Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning exists more as a footnote in the industry than a game. An ambitious project spearheaded by a famous baseball player to make the next greatest touchstone of interactive entertainment, had some of the best talents in the industry behind it, only for the results to end in a single commercial release followed by a farcical fraud lawsuit and the entire state of Rhode Island footing the bill. Despite an overall positive reception at the time, the story of the game's development overshadowed any merits it had warranted.
Now, seven years later, THQ Nordic has remastered the title; haphazardly named Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. Revisiting this action-RPG removed from its tumultuous beginnings and in direct comparison to the current trends in the industry, it has a certain nostalgic cache to it. A melange of familiar systems and ideas that helps prop up an otherwise familiar world and story.
I, Fateless One
On paper, the big story of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is straightforward high-fantasy. A big war is breaking out among humans and the Fae, lead by a zealous king who believes he's ushering in the birth of a new god. Things aren't going well for the good guys, but it turns out due to some mad science experiment you have come back from the dead. This somehow gives you the ability to rewrite and overrule the very forces of destiny itself, marking you as a chosen one that can end the war and bring peace to the land.
The story and world were created by prolific fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, and it shows. Simply put, if you are even remotely familiar with kitchen-sink style fantasy worlds like Dungeons and Dragons or Tolkien's Middle-Earth books, the world of Amalur should feel like a big and fluffy comfort blanket. Just about every single trope and cliché is not only here but presented in a straightforward, unironic fashion.
The idea of fate and your role in it does bring an existential, even metatextual layer to the game. The idea that everyone in the world are on predetermined paths in life, destined to live or die a certain way, only for the player to change those fates for better or for worse has the potential to be an interesting meditation on the lives of NPCs and the player from a fantasy world's perspective. It's a shame this very potential is mostly squandered, getting maybe two or three mentions tops in the main adventure.
So Much Style, Not Enough Soul
It's a sad outcome for what could have been Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning's most definitive theme. Upon its original release, it was going up against other contenders in the genre such as Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, both of which took elements of the Fantasy genre and twisted or subverted them, making them more memorable. The narrative in this game feels quaint and shallow by comparison, made even more so in the wake of more recent releases.
Even the stylistic decision to have Spawn creator Todd McFarlane as the art director for the whole project feels like the idea of a creative license being overwritten by inoffensive familiarity. Some designs do come together to form an angry, adolescently fueled (and kind of metal) fantasy world with harsh bloody violence and sharp edges – the kind of aesthetic McFarlane all but mastered in the mid to late 1990s, but here it mostly boils down to a colorful but generic look.
Returning To Amalur
On the plus side, Kaiko did a solid job remastering Kingdoms of Amalur for modern hardware. On a visual level, everything has gotten more detailed and there are general improvements like refined particle effects, better draw distances, and fancy modern lighting. All downloadable content is included, and it appears THQ Nordic will actually be continuing the game with a new expansion titled Fatesworn in 2021.
The only area where the improvements could only do so much lies with the character models. In some ways, this is a case of the game being a product of its time, stiff robotic movement and facial animation springs to mind, but when cutscenes play out it can look downright bizarre seeing modern visual trickery playing over uncanny mannequin people.
As for the core gameplay experience, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning preserves the original in its entirety; for better and for worse. Curt Schilling thought this series was going to be the next World of Warcraft when he set out to make this game back in the day, and it is painfully obvious that the game's quest structure stringently sticks to this template. Every new location is treated as a zone with boring FedEx quests, collect these things, kill X amount of this creature, clear this dungeon of baddies, etc., the kind of busywork that is made more tedious by backtracking across expansive but mostly empty combat zones.
It's a formula the game sticks to so tightly it kept me at arm's length from really engaging with anything going on. Despite all of the dialogue and exposition that goes into setting things up, your only real options amount to “yes I will do your boring fetch quest.” The great irony is that despite Kingdoms of Amalur having a dedicated Persuasion skill, you never feel like you're actually using it on another character, just that you're bypassing some busywork from a quest giver.
God of Warcraft
If there is a spot were Kingdoms of Amalur was ahead of the curve, it was with its combat system and its destiny mechanic. RPGs have dabbled in real-time hack and slash combat before, the Fable series springs to mind, but it wasn't really until this game that a certain rhythm and flow was properly formed. You have two weapons equipped, each one is mapped to two attack buttons, and you can alternate between them for quick and simple combos. Each weapon has a certain attack speed and range, and how enemies defend themselves range from hardy shields, nimbly dodging, or just tanking attacks to hit you with a large club.
In many ways, the combat took cues from the popular hack and slash titles and found a way to bring that satisfying and punchy spectacle into an otherwise standard fantasy RPG. It's the biggest feather in Kingdoms of Amalur's cap and it has aged quite well. Certain configurations of enemies can stunlock you into an early grave near the end, but there is enough juice in these fights to reinforce the game's delicious power fantasy.
The skill tree system remains robust as well. As you level up, you put stat points into three categories, Might, Finesse, and Sorcery, which unlock additional abilities like a new super attack, throwing daggers, or a new magic spell. You can easily stick to one of these categories, or mix and match points to your liking, which unlocks new destinies, equippable “classes” that give you stat bonuses.
RPGs have touted the ability to play as you want before, but Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning does a great job making each and every configuration not just viable but entertaining. Just to stress the limits of the system for my playthrough, I chose to specialize in all three stats evenly, unlocking a universalist jack-of-all-trades destiny. I was afraid it would lead to a hodgepodge where I wouldn't have enough health or damage to my satisfaction, but by the end, I felt unstoppable. I was wearing full plate armor, with a magical shield protecting me from projectiles and flipping through hordes of enemies with armor-penetrating daggers, slinging lightning bolts, and showering my enemies with overlapping poison, fire, and bleed damage.
Kingdoms Of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review | Final Thoughts
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning feels like a relic of the past in spots, but it still has a certain unique energy to it. A bona fide Greatest Hits album of ideas and mechanics from the late 2000s completely divorced from modern trends and influences. If you want a solid thirty-hour fantasy adventure with empowering combat and can excuse a bland heroic journey, this return to Amalur is worth the trip.
TechRaptor reviewed Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PC.
- Beautiful Colorful Art Direction
- Satisfying Action RPG Combat
- Generic Fantasy World and Plot
- Repetitive MMO Style Quest Design