Eight years ago the now infamously defunct 38 Studios released their first and only game. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a big-budget single player RPG. It was created as a prequel to the studio’s ultimate goal of a World of Warcraft-level massively multiplayer RPG.
The MMO was never finished, the studio went bankrupt, and the state of Rhode Island lost millions. But a funny thing happened on the way to this ill-fated venture: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a darn good RPG, and one of the most underrated games of the era.
The RPG was derivative of many familiar games that came before, notably World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Skyrim, with a generic fantasy world that was forgettable even while playing it. Yet the combat was fast, fluid, and imminently satisfying. The art style and world-building channeled the best elements of Warcraft’s colorful fantasy lands, and you couldn’t go more than ten feet without running into another quest to complete.
It’s with great satisfaction that one of my favorite games from the Xbox 360/PS3 generation remains just as good in 2020, thanks to an HD facelift by THQ Nordic.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning begins with a compelling story hook – my custom protagonist has died on the battlefield in the ongoing war between the mortals and the immortal fae, specifically an evil new faction called the Tuatha who are hell-bent on conquering the world.
Thanks to a powerful device called the Well of Souls, I’m reborn, choosing between four different races that don’t matter much beyond starting skill points. The exciting escape from the dungeon serves as a helpful tutorial, teaching different weapon attacks, the importance of blocking and dodging, and how to sneak up on enemies and cast spells.
From there the game world opens up a bit, but make no mistake – this isn’t an open world RPG along the likes of Skyrim or Breath of the Wild. The world of Amalur is broken up into distinctive zones and areas, with plenty of dungeons and quests (and typically a town) in each of them.
Fans of classic MMORPGs like World of Warcraft will immediately recognize this approach to world-building. It feels quaint in 2020, but not unwelcome. Exploring the world by combing through zones in a mostly linear order is easy and rewarding, particularly for my fellow completionists. Quest objectives are displayed on the mini-map even when they’re not the active quest, dangling proverbial carrots across each zone and drawing me into dungeons and new regions where more quests can be discovered.
None of this would matter if the combat wasn’t so much fun. As a nod to more action-oriented games like Monster Hunter and Dark Souls, my fighting style is tied directly to which weapons I use. Each of the three skill trees: Might, Sorcery, and Finesse, have three weapons associated with them, though I’m free to mix and match as much as I want provided I have the skill points.
My first character in Re-Reckoning is a stealthy rogue, specializing in daggers for stealth kills and a longbow to whittle down groups of enemies. Stealth is easily the weakest part of the game, however. Enemies are typically found in groups, and the linear path of dungeons and constant patrolling makes it nearly impossible to stealth-kill more than one enemy at a time.
I also played around with a full sorcerer, and found combat far more satisfying early on. He’s armed with a scepter for long-range attacks, which can rapid fire or charge for bigger blasts, while an elemental staff could handle surrounding enemies.
Amalur’s combat relies on rapid and carefully timed combos to unleash special attacks, along with dodging and blocking to avoid damage. Weapon animations are bombastic and exciting; I never tire of my sorcerer dramatically spinning his staff before unleashing an explosive fiery blast, or my rogue rapidly sprinting between groups of enemies with her daggers.
The final ingredient in this comforting layer cake of an RPG is the loot. Amalur wasn’t exactly the first RPG to use random loot tables, but they smartly feed into the constant desire to explore, complete quests, and crack open juicy treasure chests to find those magical ice daggers. The loot system prioritizes the skills and weapons I’m using, leading to more loot I’m interested in rather than throwing them in the junk pile to be sold at the next town.
Re-Reckoning’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t do enough with its remaster. Amalur didn’t much fixing to begin with, as all of its gameplay systems have aged incredibly well (minus the still-woefully boring story). But the menus look old and a bit grubby, from the low-res ability icons to the messy inventory screen that quickly turns into a giant scroll bar of boots, helmets, and weapons. The menus are a pesky reminder that I’m playing an older game with a fresh coat of paint.
I also take umbrage with the level of blood and violence during combat, which betrays the colorful tone and adds nothing to the game other than an M rating.
Despite 38 Studios’ implosion, the future is bright for Amalur. THQ Nordic has announced an all-new expansion, Fatesworn, coming next year. With dozens of hours of content to hack, slash, and adventure through, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning proves that one of the most underrated RPGs of the last decade is well worth playing today.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is rated M for Mature with Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Suggestive Themes. It’s available on PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.