Day Of The Do-Over

HIGH A new chance to experience a game ahead of its time…

LOW …that still feels a bit dated today.

WTF It’s still nice to find the old Mass Effect 2 DLC armor, though.

When one thinks about playing an older game and seeing how well it’s aged, oftentimes the judgment being passed is whether the design decisions and technical limitations from years before still appeal after the inevitable passage of time.

For its part, were it not for the clearly dated quality of its graphics, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning seems like it could have come out within the past few years — its design, ahead of its time for 2012, aligns almost perfectly with trends that have grown to dominate the gaming landscape in 2020.

It’s also ironic to realize that this was positioned as the beginning of a grand, Amalur-based multimedia franchise. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (and now Re-Reckoning) was effectively a prologue setup for the ‘world’ of Amalur, an MMO project meant to take on titans like World of Warcraft. Instead, 38 Studios is long gone, collapsed amid scandal, and the genre itself has become old news.

That said, it’s almost impossible to find a modern major release that doesn’t pull lessons or design paradigms from MMOs, even among games that are ostensibly single-player. And as fate would have it, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was one of the earliest examples of such.

Speaking of fate, the notion of fate and destiny is one of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning‘s major thematic throughlines. The setting is suffused with talk of predestination and knowing what’s coming before it comes. Two movements have risen in seeming defiance of prediction — the first are a faction of evil immortals bent on ending the world. The second is the player, a casualty of war thought dead and resurrected at the beginning of the adventure, now freed from the shackles of destiny.

Being the only person in the world able to change their fate (and by doing so, changing the fate of others) is a compelling concept. A more generous reading could even interpret the conceit as a commentary on the fundamentally linear nature of most games. In practice, it mainly means that players won’t have a hard time changing their character class, and are, as always, the only people around able to solve problems.

And solve problems they will, by killing certain numbers of enemies, finding certain numbers of objects, and occasionally participating in a few more inspired bits of questing, all done from the third-person perspective via real-time combat in a semi-open world.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning‘s attempt to interpret MMORPG conventions into a single-player structure was to add a lot of side quests that feel like they’re just filling time. There are a few standout questlines, particularly those to do with the in-game factions, though.

One of my favorites involves the Fae, an immortal race more inextricably bound by fate than others. The Fae are forced to live out their lives in complete lockstep with a pre-written script like actors in a Broadway show that’s gone on for thousands of years. The player’s arrival signals a chance to almost literally flip the script. It’s a bit of meta-humor that could stand among the most interesting RPG questlines of the last decade, but sadly, it’s one of the outliers. Especially viewed eight years later, much of Re-Reckoning‘s content comes across as little more than bloat.

For what it’s worth, chopping through that bloat is enjoyable, though. One of the areas Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning deviates from MMOs of that era is in combat, and it’s for the better. The fighting is derived from various character action games like Devil May Cry and God of War, allowing players to chop their way through hordes of baddies with various weapons, using combos and dodge-rolling away from danger.

Though simpler than a dedicated character action title, the animations are smooth and evocative, and the combat feels good. It’s also relatively easy to switch things up, swapping from a heavy sword to a pair of swift daggers, or even a whirling Chakram-style ring blade. Re-Reckoning wisely keeps players from locking themselves into a single style of play they might grow bored of, and the game rewards trying different approaches.

Still, no amount of tweaks to post-processing or high-resolution support can hide the fact that this is a 2012 game in 2020. Not even the promise of additional content — a new expansion, Fatesworn, scheduled for release in 2021 — is enough to make Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning feel like a truly current title, and what’s here doesn’t convince me that it has a future eight years after the fact. The game’s UI is dated, the quest design largely unexceptional, and despite the involvement of legendary fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, the main narrative lacks the punch to make it stand out in a sea of newer, better options.

I appreciate Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning for giving gamers who missed it the first time a chance to see what could have been, but ultimately, it’s a project that should’ve been left to its previous fate.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by 38 Studios, Big Huge Games, and Kaiko and published by THQ Nordic. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. This copy of the game is based on retail build provided by the publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 43 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. There is no multiplayer mode. The game was completed.

Parents: At the time of writing, this game is rated M by the ESRB, with descriptors for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Suggestive Themes. The official ESRB description reads as follows: “This is an action role-playing game in which players assume the role of a character caught in a war in the fictional world of Amalur. As players explore an open-world environment, they interact with characters and complete missions/quests that impact their character’s destiny. Players use swords, hammers, daggers, and magical attacks to kill human-like enemies and fantasy creatures (e.g., demons, trolls, giant spiders) in frenetic melee-style combat. Combat is accompanied by slashing impact sounds, screams of pain, and screen-shaking effects. Players can trigger slow-motion finishing moves (e.g., impaling enemies, tearing them in half) during combat; large blood-splatter effects occur as enemies are killed. A handful of cutscenes also depict large blood-splatter effects, as well as decapitation and dismembered body parts on the ground. During the course of the game, players can choose to attack/kill innocent civilians, though this may negatively affect players’ progress. The game contains text and dialogue that reference suggestive material: “His trousers down, his passions flared/He groped with drunken hand”; “For hours, only the panting and sighs of love broke the silence”; “Her skin’s luster…her heaving prow and ample stern…”; “That man became obsessed with me. Probably because we had sex. A lot”)..

Colorblind Modes: The game has no colorblind modes selectable.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All voiced dialogue with subtitle options is presented on-screen. There are no text size or presentation options.

Remappable Controls: This game’s button controls are remappable.

Josh Tolentino
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