Retro Review: Kingdoms of Amalur—Reckoning (PC)

Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
Publisher: 38 Studios, Electronic Arts
PlatformsPC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre RPG. Action
RatingM
Price: $19.99

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an action-roleplaying game from the now-defunct 38 Studios and Big Huge Games. KoA:R puts the player in the role of the “Fateless One,” who has recently died but is brought back to life in a gnomish experiment. Just as you meet your re-maker, his lab comes under attack by the same group who killed you in the first place. After a quick escape and introduction to the three main combat trees (of might, finesse, and sorcery) the player is free to explore the huge, colorful world of Amalur.

Content

Violence/Gore

Players attack with various fantasy weapons, leaving blood on the ground. Violent finishing moves can be employed in “reckoning” mode, where players can summon huge ethereal weapons to stab, decapitate, impale, slice, bludgeon, or destroy their enemies.

Suggestive Themes

A rare entry or two of the in-game books are sexually suggestive in nature. The nature and manner of their inclusion in the game implies that it is meant as tongue-in-cheek.  Also, one of the enemy types is a banshee-like creature named a “Leanashe” who goes into battle with little clothes on. Nothing is actually shown. 

Spiritual Themes

As the player levels up and allocates skill points, they can choose “Fate” cards with names like “Shadowcaster” or “Crusader” that give bonuses. They are stylized and presented much like Tarot cards. The Fateweaver that you meet early on who explains how Fate works in Amalur is a cross between Tarot reader and warrior. The player’s character is told they are in charge of their own fate because they have died and came back to life, whereas everyone else has an inescapable fate. In truth, the cards and their use in-game is just a creative way to introduce class bonuses.

Language

The first Fateweaver you meet in the game has a possibility to curse at you (d***it) if you choose certain dialogue options.

Review

KoA:R is like if God of War and World of Warcraft had a video game baby. The crafting, harvesting, skill trees, and world-building is pure RPG fun, whereas the combat and QTEs are enough to make any fan of Kratos’ style happy. There is always something fun or engaging to do in the world of Amalur, and the bright, vibrant setting is a eye-catching and entertaining. And to top it all off: it’s a single-player game. That’s right—you can pause.

Your grand entrance. That’s right, your character starts out dead, under a sheet. One of the more memorable RPG openers.

Players can choose from four different races in either gender. After the introductory level, you can start putting points in one of the three skill trees which relate to the three main fantasy classes of warrior, thief, and mage. You can reallocate your skill points for a fee anytime you visit a Fateweaver. In this sense, the scope of playable races and classes is narrower than even other games at the time, but everything included is polished to a high shine. Class skills create impressive effects on the battlefield, from the warrior’s “Quake” (when upgraded causes a jut of land to rise up and knock enemies down) to the mage’s “Meteor.”

The skill trees have a lot of choices, even within one skill group.

The crafting is also well done…almost too well. Players can craft weapons and armor with the blacksmithing skill, and have the option to salvage parts from armor they don’t want or need. With the Sagecraft skill, players can create and combine powerful gems to infuse their items and weapons with enchantments. All of this was satisfying and fun on my playthrough, but I was somewhat disappointed that by getting really good at making my own gear, I no longer found gear in the world that was better. This might be a positive or a negative depending on your playstyle, but I like finding bigger and better gear after defeating a boss or major enemy.

The Well of Souls, where you were revived, is a pretty creepy place. The audio reminds one of when the Nazi’s opened the Ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

And in the boss fight department, KoA:R has some memorable ones. Without spoiling much, I can say the boss fight against a behemoth cyclops is one of the more memorable ones of any RPG. KoA:R excels at drawing you in, however. Your first boss fight against an ogre might seem daunting, but gain a few levels and you won’t bat an eye facing down 2-3 of them at once. By the time you hit the big set pieces, the game has trained you to be good at dodging and using finishing moves to survive.

Fate-shifting (in other words, pulling off an over-the top attack that ends the fight) a common enemy in Reckoning mode.

Not all is perfect however in this war-torn fantasy world (well obviously). You may have noticed that I’ve avoided many of the proper names that the game uses in this review. That’s because they’re near-gibberish, and either hard to pronounce or harder to remember. Sadly, KoA:R falls victim to the roleplaying trope, “We have to think up something cooler-sounding,” and they came up short. Instead of humans we have Almain and Varani. Instead of elves we have Dokkalfar (dark elves), and Ljosalfar (fair-skinned elves). Your main allies are Professor Fomorous Hugues, Agarth, and Alyn Shir.  The antagonists are the Tuatha Deohn, lead by their king, Gadflow. Well-known writer R.A. Salvatore is listed as one of the writers for the game, but sadly it feels as dense as a speed bump. While the art, combat, and roleplaying accoutrements shine, the writing comes up short.

Once you’re past the introductory level, you’re free to explore.

That being said, perfection in games is rare, and subjective. This is a great game with an odd pedigree – writing by Salvatore, art by McFarlane, and owned by Curt Schilling (who went bankrupt after this game was released). And since 38 Studios and Big Huge Games went under, it’s unlikely we’ll see any sequels or remasters for such an underrated gem, which is sad. But, if you have a last-gen console or decent PC, you can still experience a great action-RPG for a fraction of the price of a new game.

The “Adventurer” Fate card. Once you meet the prerequisites (spending enough points in each skill tree) you can unlock new ones.

Andrew Borck

Christian/Husband/Dad/Gamer/Writer/Master Builder. Jesus saves and Han shot first.

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