Sunday , October 25 2020

PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning’

By around the 23rd hour of playing “Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning,” the reworked/updated/re-whatevered version of the 2012 open world RPG title, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, my enchantment with the game was waning. However, when I got to the 25th hour and entered a new section of the map, I found myself loving it once more. Now, as I close in on hour 50 and with the credits nowhere in site, I remain captivated.

My approach to open world titles does not vary (and which I’ve discussed previously) – as soon as is remotely possible, I leave the main storyline and see what happens. This genre (or super-genre, maybe) offers up games which tout the player’s ability to create the character they want, to influence the action how they want, to precede as they want. So, what better way is there to try one of these games than to do just that – to precede as I want.

The result with Re-Reckoning has been interesting.

Although it, too, is based in swords and sorcery (not that I use swords, I prefer various other weapons), this game does not feel as freewheeling and unlimited as Skyrim (the gold standard in the genre, originally released several months before Reckoning). Then again, comparing any game to what might very well be the best video game ever created is, perhaps, unfair.

Still, if you’ve played Skyrim, you will be well familiar with general feel of Re-Reckoning (although with different specifics). Here we find a world with several different races including elves and humans and gnomes. There is, as noted magic. There are multiple types of weapons that can be used (based upon what skills you want to hone and what fits your play style). Technologically speaking, it’s of the dark ages fantasy ilk. Hopefully that paints enough of a picture without ruining the exploratory experience which, after all, is the point.

Are there too many fetch quests in Re-Reckoning? Undoubtedly (the ones that never end, where the NPC keeps asking for more of the same and the quest clutters your list of open tasks are the worst). Could the skill tree be diversified? Certainly. Does the claim of openness to the world feel a little like a cheat as you’re so often routed down narrow roads to get from one part of the world map to the next? It might. Is there camera regularly out of position? Yes, indeed it is. These are minor dislikes, but they do exist.

I do not have Re-Reckoning set to the easiest difficulty level, but rather in the middle. It is true that by moving it to a tougher setting I could die more, but I’d rather not go that route, I’d rather think that I was just an exceptional player of the game (I know that isn’t the case, but I’d like to believe it). My lack of deaths could, also be because I just have great armor and weapons. I did not do anything particularly memorable to get my gear, but maybe straying from the beaten path early on led to this success. The way enemy levels are set is different in Re-Reckoning than in the original game, but not having played the original, I can’t speak to a positive or negative change to the new format, which takes difficulty level into account. Certainly, I am not disappointed with getting to explore without dying all the time.

One of the interesting, difficult to assess, things about an open world game, a game that allows people to play as they see fit, is that an individual’s satisfaction with the game is, in part, tied to the decisions they make. I absolutely regretted killing the mayor of one village because, despite his being rude to me, as soon as he was dispatched, Re-Reckoning informed me that I had failed some of the quests I had begun (I was no longer able to return things to the mayor what with his being dead and all). Was it better for the town that he was gone? In my mind, it was, but I’m relatively convinced that there were no larger ramifications of my choice.

There are other, far more important, spawned by my hours with the game, chief amongst these is: why do I die so infrequently and does that seeming ease make things less fun? I can count the number of deaths I’ve had on one hand and the majority of them are because I like doing silly things like being lazy and trying to auto-open enchanted chests despite knowing I’ll get harmed. That I’ve done repeatedly and another death occurred because I wanted to see how low I could get my life meter without dying (failed on that one). In other words – I have died mostly because I have strongly courted death, when I have tried to remain alive, I’ve been generally successful in the endeavor.

By and large, however, I’m more than thrilled with the way my journey through Re-Reckoning has progressed. The visuals aren’t going to wow you, but they more than get the job done and the landscapes are varied enough that you never get bored.

That said, it’s not the graphics or the main story (which starts with you returning from the dead and working out how and why that’s possible and how you can kill the bad guys because of it and what it means if fate is malleable) that has kept me involved, but rather the depth and breadth of play. Everywhere I go, there’s another half-dozen quests to accomplish. Because of that and the fact that I’m constantly wiping out wave after wave after wave of enemies and picking up tons of loot and going new places, I’m continually in.

Re-Reckoning is one of those titles where I find myself saying over and over again that I’ll turn it off after the next quest is finished, only to finish the quest and instantly moving on to the one after. I think I currently have nearly two dozen different quests open and keep finding myself in a place where I can finish off two or three at once (and then where I can start another handful).

If you’re looking for more details on character building, players do get to level up specific skills (blacksmithing, stealth, lockpicking, etc.) and different abilities as they progress, with the latter falling into three main categories: finesse, sorcery, and might. Within each of those sections, one can choose several different specific things (spells, shield skills, weapon prowess, etc.), to activate and/or level up. To equip weapons and armor, one must hit different required numbers of points in each of the main sections, which affects how one chooses to go about killing baddies.

The decision about just where to throw your points into isn’t always an easy one. There may be plenty of lower level abilities in which you’re not interested, but it is only by sinking a lot of points into one of those three main categories that you really unlock the good stuff (should you consider some of those higher skills to be good). Still, you’re probably going to want to increase points across all three categories and it is going to take a long (but enjoyable) time to grind through the levels needed to get to the good stuff.

Perhaps the best way to describe playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is “immensely satisfying.” Whether it is beating hordes of foes, accomplishing quests, visiting new areas, or getting new skills, the positive reinforcement the game provides is fantastic. I can, and have, happily played the better part of five hours in a row. I constantly feel like I’m moving forward, getting better, and yet still have a whole lot more game in front of me.

If you crave open-world fun in a medieval fantasy setting, and haven’t played yet, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is a great way to get it. Presumably, if you only played it during its original release, enough time has passed to make it interesting once more (especially if you did not play with the DLC, which this includes). Once I do finish the main questline, I don’t think I’m going to jump right back in and have another go with a different character, but I felt very differently at hour 23 than I do now, so I won’t be ruling out that fate.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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