Many would agree that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning got the rough end of the wizard stick eight years ago. Featuring an original world penned by fantasy heavyweight R.A. Salvatore, art by Todd McFarlane (of Spawn fame) and the fact that it was both directed by Ken Rolston (lead designer of Morrowind and Oblivion) and loved by Ice Cube meant surely the game would set the world on fire. And then, it didn’t. Reviews were mildly tepid but favourable, but alas it would be 38 Studios’ one and only release, with the game’s development sending both the studio and Rhode Island bankrupt (it’s actually a fascinating tale and if you’re interested you can read the sad affair here). So in 2020, the year that has taken so much, this unfairly dismissed fantasy epic has been given a chance at new life. But as the game’s protagonist themself would tell you (if they spoke), rising from the dead can be tricky business, so how does Re-Reckoning handle itself?
Have you been up my wishing tree?
For those that never played the original, Kingdoms of Amalur surrounds the tale of the Fateless One, a mortal magically brought back from the dead in a time of great turmoil in the titular Amalur. A war rages on between a faction of the immortal Fae and the hapless mortals, who given the fact they can die were at a serious disadvantage from the outset. While most mortals have their Fates written in stone, as the Fateless One it is revealed that you have been curiously separated from its machinations, and thus are free to change not only your own destiny, but that of the entire kingdom. As the game’s mute protagonist you must traverse the Faelands and discover the secrets behind your fateless existence, while rescuing a kingdom that feels all but doomed by a one-sided war.
The story and setting of Kingdoms of Amalur remain fantastic (both literally and figuratively), even if it’s as dense as a lead fruitcake. You are practically waterboarded with lore from the game’s outset, and as you converse with every man, woman and child (turns out everyone is born as a fully grown adult in Amalur), they’ll all spew forth great reams of lore and history. It’s deep, but it’s daunting, and also surprisingly easy to just let it kind of wash over you and hope that some of it sinks in. A huge amount of it is also voice acted with varying levels of success, which is amazing in and of itself given the size of this beast. It made me feel bad as I speed read the dialogue before skipping forward, but I appreciated the effort nonetheless.
Gameplay-wise Kingdoms of Amalur is a third-person action RPG most easily compared to The Witcher series, with a healthy focus on the action. As you forge your destiny you’ll mould yourself into a warrior, rogue or mage (or any combination of the three), specialising in certain weapons and skills that align with your playstyle. The power climb is as steady and satisfying as ever, and your character really feels like your character. Despite my best intentions in trying something new, I always end up creating some sort of battlemage, and true to form that’s exactly what happened here. As I became one of the finest wielders of staff and greatsword in the Faelands, I relished in the freedom given to forge my character, and it plays nicely into its central theme of creating one’s own destiny. Some tweaks have been made to levelling within the game’s zones based on what difficulty you select, but if you’re at all familiar with this style of game I’d recommend playing on Hard. There’s also a brand-new Very Hard mode for returning players who crave a greater challenge.
Mmmmm, graphical fidelity
Troll and I
What’s less forgiveable from a technical aspect is the frame rate, which struggles harder than a millennial addicted to skinny cappuccinos and smashed avo on toast
But this is a remaster, so let’s get to the good stuff – the graphical upgrades. Kingdoms of Amalur was a fine looking game eight years ago, and after a graphical nip and tuck at the hands of studio Kaiko, it at times looks phenomenal. McFarlane’s artistry shines with its bold contrasting colours, intricate and quite beautiful character details and some truly wondrous and varied environments. Any game that makes you stop temporarily to stare out across the landscape to take in the scale has at least done something right. Facial models and animations are also amazingly not nightmare inducing despite the game’s age, and even if a few of them do suffer from the old ‘randomly-generated NPC’ look, the more important characters feel lovingly handcrafted. There’s a soft muted filter in the lighting that gives it that classic high fantasy vibe and hides some of the jagged edges, and while you’re not going to forget that the harsh mistress of time has visited Amalur, it manages to hold its own in the modern era. On PS4 Pro, Xbox One X and PC you can reportedly expect native 4K, but even playing on a vanilla PS4 was a pleasant enough experience with the increase in graphical fidelity.
What’s less forgiveable from a technical aspect is the frame rate, which struggles harder than a millennial addicted to skinny cappuccinos and smashed avo on toast. While traversing the overworld the game feels like it maintains a fairly steady 60fps, but as soon as you enter combat things get a lot less steady. As mentioned previously, I have a strong predilection for flashy battlemage destruction, and when I was raining down spell-based havoc on multiple foes the frame rate consistently dipped into what felt like single digits. While I’m not one to normally get too upset over frame rates (I let Jordan Garcia get upset enough for everyone), it noticeably detracts from the fluidity of the action. Another huge issue I was hoping that would get addressed is the time spent in loading screens, but they are still baffling in their frequency and length. Whenever you fast travel or enter/exit a building you are greeted with a loading screen that feels like it stretches an eternity, and considering how often you will be doing those things over the hundreds of quests you undertake it definitely starts to add up.
This guy’s fate is pretty clear
It’s the framerate’s turn to die
Speaking of quests, it’s hard to argue that Re-Reckoning isn’t awesome value for money. Although $60 may seem like a lot for a strict remaster, you’ll get access to the base game and all its DLC, which comprise well over a hundred hours of content. While I’d argue that the sheer magnitude of the quests and their varying quality can make it feel a bit like an empty checklister at times, it’s unlikely you’ll finish the game without feeling like it earned that $60.
Kingdoms of Amalur never really got the love it deserved, despite no small amount of passion and talent on behalf of its creators. If you like action RPGs, then Kingdoms of Amalur is a damn fine one that’s easy to recommend. It’s a crying shame that some crucial updates weren’t made to improve the experience such as stabilising the frame rate and cutting down those goddamn loading screens, but the game’s graphical upgrade makes it easy on the modern peepers. Flawed but fun, there’s no better time to give this epic a whirl. Who knows? If enough people get around the game maybe we’ll finally see that sequel…
Reviewed on PS4 // Review code supplied by publisher