In recent years, few games have generated more bad press than Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The epic role-playing game began life promisingly, if in an unusual way - the brainchild of former pro baseball player Curt Schilling, the game had worldbuilding provided by the fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and art direction from Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn. In time, however, the project became mired in legal, financial and even political controversy. Much of this related to a huge $75 million loan provided to Schilling’s company by the state of Rhode Island.
Shortly after the game was released in 2012, 38 Studios abruptly folded - in its first three months, Kingdoms of Amalur had sold around 1.25 million copies, but the company was crippled by debt and by Schilling’s poor business decisions. 38 Studios had been left unable to pay its staff or make loan payments, and the ex-baseball star said that he had blown his whole $50 million fortune on his dream RPG. Mass layoffs and years of financial and criminal investigations were to follow. In retrospect, it was a near-miracle that the game ever saw the light of day; even more surprising was that such a chaotic and doomed development process produced such an excellent final product.
Kingdoms of Amalur was originally published by EA, but in late 2018 the rights to the series were bought by the ever-acquisitive THQ Nordic, as part of their seemingly endless spending spree. Eventually in 2020, a light-touch remaster with the two existing DLC packs included was released with the subtitle Re-Reckoning, seemingly mostly to give THQ Nordic a means to sell the game. It also gives Kingdoms of Amalur a chance to emerge from the shadow of its own chaotic, ruinous development process and stand on its own - and there is a huge amount to enjoy about this sprawling, but surprisingly accessible fantasy RPG. To illustrate that, here are ten key reasons to try Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning.
1) Surprisingly engaging lore
High fantasy RPGs are ten-a-penny, and their worlds and stories very often become an over-familiar blur of elves, dragons, and damsels in distress. To be sure, Kingdoms of Amalur indulges a fair number of these tropes; but it also finds ways to mark itself out more distinctively. In creating the world of the Faelands, R.A. Salvatore - known for his Dungeons and Dragons novels and particularly for creating the cult favourite character Drizzt Do’Urden - drew heavily on Irish mythology. Much of the world is dominated by fae, elf-like immortals locked in a cycle of reincarnation who look often down upon mortal humans as mere primitives. Fate is a very real, binding reality in the Faelands but the player is the only person for whom (to quote Terminator 2) “the future is not set”. The game’s story makes much of this pleasingly meta plot element.
2) A vast, beautiful world
Over the years, numerous reviewers have commented that the world explored in KoA resembles that of a massively multiplayer RPG - which makes sense, as the game was at one point intended to be accompanied by one. The Faelands are truly huge, and divided up into seven distinctive regions from the forests of Dalentarth to the rocky deserts of Detyre. Each of these areas is further divided into sub-regions, which are also unique in their own ways. The worldbuilding done by Salvatore is evident in the many towns and stories found in lorestones spread across the world, and beautiful vistas are seemingly around every corner. The Faelands are a sprawling, consistently attractive set of places to visit and the game benefits enormously from this.
3) Fully voiced dialogue throughout
KoA is populated by a vast number of NPCs, from hundreds of quest-givers to an even larger number of passers by and townspeople. Virtually everyone can be spoken to, and surprisingly the entirety of the game is fully voiced. The voice acting isn’t always of a top standard, but much of it is very good and its sheer quantity helps boost the game’s immersion. Helpfully, NPCs aren’t overly talkative - as part of its overall mission to enhance accessibility and to keep things moving, KoA keeps its conversations brief and to the point.
4) Fast-paced, engaging combat
Combat can be a real chore in many RPGs, but not in Kingdoms of Amalur. As part of the overall design emphasis on accessibility, the game’s combat is significantly influenced by third-person action games like God of War. Skill plays a larger part in your character’s success than stats, because moves like dodge rolls, sprinting, and shield blocking keep the fighting dynamic. KoA is a huge game, but for many hours the combat remains interesting because of this heavy emphasis on fast, skilful gameplay.
5) Dynamic, classless character progression with the ability to re-spec
In most RPGs, the first half hour is spent on character creation which at its worst, can involve agonising over trivial differences in stats, and a dubious dose of race science. In Kingdoms of Amalur, there are no classes as such but instead three ability trees which align roughly to the classic warrior, ranger, and mage classes of old. Crucially, players can choose abilities from any of the three trees when levelling up, meaning that many distinct character types are playable. Additionally, at the cost of gold a character can re-spec at any time, which encourages trying out new weapon and ability types.
6) An incredible number of quests and things to do
The Faeland aren’t just massive - they’re also packed with adventure. Another way that Kingdoms of Amalur resembles an MMORPG is in its dizzying array of quests. Towns, small camps, and even the countryside are rife with NPCs with tasks that need doing and there are also various side tasks, incidental combat, secrets, and exploration to keep players busy. In fact, there’s so many quests that players are well advised to be somewhat picky, otherwise the game can easily extend to well over 100 hours in length. Of course, that may be exactly what you are looking for.
7) A system of intuitive and useful skills
Aside from the ability trees, characters also have skills - these are primarily passive, like the ability to detect hidden treasures or to secure better prices at merchants. In contrast with some other RPGs, skills aren’t tied to classes. For example, any character can realistically make the most of alchemy, and it isn’t just warriors who can benefit from the crafting system provided by the blacksmithing skill. Advancements in certain skills can significantly change the way the game plays, particularly the persuasion skill which opens up a host of additional dialogue options.
8) Many secrets and a sense of discovery
One reason the detect hidden skill is a personal favourite is because of the wealth of secrets stashed around the Faelands. It isn’t just loot that can be found, though - there are also hidden locations, surprising quest chains, obscure vistas, and amusing characters waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive player. Kingdoms of Amalur truly rewards players that explore the world thoroughly, in a host of surprising ways.
9) A constant flow of interesting loot
The lure of loot is a key appeal of RPGs in general, and Kingdoms of Amalur is no exception. The equipment and weapon system is quite simple, and the number of truly distinct items is relatively small, but this helps keep things comprehensible. Crucially, there are numerous unique items with special stats and designs - even when you find something stronger, you’ll often want to keep these trinkets in your stash, if only as reminders of your past heroic deeds. At times, the game’s economy can seem slack and players may find themselves drowning in gold; but occasionally you will want to spend a fortune on a particular item, so every little helps.
10) Fun and well-integrated DLC
During its original lifespan, the game received two sizeable packs of downloadable content - The Teeth of Naros and The Legend of Dead Kel. Each of these add a large new island which increases the size of the game world by around 15%. They are also full of intriguing ideas and serve as mini campaigns in their own right - The Teeth of Naros, for example, features a very likeable group of Greek-inspired stone giants called Kolossi, and it’s easy to become wrapped up in their conflicts and strange way of life.
Kingdoms of Amalur is now something of a cult classic, and its recent remaster is something to be celebrated. Here is a sprawling, epic RPG which manages to be accessible and fun - and which doesn’t require poring over stats in order to make decisions. Even taking into account its huge size, this is a game which people who are often turned off by RPGs can confidently jump into - and that’s reason enough to experience the Faelands, at least once.
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I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.