Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning: An Old Dog Needs to Learn New Tricks
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning made big waves back in 2012. Granted, it was the only game released by 38 Studios before their bankruptcy, but it stood out to many. I’m glad I could finally see why. If you recall, 2012 was the year that we got The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, Borderlands 2, and Persona 4: Golden. With college and taking an EMT class, playing new franchises wasn’t too high on my list; But again, that was a major oversight. It led to a very fun and enjoyable experience the past couple of weeks because Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning honestly surpassed many other open world RPGs that I’ve played to-date. Even with a few bugs and finicky controls, THQ Nordic brought Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning to modern consoles and as a big RPG fan, I’m glad this re-release came out.
Here’s a quick recap of the premise for those who haven’t played Reckoning before, or at least haven’t touched it since 2012. You play as the “Fateless”. After waking up at the bottom of a soul well, returned from the dead, you quickly get thrown into the world of Amalur. Naturally, you don’t remember anything about your life before you died. You quickly run into people who knew you in your previous life and everything changes when you learn you can change fate with the power of “reckoning”. With this new power, you can kill enemies that are more powerful than you (and giving yourself more experience in the process). And so begins your grand journey as you interact with many different factions, the four races of the land, and help/steal/ craft your way through many of the citizens’ problems.
When finally stopping the timer after beating the final boss, I had around about thirty hours of game time. But, each player’s game time will vary wildly. Why? Because there is so much to do. The map is huge and open, there are side quests everywhere, and many, many hidden objects to find. Seriously, wherever you look you will come across at least 2-3 pre-programmed side quests waiting for you to intervene. The great part is is that every side quest is fully voiced as well as several options to continue the discussion with the AI. Additionally, more akin to Mass Effect, there is a positive and negative option to choose from which can change how the AI thinks of you, changes quest rewards, and can even change if you have a companion for a quest. It’s these variations that make this game stand out compared to most other open world RPGs. Additionally, it feels like nearly every citizen has new information to share with you about the world all the way down to the smallest detail about Amalur.
The world building in this game is also such a standout that feels better implemented than most other RPGs. As mentioned above, talk to any NPC and you will get some idea of the politics, troubles, and even the “who likes who” of the town or area you’re in. You can also get some hints about the enemies you’re going to fight around you. Books are also everywhere and reading them will give you fictional lore and recent history about the area. But the shining example of fun worldbuilding can be found in the Lorestones scattered around the world. These glowing stones can be found anywhere, and there are a LOT of them. Clicking on one will play a sound clip, fully voiced, giving you a snippet of that area with personality. In the end game area, lorestones describe to you the fall of a kingdom there that led to the current events of the game. Others, you’ll hear nobles talk to you about farming or pests going after their crops. What I loved most about these was I could continue playing the game while getting to learn more about the world. It didn’t stop my experience at all. Plus finding them was fun. If you want to find more of them, a final perk of one of the skills reveals all the lorestones to you on your minimap so you don’t have to watch a 40+ minute video to find the ones that you missed.
The combat is another stand out and is so deep and varied. For this review, I’ll be focusing on the class and weapons that I specifically used, but there is a playstyle for everyone. When starting the game, you are introduced to several weapons just to get a taste of the 3 class trees: Might (big sword melee combat), Finesse (stealth and quicker action combat), and Sorcery (magic/ spell casting). After that, the combat opens wildly. I was honestly overwhelmed by the amount of choice you have. Let’s break it down.
First, the weapons. Each weapon has a very different playstyle with combos and effects to use. Unlike the armor, the only limitation to using a weapon is your player level. Depending on your class tree and the amount of points into a certain tree, you can unlock new combos or increase the damage output. During my play through I mostly used chakrams, wands, and staves. Honestly, I loved chakrams because not only were they heavy hitters, but the flourishing felt fun to watch. In addition to your main weapon, you can equip a bow. Unlike other RPGs, you don’t have ammo. It comes back automatically which is a really nice thing to not worry about. Plus it’s some extra ranged damage that supports every class. However there is a downside to the combat. You encounter many of the same/ similar enemies during your travels around Amalur. Each tend to have a very similar strategy to take down. The main variations came when the amount of enemies changed and if there was a variety of enemies attacking me. Even then, it felt unnecessarily difficult when there were a lot of enemies. There is however, something that adds a little spice to combat so it’s not as "button mashey" as you’d think after a first glance.
The abilities you get from the skill tree really help keep combat varied. After I put all my skill points into the Sorcery skill tree, I got access to a good variety of spells to use, from a barrier that shot back spells at enemies, summoning an undead creature to fight for me, and even an ice barrage that eventually froze people. As I approached the end-game, mana was a non-issue so spell casting became my main form of attacking enemies. Even that however became mundane near the end because resistances became a non-issue as long as I dodged and kept staggering enemies.
The final variation with the combat came with Fates. You got a lot of Fates from completing quest lines which increased your experience gain, damage output, etc. but those were always on. After each time you level up, you get to choose a Fate that is dependent on how many points you have in each tree. The final Fate for Sorcery, for example, made me feel like a great mage that could do almost anything, with blinking around the battlefield while shooting overly powerful spells. There are Fates for almost any variation of how you spend your points, and each are made to enhance your playstyle even further than you would think. At the end of the day, these choices don’t feel too meaningful because going to any Fateweaver can refund all of your points for a very low price. After discovering this, my feelings and careful decisions felt almost meaningless especially after having a surplus of gold because I could just go and change any part of my specialization if I encountered a wall.
Now, my biggest gripe with this game was in the form of the gear. Equipping gear was dependent on the amount of points you spent into a skill tree, so higher armor gear required more points in the Might tree, others with more spell damage increases or spell effects required more Sorcery points. After about a third of the way through the game, I found that many of the pieces of gear I got didn’t come with too many benefit increases. A gear that required higher sorcery points tended to have very similar benefits and little to no armor increase. Even as a glass cannon spell caster with all my points in Sorcery, I felt that equipping newer gear wasn’t beneficial. It wasn’t until I came across a random vendor half way through my play through that I bought some what seemed to be accidental overpowered gear that never got replaced after that.
Finally, this is a remaster through and through. Lately the word "remaster" has been used either too loosely for re-releases, or for games that are actually complete remakes. For those that are familiar with the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be happy to learn that this remaster does include upgraded visuals that do look good with the game's cartoony look. There's also updated level calculations for zones, removal of level locks, Very Hard mode, and all DLC packs. However this doesn't feel enough. There is a lot in this game, but I wish that THQ Nordic took the time to just refine the combat and make it feel more fluid than it's current clunky feel. Particularly in terms of being released in 2020, just before the new console generation launches and at the end of a fantastic generation of new RPGs, this needed more polish before coming out. But at that point, the effort should've been put in a sequel than this remaster.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning’s original game should have been considered one of the great RPGs of the 360/PS3 generation but it eventually got overshadowed. But in the Xbox One generation, there are updates that need to be made to make the combat more fun and overall more engaging. While the game was fun, it did become mundane. Plus with lots of things to do, and the mini map slowly growing with more discoverable things to come across, the game ends up feeling more cluttered, than to keep it interesting and engaging. Additionally, with the amount of side quests, they are fun, but they end up being too distracting and samey after some time. In the end of the day, I can see why people truly cherish this game and think back on it with such high regard. This is a game that would benefit greatly from a sequel instead of a remake to incorporate all the advances in modern RPGs and high powered console hardware.