Fantasy RPGs have a protagonist problem. In far too many cases, in far too many worlds, your custom character is some manner of “chosen one.” It’s not as if there’s no way to explore this idea in an interesting way. Just look at Morrowind, where there’s the genuine possibility that your fulfillments of prophecy are simply a coincidence that lines up with local beliefs.
However, most “chosen one” storylines in fantasy RPGs are trite and overused, patronizing to the player, and just downright dull. Enter Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning.
At the time of release, there was a notion going around that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning would essentially serve as a single-player MMORPG, solving the oft-voiced complaint about the genre: your player character’s actions would actually matter.
In Amalur, the player alone occupies the role of the “Fateless One,” and their actions profoundly affect the story world. The irony there? The actual game is profoundly rigid in structure, and you are almost always funneled into one or two paths with regards to story choices. While your character build and skill progression are quite versatile (and easily the game’s greatest strength), quest structure is so bland and simplistic, dialogue choices so binary and generic, and the world so hollow and lifeless that few of your choices carry any emotional weight.
- What is Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning? It’s a remaster of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a 2012 open-world fantasy action RPG. Fate has decreed that the mortal races are doomed to perish at the hands of the Tuatha Deohn, corrupted fae, and the instigators of the Crystal War. Only the Fateless One can challenge destiny and alter the fortunes of the mortal races…
- Reviewed On: PC
- Developer: KAIKO, Big Huge Games
- Publisher: THQ Nordic
- Release Date: September 8, 2020
- Website: www.amalur.thqnordic.com
Choose Your Destiny
As mentioned above, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning’s greatest strength is the way it approaches progression and character levels. You can specialize in one of three archetypes: classic warrior, rogue, mage spread. You can also mix and match between them, and choose different “Destinies” to emphasize whatever build you’re going for.
My own preference was to be a jack-of-all-trades, equipping different weapons and spells as each situation demanded. Amalur provides a fun framework for that kind of decision-making.
The combat itself is generally successful. It’s fun during particularly challenging encounters to unleash all of your best potions, spells, and special abilities (the spectacle is aided somewhat by gruesome finishers) to topple Amalur’s nastiest threats. That said, the camera is finicky to work with, and a general lock-on ability, as opposed to a specific ranged function, would have tightened up the control scheme considerably.
Overall, the worst parts of the gameplay amount to quibbles and fixes that should have featured in the remaster. Some contextual button prompts don’t connect, there are visual bugs, and the game crashes on occasion. These sorts of issues stand out in a remaster, especially considering one might assume QA would play a prominent part in the actual remastering process. Nonetheless, Kingdoms of Amalur still manages to be decently engaging on the gameplay front. For a scenic, flashy romp through some generic fantasy land, you could do worse.
Journey of Fantastical Wonderment
The burden of years rests heavily on Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. Open-world titles made before the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Red Dead Redemption 2 come across as somewhat quaint today. Even The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (released the year before Amalur), a titanic release at the time, has been somewhat humbled by the games that have come since. Furthermore, especially in the case of Amalur’s story, we’ve simply had too many bonafide chosen ones in fantasy RPGs for this adventure (and by extension, this world) to feel even remotely memorable.
The generic “chosen one” plot is a significant problem for the game’s narrative and world. Without a compelling character or story premise to latch onto, and with plot points that feel tired and overused, there’s very little to prompt investment in Amalur’s worldbuilding. This also makes side quests feel underwhelming, with unremarkable characters and progression. The most you’re left with is a bit of trivia about this world and its history, and of course, material rewards that feed the gameplay loop (the much stronger aspect of the game).
On a deeper level, the setting of Amalur feels stilted and hollow. This may seem like a minor detail, but the inn at Gorhart, the starting town, doesn’t serve ale, food, or anything of the sort. It’s just another general store. The room you can rent is not the one set aside for a guest, but a bed with the establishment’s healer looming over it. Peculiarities like this plague the entire storyline.
Some of the more egregious issues include watching NPCs fail to react to the world around them, ignoring their friends’ sudden stabbings by unseen foes, or wolves circling an antelope randomly, not to hunt it but as a strange pathfinding behavior. All of these moments combine to create this empty feeling inside. It’s as if Amalur is more of a theme park than a living, breathing fantasy world. Neither the world nor its inhabitants are convincing, and so putting this world at stake and trying to feed you lore about it feels like profoundly misguided efforts. The devil is in the details, and this is where Amalur stumbles. Its place in posterity largely reflects that.
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Zoom Out: Verdict
Character Progression - 8/10
Combat and Exploration - 7/10
Quest Design and Side Content - 6/10
Storytelling and Worldbuilding - 6/10
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning can provide plenty of hours of satisfactory gameplay, and its approach to character progression is exciting and fun to tinker with and customize to your liking. However, its world doesn’t have that essential stickiness that keeps people returning to Tamriel and the Witcher’s continent. Amalur’s titular kingdoms simply don’t evoke that same feeling of weight and wonderment, and they never truly feel like a place you could really inhabit, to their detriment.
- Colorful, pleasant visuals
- Fun progression and character customization
- Good combat, decent moment-to-moment gameplay
- Technical quibbles
- Rigid, uninteresting quest design
- Weak narrative, hollow story-world