When THQ Nordic announced it was remastering 2012’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, I was excited to dive back in. This is a western RPG that wasn’t an immediate success but has gained something of a cult following in the years after its developer imploded and the would-be franchise phased into obscurity. However, few cult classics hold up as well on a design level when viewed through a modern lens, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning doesn’t buck that trend. It may be an updated version of what was once a forward-looking adventure, but it fails to really deliver on the “Re–” so cheekily jammed into its title by bringing it up to par with its current competition.
A lot of what our reviewer said then holds true in the 2020 remaster – but nearly every one of those items has an asterisk next to it, all leading to the same footnote: for its time. A western RPG with satisfying action combat? Amazing! …for its time. Being able to re-spec your abilities to try different playstyles whenever you like? Inspired! …for its time. Fully-voiced NPCs throughout the world that don’t all sound like one or two people doing the same voice for all of them? …Okay, I still appreciate that one in 2020 – though you can definitely tell when you run into a Matt Mercer-voiced character now. So many parts of what originally made Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning special in its time now feel mundane, or – at worst – heinously outdated today.
Amalur’s gameplay – particularly its combat – is still its strongest aspect. It’s a satisfyingly arcadey take on RPG combat, more reminiscent of the God of War series (or perhaps even something by FromSoftware on harder difficulties) than contemporaries like Skyrim or Dragon Age. Timing and skill are almost as important as the abilities you’ve selected or what weapons armor you’ve equipped (and there’s plenty to agonize over in that regard). That being said, its dynamic camera (that pulls back while there was a consistent challenge present right up to the final boss, it all felt a bit simplistic when compared to more modern games like 2018’s God of War or Sekiro (or even something like Horizon Zero Dawn), and I found my interest in mastering its limited nuances waning well before I reached the finale after some 40-odd hours.
Graphics are far and away Amalur’s weakest link, though. Yes, the textures have been reworked for 4K screens and it’s got a boosted framerate and improved anti-aliasing, but the “remastering” here feels like little more than one would see in an “Xbox One X Enhanced” version. Environments are still fairly barren, character models are somewhat blocky and their animations are clunky, and even with the new hardware adjustments the draw distance is surprisingly short. On a technical level, while our original review specifically praised Amalur for its stability (especially relative to other open-world games of the same era) I experienced several crashes and frequent visual glitches throughout my playthrough on a PlayStation 4 Pro.Similarly, while its menus and interface might have been acceptable eight years ago, today they feel clunky and impractical. Inventory management – something you’ll do a lot of thanks to the frequency at which you’ll collect mountains of new gear – is constantly bogged down in closing one menu only to have to open another, even to do something as simple as select a primary and secondary weapon. Dialogue menus – which are basically just a list of nouns that you can pick to get an NPC to spout lore about that topic – take up two-thirds of the screen for what could easily have been 15 to 20%, maximum, and the “small HUD” option does nothing to help this. It only shrinks the map and stat bars to a nigh-illegibly small size. It’s not a modern redesign by any means.
That said, there’s a big world to explore with a familiar-but-unique take on classical fantasy. While most of the characters sport a fairly traditional fantasy look and the environments may show their age in terms of density, each area of the map boasts some genuinely interesting and unique location designs. From the spider-silk-covered trees of the Webwood to the massive, gnarled roots bursting out of the swamps of the Drowned Forest, there are plenty of captivating sights all across Amalur’s map – and there’s plenty to do in almost every one.
Amalur’s main story doesn’t feature the branching paths of, say, Mass Effect 2 or The Witcher 3, but what it lacks in the flexibility of its stories, Amalur makes up for in sheer volume of things to do. Even before you get into the two DLC expansions that are included in Re-Reckoning, there’s an impressive amount of side quests, faction stories, and ancillary adventures. It took me more than 40 hours to reach the end credits – the main story chunk of which was mostly satisfying, despite a few tired cliches and a lot of eleventh-hour exposition – and I definitely wasn’t stopping to smell the roses after the first ten or so hours. If you visited every settlement, dealt with every faction, and accepted every challenge that came your way, you’d likely be looking at well over 100 hours before you cleared everything.
If you enjoy diving into the lore of a game’s world, there’s plenty to love in Kingdoms of Amalur. There are thousands of years of history to read into, developed by popular fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, and that’s something the NPCs throughout the world are all too happy to give you a lesson on. While the option to dive headfirst into such a detailed mythos is appreciated, it’s something of a double-edged sword: Yes, there’s a lot to learn about if you want, but plenty of times throughout the campaign it felt like characters were simply vomiting exposition and oral histories to a point where my eyes started to glaze over, eager to get back to stabbing things. Don’t get me wrong – it’s something that enhances the world the first time you hear or read it, but the second time around you probably won’t have that same sense of discovery.It’s worth noting that the development team did take steps to make Amalur more replayable – especially towards its endgame, adjusting the math behind the scenes that determines the difficulty and rarity of loot available in a given zone. It may not sound like a huge adjustment, but I honestly can’t imagine revisiting locations to finish side quests only to grind through low-level enemies and finding chests full of worthless gear, so this was a significant improvement.