Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review: A long time coming

THQ Nordic
THQ Nordic /

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is a remastered version that fails to live up to that label on the PS4 thanks to its ridiculously long load times caused by poor optimization.

Title: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning
Developer: Kaiko
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed on), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: September 8th, 2020

Before I delve deep into this review for the PS4 version of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I love the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I preordered this new action-RPG for my PS3, and upon spending over a hundred-plus hours playing it, the game exceeded every expectation that I had.

For a new video game franchise at the time, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning had a very impressive pedigree: most of the in-game history and lore was written by famed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore (who, coincidentally, is my all-time favorite author); character designs and concepts were worked on by Todd McFarlane (creator of the Spawn comic series and co-creator of the popular Marvel Comics anti-hero Venom); and the game’s overall designs and interface largely came from Ken Rolston, the executive designs director best known as the lead designer of both The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The game itself feels like a marriage of those specific Elder Scrolls titles mixed with Fable II and the Witcher series, making for an intoxicating combination.

Originally published by EA but developed by the now-defunct 38 Studios (a development studio that was partly formed by baseball star Curt Schilling), the saga regarding the game’s financial fallout usually overshadows the game itself. THQ Nordic, a publisher that has capitalized on successfully releasing remastered versions of games whose IPs were sold after their respective owners became bankrupt, purchased the game’s IP back in 2018, leading to rampant rumors that the game could get a revival or even a sequel.

Earlier this summer, THQ Nordic confirmed what many had suspected when it released the first trailer for Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. It was advertised as a remastered version of the criminally overlooked gem for a new gaming audience, promising to take advantage of the technology the original versions didn’t have available to them at the time.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning
THQ Nordic /

It should be noted that THQ Nordic is the game’s publisher, but the actual development duties were handled by the development studio Kaiko, a studio that previously collaborated with THQ Nordic. Kaiko and THQ Nordic have together remastered several games over the last few years, a strong list that includes The Legend of Kay: Anniversary Edition, Darksiders: Warmastered Edition, and Red Faction: Guerilla Re-Mastered. The reputation regarding these remasters are largely positive, which raised my expectations for Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning.

While getting a remastered game was more than enough for fans of the original, THQ Nordic took it a step further when they revealed that Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning will receive some new and original DLC content post-launch. In addition to including all past DLC, THQ Nordic announced that “Fatesworn” would release sometime in early 2021. The Fatesworn DLC isn’t packaged with the $39.99 versions, but it’s included in the more expensive “FATE” editions of the game.

At the time of this review, THQ Nordic has not addressed the main issue that plagues the PS4 version: the very long, lengthy load times. Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning was played on the original PS4 console, as I currently don’t own a PS4 Pro (although it’d be odd if the game was somehow optimized differently for the PS4 Pro).

My frustrations with the load times only are present on the PlayStation 4. However, information that I heard from the game’s Discord community, along with gameplay videos that I watched on YouTube, leads me to believe that the PC version of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning runs much better, as its load times are extremely quick in comparison to the PS4. I don’t have much information regarding the Xbox One version, so I can’t say if the loading times are better or worse than the PS4 version. I’ll elaborate on these awful load times later in this review, but first, I’d like to focus on all the positives about this game, as there is so much to like about what the original developers had achieved with it.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, in terms of storytelling and writing, is as fun and engrossing as it was back when I first played it. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was originally released in February 2012 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Although certain quest cliches, like “fetch quests,” feel very dated and can be boring to complete, the large majority of the quests are so wonderfully written that they more than compensate for the less-interesting ones. For example, one of my favorite quests was found in the Teeth of Naros, where I was tasked with helping a giant to cast the appropriate roles for his play. Quests like these just ooze originality, which is perhaps the game’s strongest trait.

The voice acting audio sounds a bit better and cleaner than the original recordings, which helps make Amalur become an even more immersive and alive world. The game’s music sounds good and fits the setting quite well, even though it can often sound generic at times.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning
THQ Nordic /

As with any good RPG, Amalur is comprised of several large areas populated with dungeons, cities, and keeps. The different areas at first feel generic and unoriginal, but once you leave the starting area’s forest setting, the landscapes become much more lively and unique. I especially love the Teeth of Naros DLC area, which has one of the coolest environments in the game.

The graphics and textures are a bit sharper and more detailed, though it honestly doesn’t really look like much of an improvement. After all, the original game isn’t even a decade old yet, so it hasn’t really “aged” like earlier generation RPGs such as Kingdom Hearts, which didn’t have HD options or full capabilities on the PS2. For anyone that’s ever played an Elder Scrolls game, particularly The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the interface almost looks like a carbon copy of it, which should appeal to anyone that is a fan of Bethesda’s action-RPG franchise.

The gameplay itself plays fast and frenetic, which makes the battles feel fun and intuitive at the same time. The controls largely work well, aside from the camera shifting awkwardly during combat. Even with several enemies on screen, the action rarely ever slowed down. The only time I ever noticed the slightest bit of lag was whenever I let loose a multi-arrow charged shot while fighting more than five large enemies or so, particularly during the House of Valor gladiatorial events. The controls themselves are customizable, which makes it easy for players to create a control scheme that is most comfortable to them, rather than being forced to adapt to preset controls set forth by the developers. However, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning does unfortunately lack the ability to “lock-on” a single target, something that has been an industry standard for 3D games ever since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

In Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, as with all good RPGs, having control over your story and playstyle is a positive component in the game. Players can choose their character’s “fate” by selecting from three specific playstyles: might, finesse, and sorcery. However, you’re also able to cherry-pick from all these skills, which allows you to pursue a “hybrid” destiny that can include all of these playstyles, which is very refreshing in a modern game (especially since the original game came out eight years ago). If you decide that you want to change your skills and playstyle, you have the option to visit “fateweavers” that can reset all your allotment points for a small fee. This is a high level of customization that should be more standard in current RPGs, but it’s certainly appreciated here.

Although the main questline is largely linear, there are a plethora of optionable sidequests, including faction quests, that allow you to pursue your goals any which way you desire. Although these quests are nowhere near as deep as ones you’d find in a BioWare RPG, they’re still a fun and welcome diversion. I always enjoy exploring where these side-stories can take my character, especially since the game’s world and lore is so deep and painstakingly detailed. Unfortunately, once you accept a quest, there is no feasible way to “quit” the quest unless you complete it. This can make your quest logs fill up with quests that you may no longer need, or no longer have an interest in finishing.

Most of the game’s areas “scale” up to your level once you enter that particular area on the map, but once that happens, the area “caps” to that level. Since you’re able to level up very easily and quickly, completing all the quests in that area eventually doesn’t offer much benefit, especially because you may gain items that you have no use for, or the reward is only a small amount of experience and/or gold. However, the included DLC areas do offer a fair bit of challenge, especially the Dead Gallows island that you can only gain access to after level 10, and there are often hidden benefits, such as permanent bonus stats, that can be unlocked after completing certain questlines.

All these positive points aside, there is one large, fatal issue that severely impacts the game’s overall fun-factor: the load times. Specifically, whenever loading from one location to another, especially if exiting a building or dungeon. Long load times for large games, particularly RPGs, is something that I can forgive for a game made back in the late 90s to mid-2000s; however, for a 2020 REMASTER of a game originally released eight years ago, it’s downright atrocious and insulting to potential new players as well as fans of the original game.

At first, I thought that these long load times could just be regulated to the beginning area. However, after covering the majority of the world map, in addition to both DLC areas, I can conclude that these extremely long load times are consistent across all locations. I even used a stopwatch to actually time these loading transitions, because I was shocked at how slow these loading times were.

These lengthy load times aren’t just limited to moving from location to location. I encountered merchants that would take several seconds just to load the “shop” option. If it wasn’t for the map icons, I wouldn’t have even known that the NPC was a merchant at all. Another issue I noticed was that speaking to some NPC characters would result in the character models only displaying their clothes or armor at first, although I could often finish a conversation without the full NPC model ever loading at all. This seems to happen randomly but it occurs too often,  which is a sign that this “remastered” game has been poorly programmed.

The loading transitions from location to location can vary, but most of them usually average above thirty seconds. Even if I use “fast travel” in the same general map location, it can still take over thirty seconds to load that same area. There are no mounts or anything that makes traveling faster, so my only options are to either sprint from place to place, or wait through the long load times, which isn’t even worth the time if you’re in the same general area.

The worst load time, in my opinion, is when you exit any house or indoor structure, as the game loads your character back into the main environment. While dungeons also suffer from this problem, these long load times are especially frustrating to experience in any of the towns or city hubs. Because your character has a limited inventory that doesn’t take long to fill up, entering shops to sell your unwanted items and gear can be both a crucial and necessary task. For example, in the town of Gorhart, the very first town that you can visit, whenever I exited the shops to the town itself, it usually took, at minimum, approximately forty-six seconds to load! To me, that long of a load time is beyond ridiculous, especially considering how advanced the architecture is that current consoles possess.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning
THQ Nordic /

As anyone can imagine, these long load times really hurt my enjoyment of the game. In the interests of fairness, I decided to compare the same Gorhart load transition on the original game. I booted up my digital copy of the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for the Xbox 360, which I played on the first iteration of the Xbox One. After exiting the same shop in Gorhart, I was shocked by the results: it only took less than eleven seconds to load from the shop to Gorhart. It’s more than fair to expect far better from a remastered game that’s played on a more advanced console, yet I experienced these issues during my entire time playing the PS4 version.

Despite these strong criticisms, I do want to point out that the other platforms may not have these same issues with the long load times. After speaking to the game’s official Discord community, along with watching Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning gameplay videos on other consoles, the PC version does appear to be much better optimized. Its load times were quicker by comparison, but since PC specs always greatly vary, it’s difficult to definitively know what factors lead to the PC version’s overall improvement. I couldn’t find enough data on the Xbox One version to determine if its load times are quicker, slower, or the same as the PS4, so I am only basing my negative experiences with the load times solely on the PS4 version.

As stated earlier, I really enjoyed Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning upon its original release in 2012, but my experience with Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning on the PS4 was a more boring and un-enjoyable time, primarily due to its ridiculously long load times. If you’re able to look past the PS4’s lengthy load times, then you will definitely find a criminally underrated action-RPG, one that deserves a second chance at becoming a franchise that can fill the voids until the next Dragon Age or Elder Scrolls game releases. The story is very well-written, the voice acting is good, and the overall combat and gameplay is largely fun.

Unfortunately, the long load times ruined the entire experience for me. Completing simple quests feel like mundane tasks, especially the faction quests, as they often require you to different regions all over the world map. When a game turns one of the most basic RPG fundamentals, finishing quests, into a long, drawn-out and frustrating ordeal that ruins the adventure, it commits a cardinal sin: it makes the game no longer feel fun and engaging. The immersion into the wonderful world of Amalur becomes broken, too often interrupted by that all-too-familiar loading screen which will become burnt into your memory after the first few hours.

If THQ Nordic manages to fix this issue via a future patch, then I would wholeheartedly recommend this game for the PS4. As it stands though, interested players would be much better served by tracking down the original versions, or looking to other consoles if possible. The original version may not have the DLC included with it, and its graphics won’t be as sharp or textured as the remastered version, but overall, you’ll have a much better time with it.

THQ Nordic. . Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. 7.0. <em>Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning</em> on the PS4 is a fun and well-written game that, unfortunately, is nearly ruined by the remastered version’s ridiculously long load times. If load times don’t concern you, then you may enjoy this underrated action-RPG that was originally developed by a fantasy “dream-team” that included author R.A. Salvatore, comic artist Todd McFarlane, and game designer Ken Rolston.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.