It’s a sad truth that with so many games coming out in the past decade, some brilliant games have inevitably gone unnoticed. This can happen for a number of reasons, including poor marketing, stiff competition, bad timing, and over-optimistically high prices, among others. You may have heard of these games, or even bought them – but whether you were distracted by a major release, saving money for a different game, or just plain didn’t know they existed, we’re here to point out lesser known games you should give a shot. Some of them might be a few years old, but that just means the price has probably gone down, right?
This week’s game that you probably haven’t played suffered from several of the aforementioned symptoms of forgotten games. For starters, the marketing campaign was underwhelming; quite a few hardcore fans of fantasy RPGs hadn’t even heard of it. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that if you have heard of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, it was probably in the context of, “Hey, did you ever hear about…?” The second reason for its lackluster sales performance was the timing of its release. KoA:R hit shelves February 2012, which meant that gamers were still fully immersed in Skyrim, just finishing their obsessive 100% playthroughs of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, or saving their hard-earned cash for what was to become one of the most controversial games of all time, Mass Effect 3. It didn’t help that the rather bright, WoW-reminiscent art-style, while pretty, fell short in a direct comparison with other major releases, especially since it was at a similar price-point as the big-boys.
Much like many under-appreciated games, Kingdoms of Amalur is far from perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from having die-hard fans, and there are plenty of reasons it deserves your attention. As always, we’ll try to avoid spoilers.
Amount of Content
Few games can compete with Skyrim or the other Elder Scrolls games when it comes to sheer number of things to do, but KoA comes surprisingly close. According to Steam, I currently have 183 hours played, the vast majority of which was spent with a single character, and completely ignoring one of the DLC campaigns. That is a metric ass-ton of gameplay, even considering my completionist tendencies.
And guess what? Because it’s a few years old, the standard Steam price is currently $20. At the moment, it’s on sale for $5, and I can’t even describe how much of a deal that is. For far less than the price of a ticket to the Last Jedi, you can have literally hundreds of hours of entertainment at your disposal, and quality entertainment at that.
Not only is there a lot of playable content – Amalur has an impressive pedigree, too. R.A. Salvatore, he of D&D fame, who wrote the infamous Drizzt novels, lent his creative genius to the lore of Amalur. Todd MacFarlane, former Spiderman artist and creator of Spawn, was in charge of the art, and the musical score is absolutely fantastic. I can count on one hand the games I whose soundtracks I would listen to while not playing (looking at you, Bastion), and this is definitely one of them.
Let me be clear – Kingdoms of Amalur is not The Talos Principle. It was not designed to break your brain with crazy philosophy. That said, there are definite intellectual aspects to the game that are likely to be appreciated by more cerebral players.
The most obvious of these is the nature of the Fae; nearly 200 hours in, I’m still not completely sure I could adequately explain the Fae to someone who hasn’t played the game. Suffice to say they are tied directly to nature and the cycle of the seasons, and are more forces of nature and fate than individual beings.
Speaking of which, fate is a topic that is central to the games’ core story, and it comes up more often in conversation than rain in Seattle small-talk (i.e., a lot). What is fate? Is it all-encompassing? Is there a grand design that leads us in all our actions? Is fate good? Bad? Neither? These are all questions that arise throughout the course of the main storyline.
Originality Within Familiarity
It’s no secret that the plots in fantasy games have become more old and tired than Deckard Caine. Mysterious all-powerful villains, an “evil” sickness spreading across the land, and an unknown hero just happening to show up at precisely the right time are all par for the course. KoA doesn’t avoid these things, precisely – Gadflow is as generic as villains get, your character starts as an anonymous nobody, and the classes are the standard mage, warrior, and rogue.
But while Amalur ticks all the boxes of a dime-a-dozen fantasy RPG, it gives everything its own twist. You’re not the “Chosen One” – rather, you’re the “Fateless One.” As previously mentioned, Fate is a big deal in Amalur, and you are literally the only person not tied to it, more or less because the game starts with you coming back from the dead. This makes you the equivalent of a bull in a china shop dealing with international affairs, because no one, no matter how powerful, has any idea what you’re going to do.
Your quest is also the right mixture of world-shattering and personal. Games like Skyrim tend to keep the plot slightly removed from the character, but you feel personally invested in KoA. Instead of picking a single class, you’re encouraged to pick skills from all three, making your character more unique than “just another mage.” And even the end-game bad-guy isn’t precisely what you’d expect. What makes Kingdoms of Amalur such a solid game are the consistent surprises rooted in the safe familiarity of fantasy RPG staples.
Combat Doesn’t Suck
It feels too common that I’ll be discussing a game with someone and some version of the phrase, “Combat kinda sucks, but…” makes an appearance. A lot of developers in recent years have focused on shiny graphics and interesting mechanics to the point of making combat an afterthought, and it’s a crying shame.
Happily, such is not the case with Kingdoms of Amalur. It is very much possible to make a beefy soldier who soaks up damage while mindlessly waving his/her greatsword at everything until it dies, but as someone who enjoys playing a tank, I would advise against it. Part of what makes the combat enjoyable is how rewarding it feels to successfully dodge or block an attack, land a combo, or figure out how to properly use that new skill you’ve been eyeing for the past 10 levels. Because you’re actively encouraged to reset your character’s skills and traits throughout the game, you can try all of the different weapons and skills within a single playthrough, which saves the hassle of getting ten hours in with that soldier, only to realize you hate fighting with hammers (seriously, the hammers are just awful) and rolling a whole new character.
Worth mentioning is the fact that every weapon has different attacks, rather than just different stats, which completely alters your approach to combat. Also, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mechanic quite like that of the chakrams (Xena-style circular throwing blades used by mages). No matter what sort of build you’re going for, I highly recommend investing some points into the chakram skills, just to get a taste of the awesomeness.
What it comes down to is that there’s something undeniably charming about Kingdoms of Amalur, and it makes me sad that we’ll likely never see a sequel, because the companies that made it are essentially defunct. Instead of shedding tears for what will never be, why not celebrate what we do have – a great game you can afford on a budget.
Have you played Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!