Game name: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning
Release date: September 8, 2020
Price: US$39.99 (60% off for owners of the original, should they buy it before September 22nd)
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: KAIKO (remaster) Big Huge Games/38 Studios (original game)
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Back in 2012, 38 Studios and Big Huge Games released Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, an epic RPG that felt a lot like an MMO trapped in a single player game’s shell. As it turns out, that was actually the case, since 38 Studios had originally aimed for an ambitious MMO codenamed Project Copernicus, but they had to scrap it and make KoA instead. Still, although saying that now in 2020 can probably make you think that this game might not be too hot, it featured one of the most entertaining and outright fun combat systems in a real-time action RPG to date. So of course THQ Nordic purchased the rights to this dormant IP and gave it to KAIKO to remake it, since that’s pretty much one of the big things they do, resurrect dead IPs (and they usually do it with infinite grace, as you can tell from their excellent Destroy All Humans! remake). Interested? Read on to find out whether this new Re-Reckoning edition is worth your hard-earned cash or not.
Story-wise, Kingdoms of Amalur is pretty standard fantasy fare, even though its world was penned by R.A. Salvatore. We play as a heroic type character who, despite being named “the Fateless One” is, as usual, the key to saving the fate of the entire world. This is not to say that I didn’t have fun with the parts that are well delivered though, as when the game wants you to care for characters and events, it does so with expert poise. Sadly, most of the quests you will be undertaking through the course of your 40+ hours adventure (60+ if you also complete the DLC chapters, according to my Steam playtime) are of the fetch quest variety, delivered by questgivers who wouldn’t look out of place in World of Warcraft. Of course, there is a pretty obvious reason for this problem, and it is that the game was built on top of 38 Studios‘ cancelled Project Copernicus MMO.
So, if the story is cliché and its delivery leaves a lot to be desired, why should anyone care about this game, considering those are two pretty important aspects of any RPG worth its salt? Well, I’d say that you can have a competent action RPG without having a great storyline (or even good side quests), something that Bethesda has proved many times over the past two decades. Only the difference here is not as much that this is a highly reactive world where you can make your own fun, but rather that the combat is incredibly entertaining and there are some really good builds you can go for. Basically, instead of being an RPG in the sense of great narrative titles such as The Witcher series, Kingdoms of Amalur is sort of going for the Diablo crowd. You will find hundreds of characters who’ll just send you on quests or act as pleasingly rendered distributors of lore, and from time to time you might even form some sort of bond with a few of them, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they are only there because the developers needed to find a way to dump all the backstory they had lying around the place from the failed Project Copernicus project. Depending on the kind of player you are, this might impact your gameplay experience in a deep way, but from my experience playing both the original version and this Re-Reckoning edition, you are better off thinking of this game as an action title and not bothering much with the rest (don’t get me wrong, the world the game is set in is pretty detailed and “cool”, but the way the lore is dumped upon the player is incredibly cold and lifeless, and that feeling ends up overtaking everything if you dwell on it too much).
There is a silver lining in all of this though. Quests typically come in one of two fashions: either gather stuff and bring it back to the questgiver, or go and murder someone/something because of plot reasons. What’s the silver lining I was talking about, you ask? Well, as I said before, the game’s combat is incredibly fun, and when you aren’t out there collecting stuff, you’ll be killing baddies left and right.
The basic foundations of Amalur‘s combat are very simple: our character can execute basic attacks (which vary tremendously from one weapon type to another), active abilities (which operate on cooldowns and may require a resource expenditure) and certain specific variations of weapon attacks learned as we progress through the ability trees that we’ll further detail below. Although the “basic attack” moniker might sound like just waving our weapon around like in other games, here we actually have a combo system that chains attacks together and ends them with a final attack. This means that we can actually stunlock enemies with a frenzy of basic attacks, executing moves that aren’t exactly common in action RPGs, instead being mostly found in character action/fighting games.
Regarding the ability trees, we have three of them: Might, Sorcery and Finesse. Players are not locked to a specific tree, so you can mix and match without feeling constrained by a particular “class” (although in my experience it’s better to focus on a style you prefer and mastering it first instead of throwing ability points at the tree willy-nilly). All three ability trees will let you unlock new active abilities that you can trigger while in combat, plus some passives that will buff your character’s prowess in each specific specialization. Aside from this, leveling up ability trees unlocks “Destinies” (which is a bit ironic), a sort of class system that, unlike most class systems, lets the player swap archetypes at will. Those Destinies will further buff our weaponry (provided we have the correct Destiny for our choice of combat tools, of course) and, while they don’t fundamentally alter Kingdoms of Amalur‘s gameplay, they are a very welcome feature, considering how customizable everything ends up being.
Speaking of weaponry, our character can carry two weapon types on their back (out of 9) and it is possible (and encouraged) to switch weapons in the middle of a fight. This makes the combat a lot more entertaining that it might appear to be at first glance, even when we are just a fresh spawned Fateless One. For instance, we can go ham on relatively weak mobs using Faeblades, while at the same time keeping ranged foes at bay with a Longbow. There are no weird animations keeping you from engaging in fast-paced weapon switching either, so it’s not the same result as if we tried to create a hybrid melee-archer build in Skyrim, for instance, where the way the game is built sort of conspires against its combat, making it always feel clunky and weightless. Aside from our offensive options, there is also a dodge maneuver which can be incredibly helpful for powerful enemy attacks that would otherwise kill us or render us momentarily vulnerable to further harm, and a block or parry skill that can be used to either block attacks or punish our foe with a counterattack.
This is not to say that our character is a demigod who can spit out arrows while dancing on the skull of their enemies with a faeblade in each hand, since there are pesky cooldowns and resource meters that get drained when we use special abilities, but overall, the combat experience in KoA is extremely satisfying and relatively easy to learn. Aside from our basic attacks (and the combos we can perform using those) and the myriad of active abilities we can unleash upon our enemies, there is also a special skill which operates on a meter that fills as we combo our way to victory, letting us unleash the devastating Reckoning mode once full. While in Reckoning mode, the Fateless One gets a noticeable damage buff, and heightened perception of time, effectively slowing down everything around them, something that lets the player cut down enemies with relative ease or do massive damage to harder hitting foes. If that wasn’t enough, ending Reckoning mode triggers the Fateshift, a sort of Mortal Kombat-style Fatality (only far less gruesome) that executes enemies while at the same time granting us bonus experience.
Aside from combat abilities, we also have to contend with other types of skills that will let us bypass violent situations at some points, or craft new tools, or even just get better prices when dealing with merchants. Yes, this is an RPG after all, even if it’s very much action-oriented. Our character’s race will affect certain skills (for instance, if we go with one of the two Elven races, we get bonuses to Stealth, etc.). Overall, I thought that the implementation of non-combat skills wasn’t exactly the best there is (I’ll take the skill system in Disco Elysium over it any day of the week), but it fits its intended purpose and adds more depth to the game.
Remember when I mentioned Diablo a few paragraphs above? I was talking about the sort of audience that might enjoy this game, considering it’s less than stellar storytelling, but Blizzard‘s loot-focused action RPG series is also a good comparison for the way the game showers us with colorful loot. Here is one of the aspects of Kingdoms of Amalur that has been fairly improved with the Re-Reckoning edition, as now we’ll get drops that are better suited for our current build most of the time, as opposed to the original release, where this was completely random (it’s still random, but the system is biased towards giving you build-appropriate loot). Loot chests have also been changed so they no longer generate their contents when the player enters a zone, and instead generate it when opened.
Aside from the loot change, another important non-cosmetic Re-Reckoning improvement is that zones have stopped being locked to a max/min level range as they were before (something that could make some late areas of the game a bit too easy). Instead of the old system which was a lot less flexible, the game will now re-calculate zone levels to avoid situations where the player is clearly outleveling the zone in a way that makes the combat meaningless. This doesn’t mean that we can’t outlevel zones (after all, some of us like to do that, but it’s something that happens in a far better way now). And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a new difficulty level (Very Hard) which I wouldn’t recommend to newcomers, but might just be what someone who has already beaten the original version of the game needs in order to dive back in with this remaster.
Sadly, though the non-cosmetic changes present in the Re-Reckoning edition are excellent and I would have a hard time playing the original over it, I wish the developers had gone the extra mile and updated the UI a bit, as it’s definitely dated and actively detracts from the player’s experience with the game. Speaking of upgrades that are more in the cosmetic side of things, there is a noticeable bump in texture resolution, and spells/combat effects look a lot prettier. Otherwise, the game is pretty much unchanged, something that’s not a problem from my point of view, as Kingdoms of Amalur has a relatively timeless art-style that does wonders to hide the game’s actual age.
Overall, I think that Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is still the game to beat when it comes to RPG combat, and while I’m not 100% sure the changes that have been made in this remaster justify its relatively hefty price-tag on PC (since the original is still sitting on a lot of people’s libraries), I’d personally recommend it to anyone looking for a new action RPG fix. There is also an upcoming expansion that might even fix my issues with the storytelling, so I’m looking forward to it.
8/10 – Very good.