Amalur Re-Reckoning follows the original to a T. It tells the story of how and why the Fateless One, or the player character, came back to life after having died in a battle right before the start of the game. The premise here is the player character had already died once so their fate sealed, and this new existence is implicitly no longer governed by fate. And yes, this is indeed done in order to contextualise the player’s freedom and offer up a blank slate for the player to mold. It is a rather elegant, if cliché way of going about things. Naturally, the story escalates dramatically–after being clued in by the Fateweavers, a group of mortal beings who can see the future but not alter it, on the conflict between the Faelands and the villainous Tuatha Deohn, the Faceless One is thrust into the wide world in the hopes that they can rewrite the predetermined destiny of the titular kingdoms.
Soon after the premise has been established, the game reveals its ugly head. To put it bluntly, everything to do with the plot, characters and/or world building is staggeringly bland. Plus, there is really nothing that you haven’t seen in a handful of Amalur‘s contemporaries and even predecessors, and done significantly better, too. To give credit where credit is due, though, there is an impressive amount of content here and the story does eventually improve. However, by the end of the game, I found myself long since checked out.
Fortunately for Amalur, the experience is somewhat redeemed by its combat system, which is by far the most appealing part of the entire game. This is because it is genuinely good fun to experiment with the three available classes – warrior, rogue, mage – and equip and use a wide array of weapons ranging from staves and bows to chakrams and greatswords. Furthermore, the game allows for two weapons to be equipped at the same time, one primary and one secondary, which may lead to some pretty satisfying mix-ups. In terms of progression, the skill tree can definitely be min/maxed to make an already easy game even easier (I played on Hard and my warrior did not have much trouble steamrolling over anything and everything), the ability to reset all of the current, abilities and “destinies” – which is essentially how Amalur refers to builds – promotes some degree of experimentation and versatility.
However, even the combat comes with major caveats. First of all, the combos are extremely limited and neither the abilities or the Reckoning Mode, which uses a special meter to allow the playable character to slow down enemies and execute devastating finishers, prove enough to spruce up how repetitive encounters can get. Secondly, the gameplay is let down by the abysmal quest design as Amalur so very often leads players to do truly mundane tasks like killing a specific enemy or collect any given amount of this or that.
As for what Amalur can provide beyond its lackluster story and fun but ultimately repetitive story, the answer is…not much. In fact, on so many occasions stealth, for example, is broken and/or is frustrating to the point that it eventually becomes simply not worth bothering with.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The harsh fact of the matter is that this remaster is not worth most people’s time and money. In fact, even for fans and owners the original, beyond the sheer convenience of having Amalur + DLC available on current and next-gen systems (via backwards compatibility) and beyond some admittedly important changes such as the improved frame rate, level scaling and progression, there’s not much to make this purchase worthwhile. It may also be the case the remaster is actually worse than the original, since the former comes packed with a sway of bugs not present in the latter. During my playthrough, a glitch stopped me from handing in a small sidequest (restarting/reloading did not work) and I even encountered a pretty nasty graphical issue that could actually cause seizures to those susceptible. Also, the game just happens to be inexplicably darker which makes it so that, at least to some extent, the original title’s visual vibrancy got lost in translation.
Kingdoms of Amalur, despite undoubtedly being a worse game today than it was in 2012 and despite this low-effort remaster (which will surely not win any favors) remains far from a bad game. As for whether or not the upcoming expansion will be good or not, suffice to say that the odds are stacked against it.