September 07, 2020
If you’re thinking about picking up Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, chances are you’re in one of two camps - you either played the 2012 original and want to know what to expect from the PlayStation 4 release, or you never played Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning back in the day and you’re looking to see if it’s worth playing now. I fell into the latter camp - I’d heard only good things about the cult-classic RPG from fans who bemoaned its poor fate (one of lacklustre sales and a studio unfortunately shutting down) and I was excited to finally give it a go more than eight years on from its original release.
Booting up Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning on a modern console in 2020, it’s clear that this is far more of a re-release than a full-blown remake. The Todd McFarlane-designed art direction, with its exaggerated proportions, dark lines and vibrant colours, still holds up really well, but from a fidelity point of view, Re-Reckoning doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade. You’ll find the game regularly stuttering when attempting to move quickly through the world, and while the resolution has been improved, areas in the distance can often look a little jaggy. Meanwhile, loading screens when entering new locations, including shops or pubs, are way too long, and textures (especially on character faces) look dated.
If you ignore the superficial stuff, there are also very few changes made to the way the game plays, beyond a couple of background tweaks that affect how enemy levels are calculated when entering an area. This means one thing - if you were already a fan of Kingdoms of Amalur, then you’ll have a blast playing Re-Reckoning. Whether it’s the world, the art style, the story or the combat, you’ll find it all present and accounted for.
For someone like me who had never played Kingdoms of Amalur before, the game feels a little like a relic of a bygone era, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s something comforting about slipping into the rhythm of its combat, questing and levelling up. Whether you’re being sent to to kill fifteen spiders, or to collect a rare flower from across the map, everyone and their mum will have some sort of side-quest for you to complete - Kingdoms of Amalur isn’t exactly shy about leaning into the tropes of the genre.
This is somewhat true of the story as well. After a couple of hours I was ready to write off Kingdoms of Amalur’s story as a load of generic fantasy bollocks - the game has a bad habit of telling rather than showing, and it throws far too many whimsical character and location names at you early on for the lore to really stick. However, as time goes on and you progress through the main quest, the intricacies of R. A. Salvatore’s high fantasy, Celtic-inspired world of Fae, Gnomes and Elves do give Amalur its own distinct flavour.
One of the best plot devices that Amalur introduces is the concept of Fate - you are cast as the Fateless one, a newly reanimated body who has somehow become unbound from the tapestry of fate. All residents of Amalur are beholden to a future already wove, but you are capable of changing that fate, simply due to the very nature of your existence. It’s an ingenious McGuffin, one that gives context for why you’re the sole hero capable of changing the world, and it’s tightly woven together within the game’s plot.
Fate also takes the form of a gameplay mechanic, allowing players to choose whether to focus on Might, Finesse or Sorcery when charging into battle. Combat is one of the few areas of Kingdoms of Amalur that isn’t showing its age, offering up a lovely little slice of crunchy hack-and-slash action, rare in an RPG of this style. Each weapon type has its own combos and special attacks available, and Kingdoms of Amalur never locks you into playing one way. Even if you’ve sunk loads of skill points into swords and bows, there’s never anything stopping you from switching to knives or magic if you fancy changing things up. You can even completely respec your character at any point in the game for a small price if the mood takes you - you’re free to experiment with whatever combat style you’d like, and it’s surprisingly freeing.
There are a ton of interlocking systems in Kingdoms of Amalur, and it can be a little overwhelming - there are still some areas of the game I’ve yet to touch, such as crafting potions or armour. Luckily, the game doesn’t punish you for not diving into its more intricate mechanics, and you’ll be able to make do with the selection of loot you find in the overworld or at shops. In this way, you can engage with as much or as little of Kingdoms of Amalur as you’d like.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning does show its age in places, and as a remaster it doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade over the original release. A huge selection of side quests offer a lot of content but not a lot of originality, and the game often leans a little too far into RPG tropes that were already showing their age eight years ago. However, a strong focus on rewarding combat, a timeless art style, and a rich fictional world to discover make Kingdoms of Amalur a game that’s still worth playing now, as long as you’re not expecting a groundbreaking experience.
Grant Kirkhope’s score is as excellent as it ever was, but the voice acting isn’t great, with a large selection of faux Irish and Scottish accents that can make for difficult listening.
The visual design of Kingdoms of Amalur holds up well, but some noticeable frame-rate problems and very few other visual updates mean the game still shows its age even on current-gen systems.
A responsive and customisable combat system ensures that making the numbers go up is a joy, and there’s plenty of room to completely switch up your play-style whenever, although it would be nice if the huge selection of side quests weren’t quite as generic as they are.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning offers the same expansive campaign as the original game, plus all of the DLC, but otherwise this is a bare-bones remaster with some criminally slow loading times that should probably run better than it does on modern hardware.
Exactly the same list as the original release, including the extra DLC trophies, you’ll be rewarded for exploring everything the game has to offer. Just make sure to start on Hard difficulty to avoid extra playthroughs.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is certainly starting to show its age, but the game still offers some great combat and a deep, high-fantasy world. If you’re looking for an expansive RPG to get stuck into, you could certainly do worse than Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, as long as you keep your expectations in check.