First, A Little Bit Of History
When Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning first released back in 2012, it was sadly overshadowed by what are now considered some of the modern classics in the RPG genre: Mass Effect 2, The Witcher 2, and of course, the phenomenon that was and is Dark Souls. Over the years, Amalur has morphed into a cult classic and has come to be considered the quintessential underrated game. The overall consensus of the industry seemed to be that the title wasn’t done justice because of the troubled production cycle and its aftermath (an understatement if ever there was one!)
I mean, it’s not hard to see why. With the hugely popular veteran fantasy author RA Salvatore as lead writer, comics icon Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn) serving as Art Director, and the lead designer of Oblivion & Morrowind Ken Rolston helming the project, it seemed destined for not only success but true greatness. It’s ironic then that a game heavily themed on destiny was just not destined for greatness.
Developed by Big Huge Games (very subtle) & the now-defunct 38 Studios, and published by Electronic Arts in 2012, the game released to pretty good reviews, and even sold a respectable 1.2 million units in its first 90 days. Though many didn’t believe it lived up to the hype and it was criticized for technical issues like awkward UI, the lack of challenge, and disparities in volume between different in-game dialogues, it was still reasonably well-received.
Sadly, that didn’t prevent it from causing the destruction of 38 Studios. Imagine single-handedly causing the loss of hundreds of jobs and $75 million in Rhode Island taxpayer money, in addition to $50 million of your own! Well, MLB star Curt Schilling doesn’t have to imagine it, he lived it and will probably not forget it anytime soon. It was a colossal fuck-up, to say the least. It’s honestly a fascinating, if ludicrous story that has more intrigue and drama than anything in the actual game, so I suggest you read more about it here.
6 years seemed to be enough for THQ Nordic to say ‘Let bygones be bygones’ as they acquired the IP along with like a thousand others in 2018. And now the remaster, by Kaiko, the same guys who remastered the Darksiders games, is out. Does Kaiko do justice to the original game, redeem it from the stigma associated with it, and resolve the glaring issues? Let’s find out.
A Single-Player MMO/
A Completionist’s Worst Nightmare
Amalur was famously first planned to be a sort of prequel to an MMORPG code-named Copernicus set in the same universe, and it’s easy to imagine it being so, though not necessarily in a good way.
In fact, Salvatore apparently wrote an astounding 10,000 years of history to the world of Amalur! Talk about overcompensating. In all seriousness, though the man’s dedication is admirable, I honestly found the story trite and extremely generic. Names like Rathir and Dalentarth do no favors to the lore, and it all comes off very World of Warcraft-esque. Add to that the undead, the war between races, and a mute protagonist who’s (of course) ‘The Chosen One’, and you’ve got almost all the fantasy tropes neatly wrapped into one cliched package. Though the lore is rich and seems to be well-thought-out and cohesive, it’s utterly forgettable and with the lack of literally any interesting characters, it’s hard to even care.
Sadly, the World of Warcraft comparison doesn’t end there (no offense to WoW fans, but I dare you to imagine a single-player WoW and tell me that sounds fun). Plagued by countless mind-numbingly repetitive and generic go-here-and-kill-that quests, the notorious fetch quests, repetitive caves/dungeons, etc. it often felt fairly pointless. On multiple occasions I literally found myself contemplating on what I was doing with my life, having a mini existential crisis.
Though the art style is pretty and the world well-conceived, there’s no innovative twist on the formula, it doesn’t offer anything new, just more generic training-wheel fantasy. Credit where it’s due, the main story and the faction questlines are interesting enough and are decently written, but the sheer amount of generic quests is extraordinary and really dilutes the quality of the game. The best way to play Amalur is probably to simply ignore almost every sidequest and just focus on the main story and the faction questlines – which apparently already takes a whopping 60 hours to beat.
Unfortunately, though, the game doesn’t tell you the type of the quest before you accept it, and after accepting, the completionist in me found it very hard to leave it incomplete which led to a lot of frustration. As a result, I’m sure you can guess, I didn’t have a great time with the game because of this MMO-like padding.
Amalur is truly the completionist’s worst nightmare. Take the multiplayer community out of an MMO and what do you get? An extremely lonely slog through countless hours of repetitive, uninteresting questing. And yet, I honestly had a decent amount of fun with it. Why? Thanks to the combat of course!
Customizable Hack ‘n’ Slash Combat
Though the story and generic quests can cure insomnia, the hack ‘n’ slash gameplay is honestly just so damn fun that it’s hard to not go back to it. The whole time playing this game, the intellectual part of me craving a good story/cast of characters was bored as all hell while the part of me that just wanted interactive carnage was having a baller time. Definitely one of the most fun combat systems in an RPG.
The combat animations are super smooth and appealing to watch, and the flow of gameplay is extremely gratifying. Starting with a sweeping melee attack, following it up with poison arrows and a freeze trap, perfectly placing a meteor strike, and finishing with a QTE blow for maximum experience, all in a seamless sequence is insanely satisfying. When you pull off such a devastating sequence of attacks annihilating the entire roomful of enemies, without getting hit even once, you feel absolutely godlike.
The customizable combat means that you can spend skills in any of the three skill trees upon leveling up – Might, Finesse, and Sorcery. Instead of having to choose a class and sticking with it like in traditional RPGs, Amalur gives you the option to experiment, mix, and match, and just be a kind of Frankenstein monster of abilities. Plus, if you’re unhappy with your current build, you can always respec paying a negligible amount in gold! The number of combinations of the three skill trees allows for many interesting hybrid classes and this freedom in customization can lead to some super interesting builds that keep the combat exciting and fresh. It reminded me of games like Path of Exile, though obviously not to that comedic extent. Again though, unlike PoE, Amalur is a single-player experience so a lot of the fun that comes with the social aspect is missing.
As usual with games like these, the inventory management quickly becomes a pain and I’m pretty sure I destroyed many fun weapons just by being too lazy to go back to a merchant and sell useless items to make room in my inventory. I’m definitely looking forward to a mod that allows you to sell on the fly from anywhere in the world.
And then there’s, of course, the alchemy and blacksmithing, but I didn’t really bother exploring these systems because a) I didn’t want to make the game any easier than it already was, and b) that stuff’s for nerds anyway (jk but seriously, who’s got time for collecting reagents and experimenting with random pointless potions, especially when the game’s already so easy without it?).
What’s New in the Remaster?
Not all that much, to be honest. Maybe I just don’t have much of an eye for visuals, but the improved graphics, while appreciated, didn’t really blow me away. The remaster boasts Improved graphical fidelity and even includes native 4K support, which is great if you have a 4k monitor (I don’t). Sure it looks pretty good for an 8-year-old game, but the cartoonish, brightly colored art style was already kind of timeless anyway and doesn’t add a whole lot of value in my eyes.
The gameplay has apparently been refined and the loot table has been tweaked for the game to be more challenging. I remember the game being heavily criticized by the fanbase for being offensively easy, so I chose to play on Hard, and had a great time on that difficulty, so I think it’s been fixed. However, doing too many of the side quests can get you over-leveled, and the DLC weapons you get at the very beginning gives you a huge unfair advantage in terms of combat as well as money, so I suggest you just ignore that chest or just destroy everything in it. There’s also a newly added ‘very hard’ difficulty, which I’d say is the ideal option to choose when starting a new playthrough.
Sadly, the things I was personally looking forward to getting fixed or polished up is just not there. The voice acting is better than I remember, but still not in sync with the animations. Sometimes buttons just refuse to work, like when looting enemies or collecting reagents from plants. While the combat animations still hold up, the same can’t be said for the facial animations and the camera angles. Speaking of, the camera can sometimes be annoyingly inconvenient, especially in narrow places like caves and the like, which can make combat frustrating. Thankfully, the devs have added a native FOV slider which is a godsend considering how atrocious the original FOV is.
But more than anything else, I was really looking forward to a UI overhaul. The UI just screams ‘bad console port’ in the worst way possible and just gives the whole thing a very amateur, AA quality. Maybe it’s subjective but I personally found it pretty ugly and was hoping for it be changed. But nope. Hell, even the start screen still says ‘Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning’! I mean, how hard would it have been to prefix it with a ‘Re-’ for the remaster? A lot of it just feels lazy to me. Also, the game dropped below 60 fps in the first town for some reason, which is really not something I expected from an 8-year-old game.
Perfect for Podcasts!
Despite the fun customizable combat, the lackluster story and generic quests can make for a lonely experience. Plus, some of the areas are pretty huge but decidedly empty, which can make for some boring, uneventful exploring (except for the occasional generic side quest that’s not worth doing). I found myself wishing for an autorun button typical of MMOs far too many times.
However, I found the perfect solution: podcasts! While the fun combat and animations kept me mechanically engaged and entertained, having a podcast playing in the background saved me from mental boredom and lead to an incredibly fun, relaxing experience.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is a single-player RPG with the generic, pointless questing and narrative padding of an MMORPG, but with pretty excellent freedom in combat. That’s pretty much all you need to know. If you find 150 hours of a fun, constantly fresh gameplay loop appealing, or if you find yourself cursing everyone you see in an MMO, wishing it was a single-player, I reckon this is the game for you, no question about it. And especially if you’re into podcasts, I re-reckon you’ll have fun with this title.
If you’ve already played it through though, or you’re still on the fence about it, there’s not much new in the remaster, so I suggest you wait for the new Fatesworn expansion due out next year.