An enduringly popular one-off RPG from the early 2010s gets the chance to find a new audience in Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, a remaster that brings a classic into the current generation.
If there’s one game genre that flourished above all others ten years ago, it was the single player role-playing game. In concept, they were as old as video games themselves, with early text-based games like Zork laying the foundations for what was to come right at the dawn of personal computers. By the turn of the century, the leap was made into fully explorable 3D worlds, with Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls 3 one of the first to pull it off – here was a virtual world that your character could explore, adventure and grow within. Soon, with Everquest pioneering and World of Warcraft taking it to the masses, RPGs went online, and millions made these fictional digital worlds their own. One of those millions was a retired baseball star named Curt Schilling, who had plenty of money and a lot of free time on his hands.
He set up 38 Studios, initially setting out to build his own online RPG, and had hired fantasy author R.A. Salvatore to create the epic lore for the game (the character of C.W. Longbottom in the Apple TV+ show Mythic Quest is surely a sly reference!) But with development stalling on the MMO, Schilling figured the best way to introduce the lore of Amalur to the world would be via a single-player game. Given the massive success of Elder Scrolls 3 and Dragon Age: Origins at the time, that would seem like a wise call – and by the time the game was released, the unstoppable Skyrim had arrived, and single-player RPGs were officially mainstream. Schilling promptly bought a studio with a new RPG in progress and had the Amalur lore woven into it.
And so, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning arrived in 2012 to great reviews, quickly followed by two story-based expansions… and then, within a few months, 38 Studios was bankrupt, taking any hope of a long-term future for the Amalur universe with it. Yet somehow, in the years since the game arrived, it’s maintained a sizeable fanbase. Ambitious, sprawling and colourful, the game’s blend of action combat with an MMO-like design of quests, side-quests, gear and crafting all came together surprisingly well. It gleefully riffs on existing RPGs – the “escape from the prison” intro is right out of Elder Scrolls, with the added complication that you start the game, well, dead). The class and customisation options also have a distinct MMO flavour, as do the yellow exclamation marks above the many, many quest-givers – ultimately, this remains the best single-player MMO around.
So why are we here in 2020, talking about a much-loved but decidedly ancient game? Well, thanks to THQ Nordic – who bought the Amalur IP a couple of years ago – the game’s not only back, but it’s getting a new expansion next year, nine years after the last one. This remaster, with its name changed to Re-Reckoning, also brings the game to the PS4 for the first time, as well as to the Xbox One natively (the original game can be played via backwards compatibility). The unexpected announcement of a remaster had fans of the game bristling with excitement; however, if you were hoping for a full-scale reworking of the game like THQ Nordic did for Destroy All Humans, you’re going to be a little disappointed.
Essentially, developer Kaiko, handling the remaster after their work on the first two Darksiders games, has faithfully wrangled the original game code, given the whole thing substantially upgraded textures and assets where possible, and made it work on modern platforms. You get all the DLC by default, as well as the various pre-order and promotional bonuses, as is the done thing with remasters these days. But the game itself is exactly as you left it eight years ago – right down to the extremely dated-looking user interface and menus..
“It gleefully riffs on existing RPGs…”
But aside from those higher-resolution textures, there are other major improvements. For starters, the game now runs at what looks to be a solid 60fps, and the added fluidity really does make the game’s fast-paced combat feel a lot more visceral and exciting. Overall resolution gets a big bump, too, up to 1440p on the PS4 Pro and a full 4K on the Xbox One X. While it still very much looks its age in some ways, that’s fine. This is a game with its own unique visual style, one that’s as intrinsic to it as the 16-year-long World of Warcraft design is to that game. Kaiko have also added a field-of-view adjustment to the game’s options for those who felt the original game camera was a bit too restricted, and a “Very Hard” difficulty mode for those who want a little piece of Dark Souls in everything (to be fair, though, the way level scaling works in the game, many people found themselves quickly overpowering everything even on Hard difficulty, so this new specially-tuned tier of punishment should please those who prefer combat challenge with their story).
So, if you’ve never played Kingdoms of Amalur before, is it worth spending your money on what is basically a faithful remaster of an old game? If you love big, sprawling RPGs with a huge world, wide choice of playstyles and quests as far as the eye can see, you’ll already know this is one to dive into.
With around 40 hours play time just doing the main story and the two expansions – or over 120 hours if you want to do everything – it’s brilliant value and, of course, we’ll see at least one brand new expansion DLC in 2021 – something long-time Amalur fans never thought could possibly happen. As the one and only game from a studio that didn’t even survive long enough to finish the planned final expansion for it, this resilient little RPG has stood the test of time – and it’s ready for a whole new audience.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.