Capsule Review: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

A sprawlingly-large open-world action RPG with a ton of things to do, all of which are loaded with backstory and world-building. The game’s aesthetic, fascinating world, deep lore, and mechanical variety combine to create a feeling I haven’t experienced since quitting World of Warcraft.

Set in a universe created and fleshed out by fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore, Amalur casts the player as the first person to become free of the threads of fate that bind the world and everyone in it. As such, you are uniquely positioned to thwart destiny and avert disasters - providing an excellent reason why you are the only one who can accomplish tasks ranging from small-scale side quests like saving individuals from preordained deaths all the way up to reversing the tide of the main story’s war.

Appropriate to the theme, you have a lot of freedom in how to approach the game. Many quests have multiple resolutions, though your choices rarely have a significant effect on the world - robbing them of some weight but allowing you to choose freely without locking out any content. While there are three skill trees corresponding roughly to the standard Fighter/Thief/Mage triad, you can mix and match to create hybrid builds as desired and respecs are easy to come by. Non-combat skills including lock-picking, armor crafting, potion-making, and more are similarly free to choose from, and by the time you hit the level cap you can max out most of them. And while there are a couple of narrative chokepoints that require certain amounts of progress in the main story before you can proceed to new areas, most exploration and questing can be done in the player’s desired order and schedule, with everything outside of the main story being optional.

Combat is active and fast-paced with a lot of tools available to the player, but unfortunately it’s not very well balanced - even on the hardest available difficulty, it’s likely to become trivially easy for most players after the first couple of hours. Also, the game has an unfortunately high number of bugs. Many cause inconveniences (some quest items can’t be removed from your inventory even when you no longer need them) but a handful can cause major problems (it’s possible to lose the ability to fast-travel or to progress in the main story). A patch was on the way to fix the bugs, add higher difficulty settings, and improve the camera options, but due to the circumstances of developer 38 Studios, the patch was never released. As a result, it’s probably best to play the game on PC, where fan-created mods provide the extra difficulty and camera settings and save editors can fix the bug-caused problems.

Amalur was intended to kick off a franchise, and it was hard not to be disappointed when 38 Studios folded and it appeared that there would never be any followup. I would have loved for post-launch support to polish some of the rough edges and for sequels to improve and expand on the formula and world. THQ Nordic has now acquired the IP, so there may be hope yet.

If you try Amalur, make sure you play the House of Ballads quest chain. That’s the best story arc in the whole game, and it’s early on.

I Stopped Playing When: After putting the game down for multiple extended periods (generally due to being bored by trivially-easy combat), I finally finished it and got the platinum trophy - by coincidence, it was six years to the day after I started it. I did not buy any of the DLC.

Docprof's Rating:

Four Stars: Great. Not only did I finish the game, I probably played through the whole thing again and/or completed any optional objectives. It's an easy recommendation for any genre fan.

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