Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (PS4) Review – A World Crafted By Fables
What a time to be alive. How did I get to this point in my life, at this very juncture which sees me reviewing a game initially released in 2012? Was it predetermined, or was it only by chance and happenstance that I ended up here…?
The notion of fate is a weird one. The concept of predeterminism over making your own path in life has always been a fascinating one, with plenty of for’s and against’s on the subject. Why am I going on about it here though?
Well, two reasons: one, it’s the central story theme running throughout Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning and two, had I known I’d be in the review scene some years later, I’d have reviewed this back then and saved us all the time by just copying my old review.
My point is, it’s the same bloody game from eight years ago with some spit and polish added to it. Not that that’s a bad thing, as I enjoyed Amalur back then. The question is, after eight years of gaming and RPG progression, how does this hold up? Is my review foretold, or have I broken the chains of fate by making you read this? Let’s find out, shall we…
T’was As The Fates Foretold… Or Something
Our adventure begins with death. Which is not the most auspicious of starts, especially when it’s yours. Yet far from being the end we’ve come to expect with entropy, this acts as a catalyst for something slightly bigger than being used as worm food.
Turns out, the Dverga (this game’s version of dwarves) have decided to test out a new resurrection process using the Well of Souls. This works, but only on you, earning you the title of “The Fateless One”, before the Well is destroyed. Now, to defy convention and return to life is normally a bit iffy at the best of times, and not just in terms of putting undertakers out of business.
What this does mean, however, if you’ve interrupted the balances of all things and the notion of predeterminism and Fate running its course, which in this instance is total annihilation at the hands of the Tuatha Deohn – Amalur’s dark elves. Naturally, they don’t take too kindly to you being this anomaly, the proverbial fly in their world-destroying ointment.
Your mission, which you have little choice but to accept, is to determine why you are so special and what Fate doesn’t have in store for you, whilst getting to the bottom of this whole “cancelling the end of the world” nonsense from the elves.
No Fate But What We Choose To Get Sidetracked In
I remember thinking this before when it came out, but playing it again has rekindled that notion: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning has all the look, style and presentation of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), yet you’re playing by yourself in a server of one.
The most obviously parallel is World of Warcraft, and not just in terms of world size. The look, be it the bright and chunky landscapes or the slightly exaggerated character models, is straight from Blizzard’s hit online game. To an uncanny degree, as in, “Is this not a single player spin-off?” level of imitation.
Yet in terms of actual gameplay, it plays like Fable, or a more user-friendly version of Skyrim. The world is vast, there’s a lot to do outside of the main quest, but you are on your own in this. You’re a silent protagonist, whatever race and gender you choose to make yourself, and you use a Mass Effect/Dragon Age-style conversation system to accept missions and shop about.
And trust me, you will be accepting a lot of missions. The actual story quest isn’t too long, in terms of complexity. Whilst I wasn’t able to finish it in my review timeframe (although I’ve finished it previously), I had managed a good 50-60% of the story. The meat, as it were, is in doing the fifty million fetch quests for people that can’t be arsed to go down the shop for their own potions.
Okay, that’s a glib generalisation, but it’s not far from the truth. Amalur’s biggest weakness is in giving you this huge, multi-climate world to go exploring in, and all they have you do is the bidding of others, which usually surmounts into killing X number of beasties, fetching items, or other mundane things in between.
Which honestly, is fine if you want to grind your little heart out and level up your stats and be able to equip the best gear, I get that. But considering you can hit the adequate level just by playing the main quest and lugging yourself between areas, it’s all a bit of a waste. Were the game to restrict you to level up, it would give more impetus and impact to side questing. As it stands, bar the few with stories, a lot of side questing is just bumf.
Thankfully, Amalur makes proceedings interesting with its multi-faceted combat system.
Swing And A Miss
The Fable analogy earlier wasn’t just in terms of the hyper-dinky character models, but the combat too. The total antithesis to a Soulsbourne game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning throws away stamina systems, punishing block/parry mechanics and soul-destroying enemies in favour of just some good ol’ fashioned fantasy violence.
Again, rather than some convoluted multi-button combat system, Amalur keeps it simple. You can equip a combination of weapons, from long and greatswords, hammers, daggers, boomerang-like chakrams, staffs and staves, whichever you fancy. Your primary weapon is mapped to the Square button (or equivalent), whilst secondary is mapped to Triangle (or equivalent). Having these assigned to either lets you quickly switch between the two in a scrum, or you could utilise your primary for up close and a magic-blasting staff to pick off from a distance.
It makes for a more fast-paced, slighty-more-tactical-than-Gauntlet style of play. The lack of stamina management lets you relentlessly combo enemies and panic tumble away without consequence. Build up enough successful hits and you fill your Reckoning meter: your Devil Trigger, if you will. Once activated, you can layeth the smackdown on all available enemies, and pull off a button-mashing prompt on the last one. Doing so treats you to a cartoonishly violent enemy death, with the adding bonus of hammering an on-screen prompt for extra experience. Once this wears off, all the other enemies under your Reckoning “daze” shuffle off the mortal coil, netting you more level up juice.
Whilst this does make Amalur fun, the weapon and armour loot system is so very counter-intuitive to the more relaxed combat. Practically everything is the land of Amalur is packing heat, all with new numbers attached to each weapon. You might like the Greatsword of Slicing you’ve been using for the last twenty minutes, but the Longsword of Dicing has that extra five points in damage… rinse, repeat. It’s not too detrimental, youwon’t lose much without those extra points if you didn’t pick it up in the first place. But it’s easy to bring the pace to a halt whilst you keep stopping to change out every bit of kit at each crossroad with a few bandits to it.
No Fate But What We Make On Our Lonesome
Which brings me to the most glaring weakness in Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning: it plays like it wants to be an MMORPG. The massive world, the endless amount of grinding, arbitrary side quests, the stockpiling of incremental armour and weapons, all signs point to Warcraft territory.
It’s what makes playing it feel like such a juxtaposition. Whilst there is fun to be had in this expansive world, filled with all types of serious and joyful quests, an overarching “save the world” story, you constantly roam the land expecting to see a band of other warriors with censor-bending swearwords for usernames doing similar.
It’s the kind of gameplay that cries out for it: different classes to inject skill points into, looting and grinding out dungeons and raids together, sharing the burden of fetch quests by divide-and-conquering, all of it’s ripe for friends to come and help.
That being said, once you shake that notion that you’re playing in a server of one and all the cool kids are playing in a different server to you, it becomes a fun experience to just lose yourself in. Mapping your stats into either a brutal warrior, spell-chucking mage or sneaky rogue, complete with extensive skill trees, is fun on a basic level.
But when you start feeling a little bit fancy, you can diverge and make a combination of two or even all three “classes” for some varied gameplay. Do you want to be the stealth fiend that can rain fireball destruction once rumbled, or the most feared mage in all the land that can also stab you up if you get into their personal space bubble? I won’t say “the possibilities are endless”, as there’s really about half a dozen combinations to experiment with. However, it’s about quality, not quantity, and Amalur delivers on that one.
Get loose, experiment with different builds. Have fun trying on new bits of kit and seeing what weapon type works for you. Get experienced in smithing or potion crafting and lose yourself in the Skyrim-lite antics that are there if you want, or just treat this as a third-person dungeon crawler with some RPG elements; the choice is yours.
I Re-Reckon I’ve Been Here Before
Overall, then, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is a solid, solo action RPG to tuck into. I haven’t made many comparisons to the original because, well, there’s no real need to. It’s not a ground-up, completely redone remaster like Shadow of the Colossus, instead more akin to LA Noire’s ported story: the same game, jazzed up, with the extra DLC thrown in for good measure.
For anyone that played the original version, the same game that everyone low-key loved but no one seemed to buy is still in there. I’m having fun in its quasi-serious yet ridiculously over-the-top combat shenanigans, but I’m not really invested in the story because I’ve done it before. If you were to go in blind, however, then there’s a decent adventure to be had in such a massive game. The story isn’t going to blow your mind, but then sometimes who needs a complex story full of twists and turns? What’s wrong with good old fashioned high fantasy?
Think of it as an MMO in single player mode, with a smattering of depth should you wish to seek it out, and you can have hours of fun in Amalur, if you so desire. It doesn’t have the complexity of an Elder Scrolls game, but there’s enough to keep you occupied. Conversely, if you want to just crack on and save the world, stopping every now and then to help some townsfolk out and jazz your character up without too much thought, the game’s got you covered on that front too.
Looks like Warcraft, plays like Fable, Amalur brings nothing new to the table. An RPG-lite, if you will, there’s enough for casual players to have fun with, as well as hardcore players to sink time into.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Big Huge Games (original), Kaiko Games (remaster)
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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