Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review | Back From The Dead

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review

Back in 2006, former MLB player Curt Schilling founded 38 Studios, named after his jersey number, to develop an MMORPG codenamed Project Copernicus. The game was set to release in 2010 as the start of a major RPG franchise akin to Elder Scrolls or Warcraft. And due to Schilling's involvement, having had a rather successful career on the diamond, several big names, such as R.A. Salvatore (The DemonWars Saga) and Todd McFarlane (Spawn), were soon attached to the project. However, as development carried on and it became apparent that the game was nowhere near completion, and 38 Studios, under the oversight of Schilling, bought Big Huge Games, a studio that was working on their own RPG titled Ascendant that was struggling to find funding. After the merger, the RPG Big Huge Games was working on was adapted into the world of Copernicus, and officially titled, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. As exciting as this all was, games need money to be made, especially ones of this scale, so while the studio was looking for sources for funding, Schilling struck a deal with the State of Rhode Island and secured a $75 million loan.

Kingdoms of Amalur eventually came out in 2012 on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. The game did sell and score well, gaining enough positive talk in the industry to open up the possibilities for sequels. However, soon after release, 38 Studios abruptly closed it's doors, laying off its entire staff. Due to poor management of funds by Schilling and other studio heads, 38 Studios ran through its finances, including the $75 million it received from Rhode Island. This lead to a 5-year court battle between the State of Rhode Island and Curt Schilling that ended with Rhode Island recuperating $61 million of their initial investment. In 2018, THQ Nordic bought the rights for both Kingdoms of Amalur and Project Copernicus. And now, 8 years after the game's first release, thanks to THQ Nordic's commitment to bringing back older games for the current generation of consolesKingdoms of Amalur has gotten a second wind in the form of Re-Reckoning. Having heard friends talk about Kingdoms of Amalur to death back in 2012, I've had the game on my backlog for years now, and it's finally time for Kingdoms of Amalur to face my reckoning.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Xbox One Review

And the game isn't the only thing back from the dead. In Kingdoms of Amalur, you play as a character of your own creation that has risen from the dead thanks to the Well of Souls. A short cutscene plays beforehand that sets the backdrop for the tumultuous setting you've been resurrected into. Years ago the Courts of Summer and Winter lived in harmony, playing their part in the Great Cycle. But that all changed when the evil Gadflow overthrew the Court of Winter and set his legion of undying soldiers, called the Tuatha, to war. You are a Fateless One, a mortal now living a second life, who has no written future and no memory of your past. After your rebirth, you have the ability to change the fabric of Fate, stop prophesized deaths, end a hopeless siege, and, possibly, stop Gadflow.

After all this is established, you are set free into the world to do what you wish. As is to be expected in a large RPG, there are tons of things to distract you from the main quest. Want to stop and help out a stuttering man who says he was actually a wolf that has been cursed to be human and that he needs a mysterious drink to break the curse? You can do that. Want to save a plague-infested village that's getting overrun by Bogarts? You can do that too. Want to defeat a feared monster and become a legend that they write songs about? You can also do that. To be honest, there's enough content in the game for you to easily double the 25 hours it takes to beat the main storyline. This is due in large part to fantastic writing, which was lead by Erik J Caponi, one of the writers for Elder Scrolls IV: OblivionFallout 3, and more (credit also goes to the 7 other Narrative Designers who are credited on the game.) The world of Amalur is fully flushed out and talking to its inhabitants gives a taste for the political unrest in the region and the ways different characters interpret it. Some mortals just want to live a life away from the Fae and want no part in the war while others seek out the Fae's wisdom, believing that they are evolved and should be respected. As you leave your mark on the world there is a sense that Amalur and it's people are taking notice. Walking through a city after winning a legendary battle and hearing people whisper about you is perhaps the best example of this. Speaking of leaving your mark on the world, when in stealth mode a skull appears on the bottom left of your screen. If activated (by pressing up on the D-pad) the game lets you kill anyone. This gives you the freedom to either work reluctantly with a character you don't like for the greater good or simply kill them on the spot and let the game adjust likewise. I'll admit that this isn't something I used often, but I appreciated the option nonetheless.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning PlayStation 4 Review

At first glance it's easy to assume that Kingdoms of Amalur is an MMORPG and, to be fair, it looks and plays rather similarly. When you aren't conversing with other characters you are most likely wandering the sizeable map and hacking and slashing creatures of all sizes. There are a few different weapon sets, from bows to staffs, that give you the freedom to play as you want. And due to the length of the game, you'll have ample time to experiment and find the right set for you. Being the basic Starbucks-Mocha-drinking-white-girl of RPGs that I am, I went with a stealth assassin build to start. However, realizing that I didn't find the stealth mechanics nearly as satisfying as in other games, I changed up my build and played around with hammers and long swords before ending up on the deadly combo of Faeblades and Bow. No matter what weapon you choose, the combat systems at the core of the game are fun. Doing a combo move with Faeblades and dodge rolling back and finishing off the enemy with a quick arrow before blocking another enemy's incoming attack with a shield looks and feels badass. And even if you don't go for a magic build there are still Mana using abilities, bound to the RT, that let you shadow jump behind an enemy or throw a burst of lighting. I do want to quickly touch on the controls here because they can be a bit frustrating sometimes. During combat, they're simple enough but, in a most unusual decision, the A button is in charge of both running (when held down) and interacting with objects (when simply pressed). This frequently made me open up a loot sack of a fallen enemy when I wanted to just run toward my quest marker.

After each level up there are three different skill trees to progress on. The first gives you one point to allocate for skills such as stealth, persuasion, and alchemy. These are pretty straightforward and, in my experience, other than persuasion, which directly shows up in dialogue options, they aren't that noticeable in gameplay. The second gives you three points to allocate towards abilities in any of the three categories: might, finesse, and sorcery. These are really the ones you should pay attention to as they directly correlate with what moves you unlock and what you can use. Each weapon and piece of armor is given a character level and a secondary build level, which falls into one of the aforementioned three categories, necessary for it to be equipped. The last menu you will see after a level up asks you to pick your fate. Because you are the Fateless One, you have the choice of picking from a number of Fates, such as Rogue or Brawler, that unlock based on your might, finesse, and sorcery levels. As someone who likes to play RPGs for the story and not so much the stats boosts and point allocation, the RPG elements of Kingdoms of Amalur were just deep enough to let me hone in on my desired character build without feeling like I needed a guide to make sure I didn't mess up. Although the good thing is, if I did mess up I had the comfort of knowing I could go to certain NPCs called Fateweaver's to reset the stats and try again.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Nintendo Switch Review

At almost every turn, the one aspect that outshines the game's writing is the sound. Grant Kirkhope's score is nothing short of epic with pieces that are goosebump-inducing. They inhabit the world and its various regions so well that they become integral to the experience. In the past, I've said that some games don't need music to be played but for Kingdoms of Amalur, it would actively hurt your enjoyment of the game to not have it accompany the gameplay. This praise also carries over to the voice acting. Kingdoms of Amalur has tons of fully voiced characters that all sound different and unique. If you want to fully absorb as much information as possible, most of the characters that you are able to interact with can share their thoughts on important topics like the mystical Ysa or the evil Tuatha. I cannot imagine how many hours of voice work was recorded for the game as a whole but it is impressive, to say the least. And other than a few outdated sound effects, like the one used for breaking pottery, the sound design is serviceable.

The art style, backed by the designs of Todd McFarlane, brings the regions of Amalur to life, but the game simply doesn't have enough visual polish to stand out against recent releases. Those with a keen eye will have probably noticed that this rerelease of Kingdoms of Amalur isn't joined by the usual "Remastered" tagline. And I think that that's a pretty important detail. Unlike Darksiders: Warmastered, which is simply just a clever way to say remastered in the title while staying true to the subject matter, the name Re-Reckoning serves a different purpose. You see it's not totally a remaster. Visually the game doesn't look that much better than its 2012 counterpart. Yes, there are improved textures and animations. And yes, Re-Reckoning isn't a full-priced $60 game, but, at the same time, there are some glaring problems visually and technically that should have been ironed out prior to release. As great as the vocal performances are, the dialogue sequences that present them are anything but. Very often during a dialogue interaction with another character the camera would cut to obscure and meaningless shots that seem to show anything but what's necessary. It's apparent that the intention was to make it cinematic, but when half the time the angles are partially inside a character's body or are blocked by a passing NPC, it does more to take me out of the experience than bring me in. 

The next visual oddity that I came across was during the Reckoning Mode, which is activated by holding down LT and RT after the meter fills up. When in Reckoning Mode the hero can deal massive amounts of damage very quickly while all the enemies move in slow motion. After slaying an enemy in Reckoning Mode you can hold down A to start a special finisher. These God of War-style quick-time events allow for some cool and stylish ways to finish off a powerful foe. However, the camera seemed to bug out every other time I performed one. The camera would often teleport under the map for the duration of the finisher and once the move ended it would return to its regular place behind the character but with the textures for the area still loading in. I can try to explain this in more detail but honestly just click here to watch it for yourself. These are not the only bugs I came across in my time with the game, but they are the most significant. When Kingdoms of Amalur works as it should, the presentation is actually rather immersive. Walking to a new area and panning the camera around to take in the sight of towering buildings or expansive landscapes is beautiful. But there often seems to be some glitch or small hiccup that is working against the game, making those moments scarce.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning PC Review

With all those relatively objective points made, I want to talk subjectively for a bit and share my honest personal thoughts on the game. In my opinion, Kingdoms of Amalur is an easy game to like but a hard game to love. This boils down to a few reasons. For one, it took me a long time to get into the setting. I sat and clicked through all dialogue options for named characters, went on Wikis to read more about the Summer and Winter Court history, and hell, I even took notes in my journal, but I just couldn't get lost in the world for a majority of the game's opening hours. I know I said above that the world-building and writing are excellent and I absolutely meant that, however as I played the game I found myself wanting a book or series set in this world rather than a game. When I sat down to think about why this was I came to the conclusion that Kingdoms of Amalur is often too linear. It is technically an open-world game but the world doesn't invite much exploration. At least not for me. The game often funnels the players towards one area or another with narrow roads that are flanked by tall rock faces on either side. This wouldn't be a problem if the open areas were truly open. But they too are restricted, to a lesser degree, by the lack of a jump ability. When I can't jump down a two-foot drop and have to walk all the way around to the stairs at one end to then walk back over to the chest that's right in front of me, I am just less likely to go out of my way to explore. In a weird way, for as many side quests as there are, the game can still often feel empty. Furthermore, every region and every city is broken up by loading screens. While some are rather short, most are certainly not and these cuts in gameplay often make the world exploration feel less seamless. Not to mention that a loading screen usually means that it's time to catch up on texts or emails.

Additionally, for me, the one clear way to judge my enjoyment of an open-world game is to see how often I use fast travel. For Kingdoms of Amalur, as soon as the feature was made available, I used it every chance I got. I wanted to further the story and talk to other characters but I didn't care for the running around that stitched those segments together. Which further supports my reasoning for wanting a book in this world rather than a game.

However, and this is a pretty big however, when I was 15 hours into the game something clicked. After pushing past the visual glitches that loaded an unrendered world and bugs that forced me to load an older save to progress, I started to enjoy the game. That's not to say that the game played flawlessly after that 15-hour mark because it certainly did not. But it started to become charming in its own way. This could be some sort of gaming Stockholm Syndrome similar to that which Bethesda games capitalize on (I say that having absolutely loved Fallout 3 and Skyrim despite their faults), or it could be that at that point I let go of my predisposed expectations for the game, which have been building for the past 8 years, and started to accept the game for what it was. A buggy remake of a game that sewed the seeds for a great RPG world by a team that just wanted to do right by the genre they loved.

With all that said, the question of whether Kingdoms of Amalur is worth a buy for you depends on what kind of player you are. If you're one that needs their games to work perfectly from the start with no hiccups, then maybe hold off on this one for a bit or skip it altogether. However, if you're an avid fan of RPGs and can suffer through the bugs to experience the world as a whole, as is often required with games in the genre, then this is definitely a game worth checking out. Its excellent writing and world-building, fantastic voice acting, and score paired with fun combat mechanics make Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning a worthwhile, if very flawed, RPG. Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is out now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. A review code on the Xbox One was provided by the publisher. This review was originally written in September but was revisited for the Nintendo Switch release.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning | 6 | Decent

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