Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is an interesting case in terms of remasters. There’s been plenty of them in recent times, and as we get closer to the next generation of consoles, it doesn’t seem like they’ll be stopping anytime soon. In theory, these revisions allow both old and new audiences to visit beloved or underappreciated games from the past decades. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning certainly fits in the second category, but after spending time reuniting with it as if it were an old friend, I’m still waiting for re-reckoning that would put it in the right place to happen.
The original was the result of a series of unfortunate events, including the missed payment of a loan given by the Rhode Island government to the original developers, a series of lay-offs sometime after, and the game’s IP being stuck in limbo until THQ Nordic purchased it back in 2018. It was also supposed to be an MMO originally but plans changed over the years, and they couldn’t fulfil that promise. Despite all of this, there’s a sheer brilliance all around the experience that, surprisingly, holds up well to this date.
In this open-world adventure, you begin the story seeing your character thrown onto a pit. To the surprise of everyone, you’re very much still alive when it shouldn’t be the case at all. It turns out that you’re the very first warrior to come back to life thanks to the Well of Souls, a machine built by a group of gnome scientists that gets their one-hit-wonder with your presence before being attacked and destroyed by the enemy.
So, good news and bad news
Everything kinda evolves from there. You meet Agarth soon after your escape, who’s part of the Fateweavers, a group gifted with the ability to see their own and other people’s destinies. But for some reason, he can’t see yours. He’s even more surprised when he witnesses a moment he had already foreseen change before his eyes thanks to your doing. Your character has the ability to alter fates, and as expected from an RPG, you’re suddenly tasked with a massive duty involving a war, an ancient enemy group that resurges all of a sudden, and the lives of countless at stake. You know, the usual story.
And it’s quite an impressive start for an epic tale, but I would be lying if I said that it’s remarkable. After all these years it fails to strike with the same excitement that it once evoked (granted, I’ve played the starting hours several times with different characters), and the dialogue can be a bit ridiculous at times, showcasing answers to choose from that at times jump from overly aggressive to something a teenager would say, and they both feel off-putting.
For me, the game always shined in other aspects, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning brings all of them back mostly untouched. The combat, for example, is akin to what you would expect from hack and slash games, with all sorts of combos that you can perform if you time your attacks right, and three different skill trees that expand it exponentially.
We have options
Both weapons and armour respond to three categories: Might, Finesse, and Sorcery. You are free to use anything, but as you progress items will require a minimum number of skill points spent in their category in order to equip them. The interesting part is that you can combine all of them, and the game not only supports, but also supports it to an extent at least on your first playthrough. You can start by becoming a fairly regular warrior or rogue, but over time you can invest into a different Destiny. Become a warlock, a blademaster, a battlemage, an assassin, an universalist who is good at everything and serves as a jack of trades of sorts. There are dozens of possibilities.
But the fun isn’t much in the character menu or the inventory screens (which, surprisingly, have been kept identical to the original) and rather on the lush and vibrant landscapes themselves. You can strike with your sword in a swift manner, or swing around in circles with a massive hammer. There’s also bows, shields, talismans, magical shields, and Chakras, which are these ring-shaped weapons that come in pairs and have a really long-range, but always return to you as if they were boomerangs. They’re great. For me, the spells are some of the best I’ve ever seen, at times feeling as bold as the wizardry in the first Fable, unafraid of causing a visual spectacle. You can connect four ground slams that shake the earth so much that spikes come from beneath, or simply throw lighting bolts in a way that feels satisfying each time. Experimenting with Destinities also brings benefits – the regular dodge action, which is a roll by default, can be changed into a short teleport that is as stylish as it is helpful.
Enemies carry a certain innovation with them as well that keeps combat interesting and engaging. There’s a lot of regular enemies that you have seen a thousand times in other games, but some are really unique to the Kingdoms of Amalur universe, like the Thresh, which are these skeleton-looking tree creatures that can shoot magical arrows and throw roots consecutively, leading you to dodge them several times on a quick succession before being able to attack. All the whilst these short enemies called Brownies can appear out of nowhere and join the fight in a group.
When you look at all of this, as well as the beautiful world that accompanies it, which will feel familiar to World of Warcraft players, it really seems like a unique experience. And it is, at least during these moments. But the skeleton of what it was supposed to be, an MMO filled with dozens of other adventurers in real-time, still lingers in the background. And sadly, it shows. You find quest markers everywhere you go, but the missions can be really basic at times. One of them literally had me fetching a plant from a waterfall that was 2 minutes away from the starting location. Others will take you into dungeons (some of which you probably already did out of curiosity before taking the quest) or ask you to kill a certain type of enemy. It becomes a bit of a slog, and it won’t be long until you boot up Spotify whilst you check off items in your quest log. There are also two different types of lock minigames, a handful of crafting systems, weapon and armour deterioration, multiple factions with their own questlines… I could go on and on.
But it’s easy to get invested in it. The character progression and all the variance that comes from it is stellar. The main campaign is already long, but Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning also brings its two DLCs included, and there’s a brand new expansion in the way, too. My biggest gripe with it is that it doesn’t do much to revitalize this title, and some of the problems it used to have. It’s still hit or miss when it comes to bugs, and before a couple of patches that arrived in the past few days, the game had crashed several times. As I mentioned earlier, everything from the menu screen to the inventory hasn’t changed at all, and aside from rebalances to skills and some updated graphical options (mainly around textures and lighting effects), everything remains the same, for better or worse.
I always remember Kingdoms of Amalur as a game that took risks, and then delivered on them despite the rocky development it went through. There are many other examples of games that have improved considerably using some of its design choices, but it’s undeniable that there’s no experience that quite matches this. I just wish it would have maintained that once present rebellious spirit here as well, coming up with the sorely needed update in the face of a new generation.
[Reviewed on PC]
Diego is a freelance journalist from Argentina and a frustrated bassist. He learned English thanks to video games and is probably listening to music right now, or procrastinating on Twitter.