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Review: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning

By: Fernando Da Costa

Publisher: THQ Nordic

Developer: Kaiko

Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch



Introduction


As a young adult, I was entrenched in the world of MMOs. At the time, my girlfriend introduced me to a small indie gem known as World of Warcraft. It latched on to me almost immediately with no signs of letting go. For the next four years, she and I sunk ungodly sums of money into its monthly subscription and extra cosmetics. We were happy, and it helped strengthen our relationship as we’d lovingly murder one another. Eventually, we broke from its grasp and moved on, but a void persisted in my heart. Almost a decade has passed since, and I think I finally found a suitable replacement. Kingdoms of Amalur brought me back to my youth; it brought me back to my twenties. It slid into the dark hole left behind by the online juggernaut, filling it perfectly. So saddle up and hunker in as I go in-depth to answer that age-old question - is this game worth it?



Story Synopsis

Kingdoms of Amalur is set in a universe full of war and alliances. It begins with the death of your character - a casualty of combat. As their body gets disposed of in a mountain of corpses, they jolt awake, suddenly brought back to life. Confused and curious, they crawl away and head out, seeking answers for their revival. Eventually, they come to learn that they’re an experiment - the first successful one of its kind. Before any further questions can be asked, however, the entire place is invaded; the perpetrators’ goal is kidnapping you. To avoid capture, you run away as your creator remains behind as a distraction.

You assume the role of a nameless, faceless hero that you create. Someone unique compared to everyone else. Embark on a wondrous journey that will take you to several parts of Amalur. Meet differing, distinct races as you choose who to ally with or who to betray. The truth will slowly begin unraveling as unsavoury characters crop up as more comes to light. You can decide how the story will play out and who will be part of the finishing chapter. Do be careful as your decisions have consequences. Whether you pick the path of darkness or follow one of righteousness, the question remains the same - what is your purpose?


Writing

With heavyweights such as R.A Salvatore and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane at the literary helm, I anticipated magic. Unfortunately, I’d discover a genetically told fantasy narrative. It hits all the familiar tropes of a fictional tale and never takes any risks. With that said, I don’t think it’s awfully penned either. I must commend how fleshed out and rich in lore this world is. It’s brilliant and does a spectacular job building Amalur into a believable settlement. The premise and way the story flows aren’t overtly distinct, but I was still interested in its progression. My appeal, however, is deeply rooted in my adoration of fiction. I’m enamoured by magic and fantastical beings. That‘s the big reason why I fear it may be lost on those that don’t share in my affinity. None of this will detract from the sheer amount of detail, though. It’s staggering, but that also doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

The dialogue itself is hit or miss, with it being an equal split. While all the NPCs do have backstories, some lack personality, and charm. It’s strange because there‘s an equal amount that I thought were all well-written. Then there are the largely pointless interactions. This is most notable when there are many options to talk about. By choosing one, the NPC will begin to elaborate further. When they do, it’s never anything meaty and could have been omitted altogether. I believe that the absence of charm from these sections hurt it. As is, I found it tiresome to read because it added nothing.


One example of the above is an NPC I met far into my adventure. He gave me a quest that required me to locate his wife. I accepted it, and if I spoke to him again, I could now ask about her. When I did, he’d ramble on about having several stories to tell, and the dialogue was set up as if he’d dive into it. I was eager to learn about the happy couple, but I was ultimately disappointed. Instead of expanding on it, he just stopped talking, and by proxy, that small exchange felt unfinished. Woefully, I was acquainted with many examples of incomplete drivel in Kingdoms of Amalur. Thanks to the over-abundance of NPCs, it quickly got tedious to inquire about everything. It certainly didn’t help that information got repeated at times.

Early into my session, I tried to listen to all available tidbits. Because of that decision, I was rapidly ensnared in a blanket of boredom. It wasn’t until I focused solely on the plot-forwarding choices it lifted. Thankfully, these are highlighted by a blue hue. I would like to note that there are moments when that extra data did add morsels of substantiated meat. This section is also shown differently. It’ll be a circle icon with four replies surrounding it. By choosing one of these, the game will further divulge the situation, potentially bringing about new information. I enjoyed this usage of the extra exposition and actively sought to learn as much as I could.



Gameplay

The similarities to World of Warcraft persist in how Kingdoms of Amalur handles. There’s a vast world just waiting to be explored and monsters to be killed. I enjoyed running and slicing down all who opposed me with well-timed strikes. The weapons to do so come in a wide buffet of choices such as Sceptres, Swords, Bows, Daggers, and much more. I appreciated the variety and loved the ability to equip any combination of the two types at once. Then, by hitting the respective button prompt, I could immediately switch between them. I can only surmise that this was meant to mitigate the need to open the main menu. Unfortunately, it fails to do this as I still had to do so routinely. It usually was because I had to adhere to an enemy’s elemental resistance. In this regard, be sure always to keep a vast array of armaments in your possession.

I appreciate the attempt to try and limit the need to pause. Those invulnerabilities do prove counter to the cause, though. Enemy weaknesses were never consistent, meaning I’d incessantly stop to switch. I eventually opted to power-through, despite any of the damage reductions. At least I maintained a fast pace throughout, and for an Action RPG, that’s very important. Despite my efforts to adapt, however, I still found myself having to go back into the menu. There’s also a quick-select to use general items, but that’s a little menu in itself. The biggest culprit is leveling up. I was required to go into a menu to implement it manually.


I believe the initial act of accepting a level is a tad archaic. That said, I enjoyed the three separate skill trees. Each one focuses on a specific trait: Sorcery, Might, and Finesse. If you’re curious, Might gives perks to heavier set weapons such as hammers. Finesse will concentrate on daggers or any quick blade, while Sorcery is self-explanatory. The game doesn’t prevent you from throwing points in more than one of these categories. I’d say it encourages you to do so. I say this because after you’ve invested a set number, you can choose your class. In simpler terms, let’s say to be a Paladin, I require 14 Might and 8 Sorcery. As long as I meet the requirements with my point allocation, I can be that class. This isn’t only a gameplay feature but plays into the narrative. Because the player character controls their destiny, these classes are officially known as “Twist of Fate.”

Furthermore, unlocking more is tied to the decisions you make. While small, I love any game with a character-building aspect. I‘d play around with it to hopefully birth a powerful killing machine. For me, This was immense fun, and thanks to how easily accessible it is to reset points, I could always test out builds.

Like World of Warcraft, quests are the bread and butter of Kingdoms of Amalur. Unlike its inspiration, I could only track a single one at a time as opposed to ten. In WoW, I could toss a couple into my tracker before proceeding. Then, when I’ve finished one, it automatically jumped to the next one. Kingdoms doesn’t do this, and it’s one of the biggest offenders when it comes to going into the pause menu. I find it baffling that they’d borrow so much from the MMO but forewent a quality-of-life aspect such as this. It’s egregious since the quests are typically short. After around ten minutes or so, I was back navigating menus to pick another. If that wasn’t annoying enough, it necessitates you to click through one menu before getting to the quest portion properly. I will say there are white circles on the map to indicate those that aren’t tracked. My counterpoint to that is it blends into the landmark sprites. I had difficulty differentiating, but I will concede that perhaps this is due to my bad eyesight.


One mechanic I can see being divisive is the need to repair. It’s a pseudo-durability system as the weapons don’t break or are discarded. Every piece of equipment degrades with time. For instance, say you wear gauntlets with a tempered rating of ten. As it protects against enemy blows, the rating slowly decreases. As it hits zero, all the benefits it granted become obsolete. When this occurs, visit a smithing expert to reinforce it. If there’s a forge nearby, you can go and develop a brand new, potentially better weapon or piece of armour. If you find you already have Godly chainmail, salvage the loot to get extra materials for the next visit. There’s always something to do with what you find in dungeons. If, for instance, you’re not close to a village, don’t fret. By going into the map, you can fast-travel to any previously visited landmark.

Being able to jump from an area to another instantaneously is amazing. The game world is massive, but unfortunately, it’s barren and not as dense as I’d like. For those that are frightened by load times, those aren’t awful in the least. None of them ever surpassed 10 seconds. Yes, it quickly adds up if you abuse the feature, but I never needed to. The reason for that was because I was too busy with quests. I can’t begin to acknowledge the absurd number that’s packed in. Their quality varies, with most fetch quests, killing monsters, or delivering items between two individuals. For those afraid to grind, it’s intact here. Killing enemies won’t be the ideal way, though, with doing the side-gigs taking their place. You’ll still want to be constantly leveling, but at least now, you can also do a quest and guarantee rewards. Amalur always has something to do.


Finally, I’d like to discuss how decisions have consequences. This detail single-handedly injected a massive amount of immersion into Kingdoms of Amalur. There are factions that you can choose to either align with or betray. In my session, I decided to go rogue during a mission. I chose to side with the enemy and turned on my allies. After killing each one, I’d become an antagonist to anyone that fought under that banner. If I were to visit one of their buildings then, they’d engage me as soon as I stepped foot into their vicinity. I was seen as public enemy number one, and they wanted my head. This added believability because I was chastised for my dumb choices of becoming a murderer. Usually, when I play RPGs, I frequently dive into the dark side. I tend to be aggressive and hostile. Sometimes, I’ll also be humorous and regurgitate nonsense just to see the reaction. My harsh demeanour never saw a rebuttal of any form; character impressions remained on that linear trek. While that’s not inherently bad, I must acknowledge when that extra mile is walk. Kingdoms of Amalur felt like a living, breathing world.

Performance

For the most part, Kingdoms of Amalur runs at a smooth pace. I’m not too savvy when it comes to nailing down a frame rate, but if I were to guess, I’d say 30FPS. I did stumble on stability issues while using a weapon. I’m a habitual long-range and quick-strike user. My weapon combination of choice was the dagger and chakrams. The latter functions like a boomerang, causing its damage as it soars through the air. It was here that I came across periodic stutters, though, never to a ludicrous degree. Further, there had to be a group of enemies on screen at the time, or nothing would happen. In a big game like Kingdoms of Amalur, it’s astonishing that this was the only hiccup I noticed. A crazy bit of optimization was dedicated to bringing this adventure to a hybrid.


Presentation

Kingdoms of Amalur retains the DNA of the Playstation 3. That’s not to say the graphical fidelity isn’t acceptable because it honestly looked fine. There are janky moments here and there, most notably with NPC models. I would be speaking to one of them, and their eye would slowly slide left while the other focused on me. Then there were times when I’d try to engage someone, but they’d insist on completing their scripted action. In other words, if they were about to sit down just as I spoke up, they’d finish taking a seat before returning to their feet and addressing me. It admittedly got annoying because I had to wait even if I‘d want to proceed. They demanded that I first creepily watch as they did what looked like a weird squat. I respect the determination of seeing actions through.

Sound Design

The music wasn’t a stand-out to me. The tracks that played were much like its story in that it was generic fantasy fare. While serviceable, it didn’t feel like much effort was made to ensure that the tracks were memorable. The voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag too. While there were some with excellent inflection and cadence, others were devoid of personality. For what it was, I enjoyed what was offered and found a few standouts. This also went far in infusing an otherwise lackluster exchange with realism. I wish some of the actors loosen up more and went for it.


Verdict

Kingdoms of Amalur is comprised of a safe but imaginative tale of war. The characters are a mixed bag in terms of charm, but when it’s present, my time was enjoyable. If I were to describe the narrative, I’d say that this is all bite but lacks substantial bark. An over-abundance of dialogue hampers the fun, but fortunately, it’s entirely possible to skip out on the extra exposition. While it isn’t literary innovation, it’s easy to immerse yourself. That’s helped further by all of your decisions havIng legitimate consequences.


The gameplay strongly borrows from World of Warcraft. While a stability issue does exist, it’s particular and isn’t a dealbreaker, lasting only a second at most. The buckets of available quests ensure there’s always something to do.


I wholeheartedly recommend Kingdoms of Amalur but with a caveat. Unless you’re enamoured with fantasy, then the story won’t enchant you. However, if you are, I think you’d do no wrong adding this to your library.

Thank you to THQ Nordic for the code used for the purposes of this review


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