It disturbs me just how often Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is overlooked and underrated when it comes to talking about the great action-RPGs of the past decade. Skyrim? Sure. Dark Souls? Definitely. The Witcher 3? You betcha. All three games were superior of KoA, but that doesn’t at all diminish just how intensely playable and sprawling this 2012 title, developed by Big Huge Games and 38 Studios, was.
But it’s aged. That’s of no doubt.
Now we have Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning – an admirable attempt to revisit the game with a few graphical upgrades, and a whole heap of more content. And while the graphics still feel horribly dated, and there’s no improvement in way of streamlining the game’s sometimes off-putting complications, it’s still a vital purchase for those who have never dipped their feet into this expansive world before.
Fantasy RPGs have clearly come a long way since 2012, and their introductory missions avoid the temptation of overloading you with information. You need something clumsy in its approach like Kingdoms of Amalur to emphasise that point, and unfortunately for this version, nothing has changed. It’s like a book that’s too verbose and poorly written; most will give up before it gets better. That was the case with KoA then, and that still is the case.
Although engineering this remastered version for the Nintendo Switch was a good idea. This is the kind of game you’d want to get stuck into and then relish as a portable title. It’s a big, large world with a hell of a lot of things to do, and some truly addictive combat mechanics. In fact, the simplicity and intuitiveness of the battle system has a lot to do with why KoA remained a great game despite its many faults.
Playstyle actually matters a great deal here, and its a credit to what the developers have done – parsing the overly complicated world of fantasy RPGs and making it more accessible with muscular, moreish (but sometimes over-powered) action that’s not dissimilar to the tactile, versatile combat that made Mass Effect 2 such a welcome improvement over the original.
Crafting and alchemy play a massive part in KoA, so if that aspect of RPGs turns you off, no amount of pushing will get you to enjoy this game. Although the scalability is much less complicated than some similar titles, so at least KoA is more appealing for the average consumer than say Xenoblade Chronicles. Think of it some sort of solo MMO – that’ll make sense for those who’ve actually played it; little for those who haven’t.
Although this port is necessary to introduce a younger generation to one of the best games of 2012, it’s hard to look past the graphical shortcomings of a game that just hasn’t had seen much of a visual overhaul. Faces are blocky, assets can look blurred at times – especially since this is the Switch – and the more sense combat situations have a tendency to annoyingly slow frame-rate where dips are noticeable. And yet it remains a thoroughly playable, enjoyable game simply because the meat of KoA is that good. Even those who are overly fussed on technical grunt will have a tough time resisting just how bountiful and fun KoA can be once you get deeper into the story.
As for the story. It’s not much, aside from some clever, subversive plays on classic fantasy beats. You are the “Fateless One”, uniquely able to resist the supernatural beings and gods who control the Faelands. The game isn’t insulting enough to throw much else on top of that, rather allowing the plot’s various twists to gradually fill details throughout the game’s runtime. This organic way of approaching the narrative is welcome and keeps things interesting.
That KoA’s remaster can stand proudly despite the visual shortcomings says a lot about just how strong the core of this game really is. It’s by no means on the level of elegance as Dark Souls, and lacks the memorable world of Skyrim, but what KoA lacks in appeal for a wider demographic, it makes up for with buckets of charm, fun, and a sense that anything could happen, at any time. The element of surprise rarely seems like a thing in games nowadays, but although dated, KoA bucks that trend even for gamers who think they’ve played it all.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Exceptionally solid gameplay; addictive, intuitive combat mechanics; interesting twists on fantasy lore; feels fresh even towards the end of the game; perfect for portable gaming.
Lowlights: Visually outdated; performance issues in meatier situations; can feel overlong at times.
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Review based on retail code supplied by the publisher.