In the “here’s a massive fantasy world, now go be whoever you want and do whatever you want” genre, Skyrim has dominated conversations for nearly a decade now. But as a sizable and dedicated fan following will gladly tell you, 38 Studios’ 2012 action-RPG Kingdoms of Amalur is an excellent alternative that offers just as much depth and addictive role playing- maybe even more, in many respects. Often regarded as a true hidden gem, Kingdoms of Amalur has a curious history. Launching to largely positive reception from critics and extremely positive reception from audiences, it was planned as the first game in a larger series- but even after respectable sales, due to a series of poor management and financial decisions by the developer’s leadership, 38 Studios had to close down, and Kingdoms of Amalur became a dead franchise.
Now, thanks to new IP owners THQ Nordic and remastering studio Kaiko, the massive fantasy RPG has another time to shine in the sun with Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, to give fans of the original a chance to dive back into its rich setting, and those who had never played it before the chance to experience its vast role playing systems firsthand. And while Re-Reckoning does a good enough job of capturing the strengths of the original release, it’s hard to give any of that credit to the remastering work done here. The game itself has been brought over as is, after all. In fact, as far as the remastering work is concerned, Re-Reckoning is a bit of a disappointment.
"While Re-Reckoning does a good enough job of capturing the strengths of the original release, it’s hard to give any of that credit to the remastering work done here. The game itself has been brought over as is, after all. In fact, as far as the remastering work is concerned, Re-Reckoning is a bit of a disappointment."
In the lead up to the game’s launch, trailers and screenshots have given the distinct and worrying impression that there isn’t much of a visual upgrade to look forward to here. Back when Amalur first came out, its lighting and its excessive usage of bloom didn’t feel too egregious- but that was 2012, and this is now. Re-Reckoning doesn’t do much to change or update those aspects of the visuals, and while it’s possible that the developers left that untouched to retain the original game’s art style and visual aesthetic, what it does more than anything else is make things look a bit too washed out.
Any remaster – especially one of a nearly decade-old game – should try and sharpen up the visuals and add more detail to assets and environments. It’s kind of the bare minimum. Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning doesn’t do that, and if it does, it doesn’t do it enough to be remotely noticeable. Textures often look bland, like they’re made out of clay. Characters’ faces are also lacking in detail, with their hair in particular looking particularly unappealing. Their lip syncing and animations, too, are a bit too rough, almost as if they’ve been ripped right out of a 2012 game without having been touched up even in the slightest. In fact, that’s exactly what may have happened. Don’t get me wrong, in isolation, Kingdoms of Amalur has a charming look, thanks mostly to its art style and the authentic design of its fantasy world and the creatures and people that inhabit it- but it looks no better than it did in 2012, which seems to be the exact opposite of what you’d want a remaster to do.
There are other ways Re-Reckoning’s technical aspects disappoint as well. Being a game that first came out in 2012, Kingdoms of Amalur’s open world wasn’t a seamless one, and entering and exiting buildings, towns, settlements, dungeons, and the like is usually accompanied by a loading screen. Obviously, I didn’t expect the very design of the open world to change and become seamless in a remaster, but I was hoping that that loading would at least be as minimized as possible. Load times are far too long though, and given how frequently they pop up, they end up feeling more than a little annoying.
"In isolation, Kingdoms of Amalur has a charming look, thanks mostly to its art style and the authentic design of its fantasy world and the creatures and people that inhabit it- but it looks no better than it did in 2012, which seems to be the exact opposite of what you’d want a remaster to do."
Thankfully, though the remastering work here done feels minimal, the game itself is as strong as it has always been. Kingdoms of Amalur remains to this day one of the largest fantasy open world RPGs I’ve ever played, and the sheer depth of mechanics and breadth of activities on offer is as impressive in 2020 as it was back when the game first came out. The world of Amalur is huge, full of unique places to see and explore, and every place you go houses so many engaging stories to dive into, so many quests to undertake.
The quest design itself is far from the most inventive – it feels rather MMOish, in fact – but I find those issues easy to forgive because of how captivated I was by this world, and how willing I was to explore every nook and cranny of it. Kingdoms of Amalur is overflowing with rich lore and backstory that truly makes its world come to life, and I was more than happy to undertake even the most mundane of quests if it meant getting to explore more of it and learning more about its history, its conflicts, its peoples, and its factions.
The build variety, too, impressed me yet again, just as it did many years ago when the game first launched. Kingdoms of Amalur may not have as many role playing opportunities as something like Skyrim, and player choice isn’t as much of a big deal in terms of how the narrative unfolds, but the meat and potatoes in this game is really the combat, and as far as that is concerned, the game gives you a vast array of options to build your character how you see fit. There are three main archetypes here – warrior, rogue, mage – but with plenty of loot to discover, weapons to use, and various ways to level up and progress your character, Kingdoms of Amalur gives you an impressive amount of control over progression.
"Thankfully, though the remastering work here done feels minimal, the game itself is as strong as it has always been."
Another one of the game’s biggest strengths is combat- it was something that drew universal praise when the game originally launched, and happily, the combat feels just as punchy, responsive, and slick now. Regardless of whether you’re a brawler who likes to get up close and personal, a rogue who likes to attack with light and fast strikes, or a mage who likes to deal elemental damage from a distance, combat in Kingdoms of Amalur is always incredibly satisfying, and never gets dull. It is disappointing, though, that the game can be a bit too easy at times, especially as you level up more. This was an issue with the original release as well, and though it feels less egregious here thanks to balancing work done by developers Kaiko, it’s still a bit of a problem.
In the end, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is the perfect representation of this underrated diamond in the rough’s strengths- because it’s brought over the original game almost exactly as is. As a remaster, it doesn’t do nearly as much as it should on a technical level, which is definitely a disappointment. If you’ve never played this game before, or if you want to dive back into it but don’t have access to an older copy, Re-Reckoning is easy to recommend- but only because the game itself is as good as it is. If you were hoping for an impressive visual upgrade, this isn’t it, and those who already have access to a copy of the original game should probably save their money.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Massive world with lots to do; Excellent worldbuilding; Impressive build variety; Satisfying combat.
Poor remastering work, from long and frequent load times and aged lighting to bland textures and mediocre facial models and animations.