There is a major gap in the Fantasy Action RPG world right now. It was left behind by epic titles like Skyrim and the Witcher, and boy, those are big shoes to fill. Maybe you've already felt this emptiness and when you did, perhaps you were inspired to go back and play Skyrim one more time, or load up Fable III and see if it scratches the itch - but it never quite satisfied you. Realistically, that itch won't be scratched for any of us until Elder Scrolls VI. And that is years away, what are we to do until then?
For those of you who were fans of Fable, Oblivion, Diablo III and other similar adventures, you crave rewarding and dynamic gameplay. You long for thrilling magical adventures, and a rich fantasy world brimming with engaging characters who offer quests to be conquered, bounties for beasts slain.... well, you get it!
Sure we can enjoy fleeting moments of fantasy bliss through various indie titles or perhaps stretch our niche to accommodate a Final Fantasy play-through here and there.. But what if we want to sink our teeth in to something substantial? Something mythical and mysterious, with legendary swords, powerful spells, a compelling lore and an engaging world to explore?
Enter Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an action RPG set in the fantasy world of Amalur, specifically, in the kingdom of the Faelands. These lands are lush and exotic, brimming with bright color and teaming with all sorts of strange magical life. The Faelands are home to the Fae people, an all but immortal race who live out cyclical reincarnations of their ancestors. In these lifetimes, they hope to relive and thus retell the accomplishments, conquests, battles and adventures of their predecessors, which they refer to as; Songs.
Dalentarth stones keeping us company whilst exploring Amalur
Okay, now you're thinking, "this seems to check all of the boxes... why haven't I heard of this?"
KoA was developed by 38 Studios and Big Huge Games, and also published by EA. Sadly, 38 Studios went bankrupt after completing this, their first ever game.. but more on that later! Development was lead by head designer Ken Rolston (Elder Scrolls), the lore and game universe was crafted by R.A. Salvatore (Forgotten Realms novels, DemonWars Saga), Canadian comic book creator Todd McFarlane (The Amazing Spiderman, Spawn) worked on art and Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Golden Eye 007) composed the musical score!
Stranger still.. 38 Studios was founded by former MLB star Curt Schilling, (yes.. he pitched for the Red Sox and the Phillies) who after retiring from the league, started following his dream of creating a massive online game that would reshape gaming history. It was then that he teamed up with R.A. Salvatore to create the Kingdoms of Amalur universe, originally written with a 10,000 year history (lore) and designed to be a MMORG! That's right, a MMORG, not an action RPG! This project was codenamed Copernicus (Also known as Mercury).
After being in development for some time, project Copernicus eventually drained 38 Studios funds and they were forced to shut down temporarily. Shortly after, Curt Schilling managed to acquire a massive grant from the City of Rhode Island and was able to continue development, as well as acquire another studio and it's staff, Big Huge Games in 2009. There's actually a pretty incredible story here between Rhode Island and 38 Studios.. involving the near bankrupting of an entire city but we don't have time to cover that, so check out the video below if you want to know more!
With such a collection of talent behind this game, you might be asking yourself, what happened to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? And more importantly, WHY am I reading about this now?
"Fear not Dustling, soon you will come to see the method to my ways.."
For a game that is based on time and fate, the severely unfortunate timing of it's release ironically sealed this RPG's fate.. Selling only 330,000 copies in its finest hour, which was its initial release in February, 2012. Later tallying up to a total of 1.2 million sold 90 days later, which was still less than half of the volume needed to break even (Not to mention the $75 million grant from Rhode Island). This sadly led to co-developer 38 studios filing for bankruptcy shortly after. Now if you are thinking there's something funny about the timing of this launch... it's because another little known dragon slaying RPG came out just a few short months earlier. Yes, Skyrim! As if Skyrim alone didn't cast a shadow large enough to completely block the sun from reaching Amalur's Kingdoms.. Mass Effect 3, Diablo 3 and other huge RPG's had the very same launch schedule!
Agarth the Fateweaver foreshadowing bankruptcy?
Despite the disappointing sales (In part due to a tragically buggy pre-release demo which was quickly dubbed the "Day of Reckoning") KoA:R eventually reached the hands of critics and was received with, according to Meta Critic - "Favorable Reviews across all platforms". Notably, IGN, Gamespot and Eurogamer all gave very high reviews. Most of whom pointed out how incredibly rewarding the gameplay was, and how easily it combined all of the best elements from our favorite RPG games, whilst leaving behind the junky and over-encumbered ones. Holding back KoA from perfect review scores was usually lacklustre character designs, and underwhelming NPC charisma. Most often mentioned were the Faefolk, who I won't pretend to disagree that at times, their charisma doesn't quite do justice to the lore of their world. That being said, they are still interesting and topical and well acted... if they looked less like troll dolls though, that wouldn't have hurt the game's critical reception!
Having a Great Deku tree kinda moment..
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning gets a lot of RPG elements right, but for all the "loot-heads" out there, I'll start by naming a few fun features; Lock picking, simple inventory management, item comparison, blacksmithing, sagecrafting (alchemy), enchanting, item salvaging, buy back sold loot, sell all junk with a single button, quick sorting, regenerating arrow quivers (no need to collect arrows!) add to junk button (pick up loot and add it straight to junk with one button, for easy loot n' sell. (Borderlands doesn't even have that!)
Looting a Chest in Amalur
Did you play Morrowind or Oblivion? Or did you join the Elder Scrolls saga when Skyrim came around? If you played Elder Scrolls III or IV, you'll remember running around a maze of dungeons that seemed barren and never ending.. Tunnel after tunnel, blank corridor after corridor, only to lead to... wait... is that a?? It's a door! Only to reach the other side and find.. you guessed it, yet another tunnel! If this wasn't painful enough, once you reached the objective of your mission, you often had to back track your entire journey, often re-encountering all of the baddies you just wasted on your way in.
Making a quick exit from Haxhi Dam
Skyrim came along years later and ended this painstaking process by introducing dynamic and interesting caverns, winding passageways and unique layouts in every dungeon! Best of all though, was quick exits. Once you reached your quest's end, you were given an alternate exit, often landing you near back where you entered, or perhaps somewhere only accessible from where you now stand. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning follows this Dungeon Renaissance in style, rarely forcing you to backtrack. Goodbye redundancies, goodbye wasted time!
Combat is dynamic and rewarding. At first glance you may mistake it for a hack n' slash, but it is quick to punish you for playing that way. You must dodge, block, parry and sometimes just run! You must your spells strategically, mind the timing of your combos and keep an eye on enemies fighting at range. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when you are faced with a swarm of different enemy types all at once. Even at higher levels, you can still be interrupted by stun attacks and thrown off balance by weaker enemies, stay on your toes at all times! Button mashing won't get you far in these lands.
Murdering Spiders in Amalur | TimeWasters Youtube
Rewriting the fates of some "immortal" Tuatha soldiers
Charge up your Fate bar by by slaying enemies and taking damage, then hold L + R (on Xbox) to unleash Reckoning mode! Time slows down and damage is multiplied, you're not invulnerable though, and you don't have much Time! Defeat as many enemies as you can before your bar is emptied, and then approach one of them and hit A to unleash a powerful finishing move called a Fate Shift. Rapidly press the correct button to increase the experience point bonus up to 100%, and then collect bonus experience for all of the enemies you just wiped out!
Boot shoppin' from a Well..
Loot in this game is a thing of beauty. It's everywhere, and it's always interesting. Compared to some games where you might go hours without actually finding something worthwhile, I find myself picking up valuable loot every 10 minutes or more! Whether it's something that improves my stats, changes gameplay or just something I can break down into crafting elements, there's tons to go around, and it never seems to end or get old. Don't worry though, constantly coming across good items won't cause you "Loot Fomo"... I may have just coined that term right now so let me explain. If you've played Borderlands, you'll know the feeling of being faced with ever increasing piles of loot. If you're anything like me, you can't just leave behind items without at least checking briefly what they're worth! This can be quite time consuming when loot is so frequent, however you shouldn't fear. Decisions are made easy in Kingdoms of Amalur, loot items can be can be compared to your equipped with a quick press of X, no need to enter your inventory every 5 seconds. You can scavenge effectively without worry of leaving behind something rare!
I have to make a side note about Amor sets here as well.. There's something to be said about the badass armor you can pick up in this game, right off the bat. I'm talking within the first hour of the game, you'll find yourself shedding those peasant rags and dawning some shiny knights armor, fancy mages robes, or shadowy rouge leathers in no time! There are even Legendary armor sets that you can acquire by finishing a few early-game faction quests, which will give you added stat buffs when worn altogether. Want to see your character's head but can't bare to lose those Helmet stats? Just toggle the Hide helmet feature! Now you're looking good, with stats to boot!
Shepards amor set (left) available with Online Pass is crafted to resemble the N7 uniform from Mass Effect. Warsworn Set (right) - higher level set earned by completing missions for the Warsworn clan.
There is so much of this game that I haven't even scratched the surface on. Gameplay for sure hasn't been done justice in this review. The sheer amount of weaponry, combos, spells, twists of fate and combat styles that can be used in this game are truly staggering. You will find yourself switching up your play style completely multiple times throughout the game. Just when you think that Staves are your go-to, you will pick up a pair of legendary Chakrams that totally flip your day upside down! Even 50+ hours in, you will still find yourself learning new abilities that can shake up your combat and unleash all new types of hell on your opponents. I highly recommend taking the time to watch some gameplay videos on youtube to get a better idea what is in store for you if you pick up this game. So now, how do you go about doing that?
Walk in to an EB Games or Gamestop, and look in the discount racks, you can often find a PC, Xbox 360, or PS4 copy for 5$ or less. (Note that it is not backwards compatible for PS4)
Steam - 24.99 with all DLC
In September of 2018, THQ Nordic purchased the IP rights to Kingdoms of Amalur and the Copernicus IP we mentioned in the Development section of this article. So what does that mean?
Could we see a remaster of Reckoning?
Or a full sequel developed by THQ?
In email correspondence with Eurogamer.net, THQ was quoted to say, "At this stage we 'only' acquired the intellectual property. Given our track record, we know what the burning questions (remaster, remake, port to current-gen systems etc.) are, but we decided do not answer those specifically as we tend to put our heads together first and then do our homework, and only start to talk about anything once we feel confident and very familiar with the franchise."
EA still holds the publishing rights, that means if THQ does intend to produce a sequel or even just a remaster, it's going to have to go through EA first.. That might be good news, or bad, only time will tell how that shakes out! EuroGamer went on to say that THQ has built a reputation for sucking up IP's and not always delivering on them, so what does this mean for the future of KoA?
Update: July 12, 2020.
THQ Nordic | Youtube
Let's just cast aside the unfortunate name choice of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning for a moment - and instead celebrate the fact that this remaster is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC this year! Apparently the recent purchase of the KoA IP by THQ was no coincidence and they have had plans to reboot this game since 2018 when the deal was originally made. So what can we expect from this remaster?
Now this all sounds great of course. The idea of playing this game in 4K is enough to make me dive in all over again, but the promise of new content is even more exciting. The "Refined gameplay" point however has me a little nervous; gameplay was the foundation of KoA's success. The dynamic combat system was really what made this game stand out, and to me seems like the last thing you'd ever want to adjust in a reboot. I sincerely hope THQ considers letting the combat remain true to what the fans remember it as. Perhaps putting those resources otherwise spent on tweaking an already perfect combat system towards improvements that the game could really benefit from. THQ Nordic, if you are listening - leave combat alone and focus your efforts on;
Initially a launch was planned for this August, but that has since been pushed back to September - and hallelujah we even have an official date! September 7, 2020 you can start re-exploring the world of Amalur in all it's re-mastered glory. Three purchasing options are available for pre-order today; an all digital version, a physical version, and an all digital version that includes the coming DLC "Fatesworn" which is advertised to add 5 hours of content to the game.
Are you excited for this remaster? Are you worried about gameplay tweaks or excited about improved graphics? Let us know in the comments below!
Enjoy some gameplay captures from Re-Reckoning below and stay tuned for updates on all things Amalur!
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