Available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC (Reviewed on Xbox One X)
When I first jumped into my playthrough of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, I was genuinely excited. I personally never had the opportunity to play the original back when it released in 2012, but I had a very few select couple of friends who did. Back then, especially with one friend in particular, I was told that it was an incredible RPG that could go toe-to-toe with the likes of world-renowned titles such as Skyrim. Being only a kid, I took their word for it but still never spent the money to try it out for myself. Over the following years, I started to believe I may have missed out on something truly special. With a game that was designed by Ken Rolston (Oblivion), with art created by Todd McFarlane, and a story penned by R.A. Salvatore, how could it not be spectacular? Well, after all of this lost time I finally caved and pre-ordered Re-Reckoning, hoping this enhanced, remastered version would have made the long wait worthwhile. It is worth mentioning, however, that we did receive a review copy as well courtesy of THQ Nordic, but it arrived later than my own personal copy which is what this review will based off of. So, was fate kind and bestowed a title of the ages upon me? Or is KoA just an average, run of the mill RPG experience?
Story and lore are by far the most important components of a role-playing game in my opinion, so I feel it should be discussed first. Don’t worry about any spoilers though, as you won’t find any here. When you first awaken from death and are thrusted into the war against the evil Tuatha, the story that is presented to you is initially intriguing. The exposition of the seemingly deep lore and world is done well, and did captivate me with compelling backstory and characters; but those feelings were fleeting. As I progressed through the game, I lost interest in all of this over time as it failed to keep me enthralled all the way through. By the conclusion, I ended up not caring all that much about the world and found it to be mostly unremarkable and not that memorable. I wasn’t encouraged to find out more about the world and its lore-filled mysteries either, as most of those details are behind quick one to two sentence conversations with generic NPCs you’ll find in any RPG (whose dialogue was boring enough to the point where I would just read the subtitles quickly and not let them finish talking). The main questline is by far the best storyline in the title, but I’d say objectively it’s just okay; nothing exceptional. However, choice is a complete illusion throughout the main quest, which is extremely counter-intuitive considering the premise of your character. Without delving into spoilers, the entire world of Amalur and its inhabitants are governed by the laws of fate, with all destinies being predetermined at birth. When your character rises from the dead at the beginning of the game, you quickly find out that you are immune to the cycle of fate, and that you have the power to turn the tide of the war and restore peace to Amalur in the face of a generic villain with generic world-conquering goals. Unfortunately, that’s all for show, as the main questline’s events are set in stone from start to finish. The only thing you can alter is the dialogue spoken, even with a maxed out persuasion skill which I had (and soon realized was a waste of all of my leveling). There are certain choices presented to the player that actually do make a difference in the way events play out, yet these choices are reserved only for the faction side questlines, and usually only pop up at the end of said questlines with just two possible paths to pursue. There are multiple factions throughout the game, five by my count, yet I only found one of them (The House of Ballads) to be unique. The rest were, like many other narrative aspects of this game, generic; to the point where I could draw similarities with other RPG faction questlines left and right. If these faction quests were more fleshed out and possibly a little longer, they could have easily become the best narrative component of the game, seeing as how your choices actually have an effect here. Besides the main quest and factions, there are plenty of standard side quests as well: but they are just as numerous as they are bland. They usually consist of uncompelling fetch quests used to fill up the game world and justify the existence of certain NPC’s, but nothing more. To be candid, these side quests felt as if they belonged in an MMORPG. Overall, I expected a much more in depth plot with varied choice and multiple, sprawling outcomes typical of a single-player RPG, but I was disappointed in what I found instead.
Gameplay and Atmosphere
If I had to sum up the gameplay of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning in one word, it would have to be “average”. At first, combat is easy to grasp and fun with varied animations, move sets, and executions; but becomes extremely basic and overly repetitive very early on. Most of the time you’ll just be mashing X, Square, or Left MB to do your standard attack, as the damage of your special abilities (even when fully upgraded) is negligible. Additionally, while although rarely, sometimes attacks won’t even register: seemingly phasing through your enemy combatants. Furthermore, you will be ganked (outnumbered by opposing enemies) all of the time in combat, and it can be difficult to get attacks in since every time you take a hit you get stun locked, which can be stacked if you continue to get hit while stun locked. Assuming you’re proficient at timing your dodges and blocks, however, it still doesn’t matter; since there are some enemy attacks that are both unblockable and undodgeable, leading to cheap forced damage and our first example of artificial difficulty in KoA. Outside of clashing blades, the rest of the gameplay doesn’t seem to fair much better either. The game is open world, yet this has to be one of if not the most linear open world game I have ever played. There are large areas spread throughout the land of Amalur, but there are specific pathways connecting area to area that you must travel through in order to gain access to them. Even after unlocking fast travel locations, you’ll be retreading the same ground quite often: expect a lot of running around. The locales of the different regions are diverse enough from each other, but there isn’t much variation whatsoever when it comes to areas within those regions. This is most noticeable when it comes to areas such as dungeons or caves, as most of these look identical and definitely copy and paste some assets, leading to these locations becoming chores after about five hours in. The world in general, though, feels empty and desolate. It doesn’t feel lived in, with most open spaces filled with nothing but repetitive enemies of varying color pallets, with NPC’s relegated to towns only. It’s incredibly rare to find NPC’s outside of a settlement in the wild, I believe I only found two throughout my playthrough. Speaking of NPC’s, sometimes you will have one or two follow you for the duration of a quest, acting as a temporary companion of sorts. This is a curse more-so than a blessing, however, as they follow way too close to the player. This leads to frustration when you’re attempting to loot items and the NPC’s dialogue options repeatedly open up instead. These follower NPC’s also seek enemy engagements that the player may be trying to avoid/sneak past, which also leads to anger. If you do manage to pick up your loot, you’ll be immediately greeted with yet another annoyance. Inventory space, even though upgradeable, is extremely limited. Although most egregious in the early game, this problem will latch onto the player for the duration of their entire playthrough; requiring constant management and providing an insanely irritating gameplay loop. Before we discuss atmosphere, I did want to mention that the lockpicking in the title is inconsistent, and possibly broken to say the least. For one example, lockpicks used on average difficulty chests break just as easily as they would on hard difficulty chests, sometimes even easier. Another thing I would like to mention is that there is a massive artificial difficulty spike at the second to last main quest, which forced me to reload a save and do monotonous side activities to level up my character. There was no gradual progression of difficulty, in fact I was wiping the floor with everything prior to this, but the difficulty just jumps insanely high for no natural reason. This was clearly instituted to pad out the game’s length, a development strategy that I’m firmly against. However, it could also be due to the game being ridiculously easy outside of cheap ganks, as I only died once on Normal difficulty (which was due to my own idiocy, as I tried to grab loot out from under some man-eating, two-shotting plants). Despite all of these criticisms, one thing the title radiates with is passion, with a glorious art style and ambient music as the backdrop. They mesh together beautifully, and compliment each other swimmingly. It sets a wonderful sense of fantastical atmosphere, and even though visually dated is still a treat to look at and listen to throughout the player’s journey. The atmosphere is further bolstered by unique and interesting character models, whether they are enemies or non-hostile NPC’s: undoubtedly courtesy of Todd McFarlane. The gameplay does indeed have many faults, but it isn’t downright terrible; and the engaging atmosphere makes it a bit more worthwhile to deal with.
At an asking price of $39.99 USD, the content on offer within Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is proportionate to the cost, that is only if you find the title enjoyable enough to continuously play it. I completed my playthrough at level 23 after 18 hours of gameplay, though for completionists it could take roughly upwards of 40 hours (personally, I don’t believe the game warrants a 100% playthrough, but to each their own I suppose). Additionally, all armor DLC and both story expansions are included as well, which provides approximately 5-15 hours of additional content depending on your playstyle and speed.
Performance and Glitches
In terms of performance, the game runs buttery smooth for the most part, however I did experience around three instances of frame drops throughout my playthrough. When it comes to the topic of glitches, though, I experienced a massive amount. They’re mostly minor, but combined they become an enraging irritant. The glitches and bugs I encountered in Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning are as follows:
- Dialogue with no sound
- Dialogue with overtly loud sound
- Dialogue in general is quiet compared to other audio for seemingly no reason
- Dialogue can be heard from far away if a voice line has yet to be finished and the player leaves the area
- Audio glitch upon game start-up where all sound is absurdly loud and staticky, genuinely hurting my ears momentarily
- Infrequent but noticeable screen-tearing
- Several instances where player character’s lower body is invisible upon loading a save-game
- Forced a very easy lock with a 100% success rate due to skill and lock pick still broke, the chest remained locked
- Two instances where the game black-screened and crashed to Xbox dashboard (once during the final boss of the main quest)
To be blunt, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning was not the game I expected it to be at all. With the creative powerhouse that was responsible for it when it was originally developed by Big Huge Games, I thought that when KAIKO remastered it I was in for a treat. Sure there were some compelling aspects of the game, particularly the atmosphere, but the story and gameplay provided offer nothing out of the status-quo for RPG’s. On top of the myriad of poor design choices and rampant glitches, the boring and bland world of Amalur was a major detraction from my enjoyment of the title as well. KoA clearly had passion behind it, but that means nothing without the proper ambition. I wanted so much more from Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Recknoning, but I was unfortunately let down by a slightly above average experience in a world beaming with untapped potential.