Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning gives one of 2012's best games a second shot at glory
Inverse Score: 8/10
For gamers out there looking for a lighthearted, action-filled time sink in a fantasy world with a lot of depth, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning just might be the most fun you’ll have all year — and the most inexpensive.
A loving remaster of the 2012 original, Re-Reckoning looks and feels shockingly modern by 2020 standards as an early open-world fantasy RPG with an emphasis on fast-pased action. (Imagine if Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was fantasy instead of sci-fi with more straightforward combat like an old-school God of War game.) Sure, this remaster has its fair share of glitchy hiccups and awkward transitions, but everything from the writing to the world design and the wildly engaging combat was ahead of its time eight years ago.
Reskinned for 2020, everything feels just right.
A rebirth years in the making
The irony of this remaster’s existence is not lost on new publisher THQ Nordic, which acquired the rights to the Amalur IP in 2018. The “Re-Reckoning” rename feels like a meta nod to the game’s premise: a hero brought back from death to defy Destiny and save the Faelands from certain doom. The original game’s developer, 38 Studios, went belly-up not long after the initial release, so Amalur’s second chance probably feels like a miracle to fans of the cult classic action-RPG.
The Kingdoms of Amalur are at war when the game starts. An extremist sect of immortal beings called the Tuatha seeks to exterminate the mortal races — various humans, elves, and gnomes. (We may never know where the dwarves and halflings are!) And because the Tuatha naturally reincarnate after death, this is a war the mortal races are sure to lose.
That’s where you come in: The Fateless One. A gnomish scientist creates a device to resurrect the souls of the recently deceased into new bodies, an inventive solution to help defeat the Tuatha. Except you’re his first and only success. Things kick off when you awaken atop of a pile of failed experiments just as the Tuatha invade the facility to destroy the device. Within minutes, you’re thrust into a gorgeous open world teeming with life. There are plenty of people to meet and nooks and crannies to explore. You’ve also got a world to save.
In many ways, the mythos and story of Amalur offer the highest of high fantasy that’ll enchant the most diehard Dungeons & Dragons fans and Lord of the Rings casuals alike. Amalur’s riveting, unique tale was written by best-selling fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, and Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane drew much of the artwork. Ken Rolston — who worked on The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and Oblivion — served as design director.
Whereas Elder Scrolls games often feel mired in realistic grey tones, Amalur pops with a vibrant, cartoonish aesthetic that more closely resembles World of Warcraft or Fable. MacFarlane’s raw artistic flair permeates the action and overall tone, which dips into visceral at times.
“We're taking God of War and marrying it with Oblivion.”
This strong pedigree also shows in the action-packed gameplay.
38 Studios founder Curt Schilling (yes, that one) famously said in 2010, “We're taking God of War and marrying it with Oblivion.” In execution, both versions of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning deliver on that promise.
Amalur has the same core gameplay loop as any Elder Scrolls game: You’ll explore vast environments and stumble upon bandit camps and dungeons full of enemies and treasure. You’ll be sidetracked by people in small towns who need you to solve their problems. Along the way, you learn a lot about the world and the people in it.
The third-person perspective and action-heavy combat, however, feel much closer to the original God of War games. This is especially the case with Amalur’s awesome quicktime sequences. When the Fateless One enters a superpowered “Reckoning Mode,” they can “Fateshift” enemies out of sync with their Destiny in a way that destroys them so thoroughly they cease to exist — even if they’re Tuatha.
It is awesome.
Even more awesome is the level of fluidity and customization on offer here. There are four playable races, each with a limited array of patron gods to choose from offering buffs to certain skills. Then there are three class trees with 22 abilities each that let you dip as far as you want into Warrior, Rogue, and Mage archetypes (called Might, Finesse, and Sorcery here). Depending on where you invest, you’ll unlock an array of 41 “Destinies” that function like character classes. You can go all-in on one combat route, do a hybrid of two, or dabble in all three.
It’s hard to beat a pure Sorcery Archmage in terms of raw power, but the Might-focused Warlord comes close. The most fun, however, comes from the weird hybrids like Shadowcaster, the Sorcery/Finesse hybrid that wields daggers to do critical damage with elemental buffs while also constantly regaining mana and casting moderate spells.
Nine weapon archetypes include massive hammers, little scepters that shoot ranged magic, and the ultra-cool Faeblades that make you feel like a steel tornado. Oh, and you can equip two items at a time and swap between them on the fly.
If you’ve ever railed against games like Skyrim or Dragon Age, which force you to stick with a single character build for a hundred hours, then Amalur is a breath of fresh air. In some ways, Amalur makes Skyrim and Dragon Age combat feel clunky and slow-paced by comparison.
Your two weapons are mapped to separate primary buttons and you activate magic by holding down a trigger, and because the game doesn’t really stop in the middle of combat, things feel much more action-oriented, forcing you to rely on dodging and attack combos like a less-methodical Dark Souls game rather than the frequent start-stop of a strategy so common in high fantasy RPGs like Skyrim or Divinity: Original Sin. Things freeze when you swap weapons in Skyrim, but in Amalur, you might hack away at a crowd of enemies with two daggers before singling one out and smashing them with a massive hammer. Strategy is more about achieving a state of flow than...strategy. And the action never stops.
Whereas Dark Souls games and clones like Mortal Shell force you to rely on razor-sharp reflexes to struggle through a world that feels dangerous, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning makes you the dangerous one. Yes, the experience can and will be a challenge, especially on higher difficulties (the highest of which are new in this remaster), but that just means you need to lean into strategic character builds and the role-playing elements to find a niche that suits your playstyle.
Once you hit a state of flow with the combat, it’s a thrill. And while it may get a bit stale by the end of the game’s overwhelming runtime, you can always change your Destiny to switch up your build to something totally different.
There’s almost no better value in gaming
Assuming Kingdoms of Amalur is your bag, outside of an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, there’s almost nothing out there that’s better in terms of money spent versus hours of enjoyment. Re-Reckoning is launching with a price tag of $39.99, but Amazon has it on sale for $33.88.
Those who focus purely on the game’s main storyline can probably beat it anywhere between 30 to 40 hours. It’s estimated that a 100-percent completion speedrun of the original, however, would run around 200 hours, and Re-Reckoning also includes the post-launch DLC. That’s more than a full week playing 24/7!
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was once a game too big to fail, with lofty ambitions of expanding the world into a full-on action MMORPG (codenamed "Project Copernicus") that might rival World of Warcraft. And while the original game was a modest and persisting success, the studio that made it was a total failure.
Now, more than eight years later, Amalur has a second chance to resurrect lofty ambitions for an ongoing universe that, in our wildest dreams, could one day include that action MMORPG. THQ Nordic now owns the full IP, so in theory, the company could do whatever they want with it. Books, animated Netflix series, sequel games, and even that MMO are all possible.
But will any of these things happen? Only Fate can decide. 8/10.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning will be released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on September 8, 2020.
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