In case you’re not familiar with the title, KoA Re-Reckoning is a remaster of 2012’s 3rd-person action-RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and features all previously released DLC. One of the most eye-catching things about the game is the pedigree of the names attached to the project. It was designed by Ken Rolston, the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. The artwork was handled by one of my most favorite artists: Todd McFarlane, the creator of the legendary Spawn. And the cherry on top? The lore and in-game universe were crafted by award-winning fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, whom I’m sure you’ll know if you have ever read a Dungeons and Dragons novel. I absolutely adored Morrowind, as it was the first Elder Scrolls title I have ever played back when it was released on the original Xbox. With the addition of McFarlane and Salvatore (whose work I’ve loved since discovering them back in high school), my anticipation hit the roof! Now, depending on who you asked, the original was anywhere from good to amazing. Skip forward around 8 years to the newly released remaster: how does it hold up? Let’s find out, nerds!
One of the most common questions I get from people when I talk about a remaster is “did they add anything new?” so I’ll get that out of the way post-haste. The answer is fairly simple: not really. They added all the previous DLC content, including Legend of Dead Kel and Teeth of Naros. The developers treated the graphics with the typical bare-minimum visual upgrades you would expect from any remaster. Some of the general nuts and bolts of the game were upgraded, like a reworked loot generation system and instead of an area’s enemies being level capped, they scale to the player’s level, up to a certain point. It’s nothing that your average gamer would get excited over but don’t misunderstand me; Amalur is a great action-RPG and it’s still a worthwhile pick up if you never got around to it (or finished it off) in its original release. It should also be noted that there is a brand-new upcoming expansion titled ‘Fatesworn’. It’s due out sometime in 2021 and is reported to be around 5+ hours. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the story!
Things are not okay in the Faelands. War has been raging for over a decade, decimating the population and throwing everything into chaos. Like all videogames, you take control of the main hero in the story. You are the savior, the one who will rise and put an end to all the strife and bloodshed. There is a small problem, however: you’re dead. Well, at least it makes for a unique character creation scenario. While your corpse is being unceremoniously carted by a pair of odd gnomes, you’re guided through your customization options. There are four races to choose from that besides the obvious visual difference, offer you racial bonuses to your skills. The next screen allows you to choose a god to patronize (or none, you filthy atheist!) to grant you further special bonuses. After choosing a preset head you can then alter it with a modest selection of custom options and then you can start the game in earnest.
Before I can explain the basic plot I need to fill you in on a few details. Kingdoms of Amalur is set in the Faelands. There are a slew of races living there such as humans (known as Almain and Varani), gnomes, and elves (Dokkalfar and Ljosalfar). They are referred to as the ‘dust races’ by the lands native inhabitants; the Fae. This is due to how they live a normal lifespan and then die. The Fae are immortal beings. They live, die, and are reborn again in a never-ending cycle. They are divided into two harmonious cultures called the Court of Summer and the Court of Winter. The Court of Summer Fae are often seen as the good ones because they embrace life and nature while the Court of Winter are misunderstood because they tend to focus more on the negative side of things like death and deceit, but they are both parts of a whole. One day there was a Fae called Gadflow who usurped the throne of the Court of Winter with his followers (the Tuatha, the main villains of the story) because he believes a new god will be born soon and so he decides to exterminate all the dustlings in its name.
KoA is set during the twilight years of this war. Though they fight valiantly, other races are slowly being wiped out by the constantly reborn forces of the Tuatha. After falling on the field of battle, your character is brought back to life by a secret invention called the Well of Souls. You are the first (and only) person to be revived by it, as the well is promptly destroyed in the first 10 minutes or so of the game. The concept of fate plays a central role in KoA, and all the denizens of the Faelands are bound by it. The Fae live the same lives over and over again. The heroes of the House of Ballads re-enact their heroic deeds with each life cycle. There is consistency; what is ordained to happen will happen again with utmost certainty. Fateweavers have special abilities that allow them to see into the future of a person and see their fate. All they see now in people’s future is death by the Tuatha. During your encounter with a fateweaver named Agarth, however, he sees...nothing. Something happened when you were reborn and now you are fateless. Unbound. The grand tapestry of fate unweaves itself wherever you go, allowing you to make your own choices, bend it to your will. Fate can’t pin you down in its web and now it is up to you to push back again the old order of things or die in obscurity.
Starting off, your hero is a blank slate. You have three ability categories in which to spend the points you earn from leveling up. These categories offer a choice of various active and passive abilities. Sorcery is where it’s at if you’re interested in wizard-type shenanigans, Might is your typical melee class, and Finesse is where all the sneaky rogue/ranger stuff happens. You are free to spend points in as many or as few categories as you please. Weapons have certain level requirements that have to be met before you can equip them, but the armor requirements depend on how many points you put into a specific category. As Ron Popeil says though, ‘But wait, there’s more!’ Destinies is a section where you can further enhance your character. After choosing one you can easily change it any time from the menu (you are a breaker of fate, after all!) as long as you can meet the prerequisites. There are six tiers in each destiny category and unlocking them is dependent on how many points you spent in your ability categories and where you spent them. Just to throw out a few examples, Might’s tier 4 Warrior destiny grants you bonus percentages to melee attack damage, stun duration, and block efficacy whereas tier 3 of the Sorcery branch grants you an increased percentage to elemental damage and mana cost reduction while giving you extra mana regeneration and replacing your dodge with a short-range teleport.
As you progress through your adventure you’ll also come to realize that you will need skills to pay the bills! You earn one skill point per level gain and there are nine skills to sink them in to. They range from crafting arts like Alchemy and Sagecrafting (creating special gems and socketing them into equipment) to other generally useful things like persuasion and lockpicking. I know not everybody likes crafting and customizing mechanics in their games but Amalur doesn’t punish you if say, for example, you don’t want to become a master blacksmith and create your own stuff. I never even bothered with that particular skill and I never felt held back, despite being a melee class who depends mainly on the strength of his equipment to survive. It simply serves as a nice bonus for someone who chooses to invest in it. You can also level up your skills if you manage to find a trainer who will offer to upgrade you for a fee, or a special skill book.
There are a couple of other ways of getting extra bonuses to pump up your hero. Twists of Fate are special permanent bonuses that you can acquire from completing certain quests. Some happen during the completion of a main story arc, while others are from optional quests such as the House of Ballads faction questline. The Lorestones are the second option and I love how they are handled. There are usually five placed in each area. Activating them grants you experience and completing the whole set in one location grants you a permanent buff which can be anything from an increase in health or improved resistances. What is great about this is when you activate a stone, it generates an audio clip detailing snippets of lore. In some games, you need to stand near the source of the audio or else it cuts out if you stray too far but thankfully that isn’t the case in Amalur: you can go on your merry way until the clips play to completion. There is also a super-handy menu that details how many Lorestones you found in each area and allows you to replay them over as you please. It’s convenient for completionists who want to sniff out the stones they missed or players who just want to listen to the stories again.
The Faelands are full of nooks and crannies to explore, cities to visit and majestic vistas to take in. One thing for sure is that while the graphics are a product of their time, the visuals are crisp, vibrant, and the art style is very easy on the eyes. The environmental design is also some of the best I’ve seen in an action-RPG. It’s a pleasure to explore the maps partly since there is so much stuff crammed in them, they never feel empty. There’s always a chest, herb, or shrine to find. Not to mention plenty of monsters to slay, quest-givers to be found roaming the wilds, lorestones to uncover. And as is the norm in these types of games, there is a fast travel feature that you can access almost anywhere to help zip around important locations. As sprawling as KoA is, there are bound to be glitches and I’ve seen quite a few people complain online about it. I didn’t run into too many myself, but I did have the game completely glitch out and shut down on me twice. Thank god for the autosave feature but I still managed to lose a bit of progress.
Now let’s talk about one of a hero’s main duties: kicking all sorts of Boggart butts. The combat is mostly fun but there are some annoying factors that I think should have been fine-tuned for this release. If you played titles like Diablo and Fable and are used to wading into hordes of enemies while mashing buttons, that won’t fly here. It may be okay for fighting one or two enemies at a time but if you don’t use blocking and parrying, you’ll just end up getting knocked around most of the time. I like the strategy involved with pulling off a perfect parry and counterattack, but I think it is way too easy to be staggered and interrupted. There doesn’t even seem to be any type of rhyme or reason to it either; sometimes you’ll be laying into an enemy with a greatsword and they won’t flinch; instead cutting you off mid-attack every time. Other times I’ll be fighting the same monster using the same attacks and I’ll stagger him so bad he won’t be able to land a single hit on me. I played a melee build and I often found my special attacks would be easily interrupted by the most basic attack, which is incredibly frustrating because you could be in the midst of a seven-part charged up special attack only for a swipe from the monster you’re assaulting knocks you right out of it. Another oddity is the lack of a lock-on button, which I feel is fairly standard for a battle system like this. Instead, you loosely auto-target the nearest enemy whenever you use a skill or ranged weapon. It isn’t very efficient and it often leads you to hit the wrong person in close combat.
On the plus side, I really like how you can equip a shield, plus a primary and secondary weapon of any type, and use them seamlessly in battle with a simple button press. I’m sure you know by now that most games wouldn’t let you use a shield, two-handed weapon, and a bow and arrow at the same time because your hero only has two arms, but they may compromise by allowing you to equip multiple weapon sets that you can switch between by toggling a button. In KoA, your shield is keymapped to LT, your primary weapon is bound to X, and your secondary bound to Y. What this amounts to is that you can flawlessly block or attack with either weapon as quickly as you can press a button, swapping between attacks and defense without stalling while changing load-outs. It makes the combat that much more slick and interesting. The Fate meter is another cool addition. After filling it up, you can unleash Reckoning mode by holding both trigger buttons. This slows down time and allows you to do extra damage. Downing enemies in this state doesn’t kill them outright. Instead, they start ‘unraveling’ and a button prompt appears over their heads. When this happens you can end Reckoning mode and kill all downed enemies by engaging in a QTE event to savagely execute your targeted enemy and earn bonus experience. Not a bad deal. I love seeing the different executions, they can be...fairly creative.
All in all, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning boasts a fantastic world in which I think players will love to get lost in for countless hours. If I can get away with making a simple comparison, I would say that KoA feels a lot like Fable, but strip away the British humor and replace it with a heavy dose of well-crafted lore. If you haven’t played it yet, now is the perfect chance to jump in and satisfy that adventuring itch.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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