Reviews

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review – Fated To Be Good?

THE year was 2012 and the world had not yet burst into flames. It was a simpler time. It was also the year one of my favourite RPGs came out, amidst a bunch of drama surrounding its development owing to the fact that Rhode Island had helped fund the game’s creation. 38 Studios was founded by former Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling with the aim of turning his gaming hobby into something more, and to create awesome new RPGs with the help of Todd McFarlane and R.A. Salvatore. He succeeded: Amalur is excellent, and in some alternate reality its sequels would have kicked ass. But despite solid sales of 1.2-million copies, too much money had been spent on development. Payments weren’t made on time, 38 Studios began to collapse. It would take near four years for the court case between Rhode Island, 38 Studios and Curt Schilling to be settled. So it’s something of a miracle that eight years later we have Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-reckoning, a remaster of the original game and a spark of hope that we might still yet get a sequel.

For this review, I’m breaking it into two sections: this first one will be talking specifically about the remaster – what’s changed, the graphical improvement and such. Hopefully this can help out existing owners of the game to determine if Re-Reckoning is worth upgrading to. The second portion of this review is the game itself, and you can skip straight to that by scrolling down a bit. This is for newcomers who want to know if Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is worth playing in 2020.

Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Big Huge Games, 38 Studios, Kaiko
Publisher: THQ Nordic

Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher

So, first lets tackle this as a remaster: is it worth upgrading from the original game to this? And that means we need to figure out exactly what Re-Reckoning is. This isn’t a full-blown remake. It hasn’t been rebuilt from the ground up for modern hardware in the same way as something like Crash Team Racing or Spyro: Reignited. No, this is a straight remaster, using the original assets and code. That means Re-reckoning is essentially the same game with no major changes to gameplay mechanics, design or anything else. With that said, remasters come in a lot of different forms, and there’s considerable debate over how much should be changed in a remaster. On top of that, we have to think about how much a company is wiling to spend remastering a game that is not a financially guaranteed success. As much as I love Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, it’s only ever had a relatively small following. To me, this explains why Re-reckoning is a very basic remaster – THQ Nordic were not willing to throw too much cash at the project.

The graphical update is minimal. Some textures seem to have been replaced entirely, but most have been simply up-rezzed to appear sharper and more detailed. There’s also now support for higher native resolutions as well as super-sampling which helps bump up the graphical fidelity. On top of that, the draw-distances are better, albeit still quite poor, pop-in still exists but is improved and the lighting has been redone, although for some reason the bloom effects seem to have been turned up. Finally, both the saturation and the contrast have been increased quite dramatically, making the game more vibrant. Comparatively, the original always looked slightly washed out.

Taken altogether, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning does look sharper and more detailed than the original game, but it’s not a huge upgrade like Saint’s Row The Third was. Nor indeed does it match THQ’s claims of “stunning new visuals.” Facial animations in particular look poor, and water effects could also have benefited from being redone. The good news is Todd McFarlene’s visual style still holds up today, or so I think. It’s bright, it’s bold and it’s distinctive, although obviously since the game’s launch similar styles have appeared. There’s a hint of World of Warcraft in the almost cartoon aesthetic, but Amalur has its own flair.

You do get a couple of other changes, too, like the inclusion of an FOV slider that helps combat the game’s original iffy camera. The levelling systems have been altered, so instead of an area now being permanently locked to same level as when you first entered it, it’ll now change each time you arrive, although it still has a maximum level. This means if you venture into an area early on and leave, when you return later it won’t be massively under-leveled compared to your character. These are all welcome alterations.

While there are no new skills or loot or anything like that, there has been a new gameplay element added in the form of a Very Hard mode. It’s a solid addition to the game and brings out the best in the combat. There’s more depth to the fighting than you might realise, but previously there was never enough of a challenge to really make players use the various combos and moves. In other words, button mashing would get the job done nine times out of ten. Very Hard mode pushes players a little more. However, the way it works also means that enemies don’t fight smarter, they just hit harder and soak up more damage. They can feel more like sponges, and fights can drag on because of it. It also means that early on you’ll have to spend more fixing your weapons since your weapon is going to be doing extra work.

The unwillingness to alter the core game in substantial ways means that developer Kaiko missed the opportunity to redo the menus and HUD as well, which is a real shame. The dialogue options still take up a massive amount of screen space, and inventory management could have been tidied up. Even an option to loot all the bodies in a room after a fight using a single menu would be great.

The game’s economy hasn’t been touched, either, which I think was a missed opportunity. It’s still incredibly easy to get gold, and the armour and weapons vendors sell is usually vastly inferior to what you find in chests or get by doing quests and such. Basically you quickly end up with heads of money and nothing to do with it. And if you invest in blacksmithing and sagecrafting skills you become able to craft vastly better gear than anything you can loot or buy.

With a remaster like this I think it’s fair to expect some bugs and such that couldn’t be fixed owing to the original code . I ran into some mild issues like the tops of treasures chests being missing or my legs briefly vanishing in the inventory menu, but nothing serious. And I had a couple of crashes back to desktop. So while it Re-Reckoning isn’t as polished as it could have been, I didn’t think it was too bad. Or at least, until I ran into a damn near game breaking bug that existed in the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning 8-years ago. Basically, there’s a limit to the amount of enemy loot piles the game can have existing in the world. The reason behind this is to ensure that if you somehow miss an important quest item you can go back and fetch it. That’s great and all, but if you don’t loot everything from a corpse and thus leave a loot pile behind, the game eventually has a meltdown. Suddenly, enemies will literally vanish into thin air as you go to deliver the killing blow. They won’t leave loot, and you won’t get XP. The way to fix the problem? Revisit previous areas and hoover up any loot piles you can find. How the hell does this major issue still exist? Maybe Kaiko couldn’t fix this. I can’t say for sure. That doesn’t stop it from being frustrating.

General performance isn’t up to snuff, either, which could potentially be a result of the older game engine having not been designed with modern hardware in mind. Running a Ryzen 3600, GTX 1080Ti and 16GB of RAM I think its fair to say I more than exceed the recommended specs on Re-reckoning’s Steam page. And given that the original runs at about a billion FPS and Re-reckoning’s upgrades are small, I also think it was fair of me to assume that performance would be damn near perfect. Not so. While the framerate drops were never insane enough to become a serious problem, there were plenty of instances where it notably dipped. Certain dungeons and most of the towns are the worst culprits, and weirdly fiddling with the graphical options barely seems to affect performance.

As remasters go, Re-Reckoning is bare-bones. Compared to the original PC version of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning the step up in fidelity is minimal, although the improved colour is a nice touch. While there’s a 50% discount for people who own the original game on Steam, it’s difficult to say the upgrade is worth it unless you don’t already own the DLC. IN that case since you get the DLC included in Re-Reckoning, it’s good option.

Ultimately I see only a few reasons to upgrade: the first is if you absolutely love the game and have the money to spare. It may be a small upgrade, but it’s certainly the best KoA has ever looked without the help of mods. The second is for the new DLC pack coming out next year, but in that case you can wait. And finally, and this would be my personal reason, because this remaster may very well be used to judge the interest in a sequel, and I very much want to see a new Kingdoms of Amalur.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review

Eight years after its launch there’s no escaping that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning can feel a bit old and creaky by modern standards. There’s about a hundred hours of content, but most of it is very basic quest design. The world is vast, but you can only jump at predefined points and invisible walls are everywhere. However, in my estimation it remains, to this day, a supremely underrated RPG that is absolutely still worth playing, provided you understand it was made at a different time.

At the start of the game your custom character is brought back from the dead, and consequently is now free of the chains of fate. With no memory and no set path in the world, you are an anomaly. There’s no time to kick back with a beer and figure all this nonsense out, though, as Tuathans attack and send you running. From there you encounter a Fateweaver, a person capable of looking into the future and see what destiny awaits. Of course, he quickly realises that you have no pre-determined fate, unlike him.

The actual story of Kingdoms of Amalur is quite bog-standard – there’s some Big Bad by the name of Gadflow, immortal Elves running around the place and only you can solve absolutely everyone’s problems because apparently nobody in RPGs can get anything done on their own.

While the story itself is nothing special, writer R.A. Salvatore certainly created a fascinating world that takes the traditional high fantasy elements and adds some cool concepts. Take the immortal Fae: when they die they are reborn, and so they tend to repeat their prior existence over and over again. Those of the Fae who perform incredible deeds or live important lives are recorded by the House of Ballads who sing songs of these heroes, which are re-enacted throughout the seasons with other Fae taking up the mantles of characters if the original hero is off doing something else.

It really is an awesome world to explore, and the various characters that inhabit it are incredibly willing to vomit forth exposition if you ask. It’s almost a shame, then, that all of this tends to get buried under mountains of quests. If you aren’t selective about taking on quests your mini-map will quickly become littered with objective markers. The quest design is typical RPG fare, especially for the time: go to a place, kill the stuff and maybe take the thing. The basic structure never really deviates from this, but the fact that quests tend to be quite short lulls you into a relaxed state where you can just bang out quests like mad for hours without getting bored. Maybe that’s just me. But there’s also quite a few quests with intriguing storylines, including the Faction quest-lines.

The combat is undoubtedly the focus of the game, and rightfully so, because it feels great. It’s the animations that make it work: swinging a greatsword or hammer has a palpable sense of weight behind it, for example. But my favourite is the staff, the typical mages weapon. You don’t fire weedy little spells from it, instead you twirl it around and unleash blasts of magic before finishing with an upwards swing that launches a arc of magical death. Special mention goes to the Chakrams as well. These metal discs of fury are awesome weapons that you hurl at enemies, and need to make appearances in more games! If they’re good enough for Xena, then they’re good enough for gamers. In other words, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning makes magic users feel like legit bad asses.

You can equip two weapons at any given time: greatsword, hammer, longsword, staff, chakrams, daggers, bows and Faeblades are your choices. Each weapon is equipped to a button, and each one can perform a basic combo, but you can swap between them at will, with some working together better than others. Personally, I like running a greatsword and a staff, because I favour straight melee with magic on the side. And as you level up you can spend points on unlocking new moves for weapons. For example, if I attack with my greatsword while blocking I get to perform two frontflip slams that can be tied neatly into the basic greatsword combo. If I attack after a dodge I leap up and stab my blade into the ground, hurling smaller enemies into the air. And if I nail a perfect riposte I can impale the enemy and then boot them off the blade.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t Devil May Cry 5 or anything, but for an RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning feels great. And it always wants to make you feel like your awesome. Mages get to hurl ice storms and even brings down a meteor, warriors can go into a battle frenzy that turns them into killing machines and rogues can leap into the sky to rain down arrows. In so many RPGs abilities can feel underwhelming, but here each new skill is a pleasure to unlock and use.

Speaking of which, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning does have classes, but you’re free to jump between them. Might, Magic and Finesse are the names of three skill trees, and the more points you sink into one the more powerful abilities you can unlock. Apart from that, you can mix and match to your hearts content, perhaps becoming a sneaky mage or a straight-up melee monster. You also unlock different Destiny cards to pick from depending on the mixture of points you’ve spent, and these provide powerful extra bonuses that complement your playstyle.

I also like how easy it is to respec your character. Fateweavers can be found all over the place and for a chunk of gold (which is actually far too easy to come by) they’ll somehow reset your destiny, giving back all those points to spend on whatever skills you want. It’s awesome to be able to jump around and try out new builds.

The new Very Hard difficulty helps bring out the best of the combat and levelling. On the standard difficulty and even on hard, button mashing will often be enough to see you through a fight. You almost have to force yourself to use the different combos and skills available. But when I ramped the challenge up I found the combat had a more methodical, thoughtful feel because it’s easy to get surrounded. Even basic foes can pose a very real threat.

We can’t forget about the loot, either, of which there’s bloody loads and that makes me very, very happy. I would have loved for Kaiko to add some new gear to the game, but I’m still happy with what the base game offers in terms of armour and weapons and effects. With that said, the blacksmithing and sagecrafting skills are arguably too powerful because with them you can easily put together gear that outstrips the unique items, making those unique items less appealing. It’s also a shame that there is now way of upgrading stuff, so if you do stumble across a unique piece of armour or a weapon you love the look of it will inevitably have to be ditched in favour of something else that has better stats. Again, it would have been great if Kaiko could have introduced a system for that.

Despite some glaring issues with the remaster, which you can read in the remaster section, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is still an excellent RPG eight years on and one that I’d recommend playing to any fan of the genre. However, it is a little harder to recommend the Re-reckoning version simply because of iffy performance, crashes and a variety of other bugs people are running into, as shown by the Steam forums. And apparently things are worse over on PS4/ It maybe be worth waiting a little to see if these problems get ironed by Kaiko before jumping in.

Putting together a final rating for this package is tricky, much like it always is for a remaster. Ultimately, then, I’m aiming this this final score more toward people who have never played the game before. Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning needs some spit and polish to get it working properly. If that happens you can bring the score up to a full four out of five stars. But right now, if you can deal with its issues there’s an RPG that was clearly made with love waiting for you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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