Review: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning
In many ways, this game is the easiest game to review that I have ever been handed. Here is the review: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning but with some improvements and a different subtitle that is no longer sensible English but some bizarre portmanteau. There. Review over. I am available for children’s birthday parties if you so desire.
I kid, I kid. But only partway, because that is the complicated part of reviewing this particular title. See… Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is a game that fundamentally does not change very much about the original. On some level, reviewing this remake is also a matter of reviewing the original game… and a matter of reviewing the changes in the remake. Are the changes substantial enough? Do they need to be?
So let’s talk about Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, which means starting by talking about Kingdoms of Amalur in general. The game releases on September 8th on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, with the PC version (via Steam) played for this review.
Fantasy Town Rules
The actual story of Amalur is the biggest thing that hasn’t been changed at all from the original release, and this is more or less to the game’s credit, because the opening still works well for setting both your ambiguous protagonist up and setting up the world. The opening cutscene explains the ongoing war between the mortals and the fae, a war which is going poorly since the fae return from death and mortals… well, don’t. In fact, it literally starts with the main character already dead.
Fortunately for you, a magical project known as the Well of Souls has been attempting to resurrect mortals to fight again, and it turns out the main character is the first and only success in that field. Of course, the Tuatha (the bad guys) are attacking it just as you come back, which means that you are now left to escape into the world, hopefully learning more about your situation and how to end the war… while also uncovering the reality that you have somehow slipped the boundaries of fate altogether.
The story was based upon a lot of backstory created by well-known fantasy author R. A. Salvatore, but I’m not sure how much work (if any) he had on the actual narrative here. On a whole, though, the story has always felt like the weakest part of the overall package to me. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s all kind of just rote in how it plays out.
Like, the ideas here are neat. Everyone has a fate, but your character has died and come back, so you literally exist outside of fate – and that also means that you have the ability to change things that had otherwise been written. You’re being brought back into a war that has been perpetuated by one side that’s unable to stay dead. These are neat ideas! Unfortunately, what it actually means is going through fairly standard fantasy towns to do the usual sort of fantasy quests.
And you know what? I don’t care. I don’t mean that I don’t care about the story; I mean that I don’t care that it all feels a bit simple and underdeveloped, because it means that instead you’re free to just sink into the melange of well-worn fantasy tropes and familiar elements. Yes, you are probably going to recognize dozens of parts from elsewhere, but the result is you can focus on the differences and enjoy the pacing and actual gameplay.
Smash a Crate, Change your Fate
So… the gameplay. The gameplay is one of the many things I love, full stop, about Amalur. And the remaster changes… a very, very small amount of it, in ways that I think are generally positive.
In the broadest sense, this is your fairly standard open-world RPG. You have quests. You go around and do stuff. Many of those quests can be accomplished through a variety of means. You can try to persuade people to do things for you or give you information, or you can just lockpick or steal things. Or attack NPCs in town and try to become a wanted bandit. Or craft things. You get the general idea.
But in the actual gameplay, Amalur actually feels much more action-oriented than your usual RPG. Dodge-rolls, blocks, and aggressive movement are the name of the game here, with a meaty weight to your every action and a real sense that your blocks, dodges, and interrupting attacks have momentum and impact.
Even more than that, though, is the game’s class system. Yes, it has one. No, it doesn’t work like normal class systems. Usually, games with classes have them as a thing you pick which hold a variety of skills. Sometimes you learn those skills and then hop to another class; other times you pick a class and that holds all your skills, and you pick some to specialize in.
Amalur is not like that. You put your skill points in one of three trees: one for being a stealthy lithe stabby-sort, one for being a big-weapon-having smashy-guy, and one for being a spellcaster. The trees are extensive and give you lots of space to specialize in the game’s nine different weapons, different spells, and so forth. But you always have these trees available to you… and your class options are determined by the points you’ve already put into trees, with each blend having distinct picks that you can opt between.
Perhaps you want to play as a pure fighter type with a big sword and heavy armor. That’s an option. But if you want to play as a fighter/mage, that’s an option… and you have a different set of passive class bonuses if you want. Or, of course, you could put your points to make a fighter/mage but still make use of the mage class progression, thus focusing more on spellcasting for your big hits. That’s valid and functional and fun.
It’s an intensely organic and fun experience that lets you feel as if you have the guidance of a class system but the open progression of a more skill-based build. You can get a sense of what you’re building toward very early, and then you can make appropriate choices from there about how you want to get there. And the whole thing controls like a spry, vibrant action RPG rather than somewhat more plodding alternatives; the game is closer to roaming action games like Darksiders than titles like Skyrim.
The remaster does tweak things slightly by adding a harder combat difficulty, altering how levels are balanced based on your current level, and making sure loot is more likely to match your character’s specialization. There’s also a couple of small tweaks to make modding easier. It is, in other words, largely unchanged.
If you already have played the original to death, of course, this may just be irritating. It’s not like the original doesn’t have balance issues or anything. But at the same time… the original is a great game. In some ways, the minimal tweaking is very much to the credit of the remaster, keeping things intact where they are already functional.
Look At Me, I’m Stylized!
The music for this game has always reminded me of Generic American Blockbuster music. Which… normally that might invite some snark, but I actually think it works here. It certainly sounds crisp as hell and sets the mood, and it’s always nice to hear no matter what.
Of course, a remastered game means remastered textures and higher resolutions, and on that front the game delivers nicely. It’s also helped by the fact that the game’s stylized graphics have the knock-on effect of making even older models still pop and stand out. Everything still looks gorgeous throughout the game.
Performance-wise… even as a remaster, it’s an older game. It ran like a dream on my own computer, and I imagine even older rigs should have no problem with it. The improved and updated support is still nice, though.
It’s also worth noting that this remaster contains all of the DLC previously released for the game as part of its initial box price, with another piece planned for release in the future. What is slightly less good about that is that this seems to have coincided with no longer being able to purchase said DLC on Steam. This is perhaps not a huge surprise, but still a bit of a letdown if you don’t want to upgrade.
Reckon It’s Enough
Therein lies the major problem – or positive point – for Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. If you already own the original, your obvious question is whether or not this version changes or adds enough to make it worth a totally new purchase price. The answer to that, rightfully, is “no.” But at the same time, the answer to that has to take into account that this is a remaster of an already really good game. A game which, let’s be honest, kind of got buried in part because of its association with Curt Schilling, who is awful.
(He also kind of sort of defrauded the state of Rhode Island, but you all don’t really need a recap of 38 Studios right now, do you? Probably not.)
As such, this game is both really easy to review and really hard to review. It is, in a lot of ways, a very unambitious remaster. It’s not trying to do much more than put a new coat of paint on the old game and sell it as a new one. And if the base game weren’t really good, it would be rather lacking in that regard.
Ultimately, what I keep thinking of is Katamari Re-Roll, which was similarly a very fun game because it was an unambitious remake of an already very fun game. If you already have the original, it’s a harder sell, because the remake doesn’t change all that much from the original… but it’s also an improvement and a chance for those who missed out on the original (or the DLC) to try the whole package, with the promise of more still to come.
There are, in other words, some reasons that not everyone will be delighted by Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. But even if there’s not much new to it… well, there’s also nothing wrong with it at all, and the original was great. How else could it be rated?
Review copy provided by THQ Nordic for purposes of evaluation. All screenshots courtesy of THQ Nordic.