I could write a poetry book about the intoxicating thrills of Kingdoms of Amalur's Chakrams. One of several weapon types found throughout Big Huge Games' 2012 RPG, the bladed throwing discs make mincemeat of the Faelands' foes as your hero dances amidst them in tandem, generating a lacerative whirlwind of devastation in the space of a few seconds. It had been years since my last Chakram rodeo, but as soon as I find my first pair in Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, THQ Nordic's upcoming remaster, it's like nothing has changed.
But things have changed since Kingdoms of Amalur's original release, of course. Not just in terms of role-playing games, and the standards we've come to expect from them, but in the very DNA of Amalur as we know it. Not only has new developer Kaiko spruced up Re-Reckoning with the broad suite of visual improvements that meet the baseline threshold of a remaster, but the team has weaned out many of the game's structural limitations around its levelling system, as business & product development director at THQ Nordic, Reinhard Pollice, elaborates.
"We removed the level lock of the original game," he explains. "So we now use a new zone level calculation, and we've generally overhauled the way loot is being generated throughout the game. On top of that, of course, we've improved and reworked some parts of the graphical and performance departments: textures, a new rendering engine, new shadows, and so on."
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Kaiko is also working on a fully fledged expansion to Kingdoms of Amalur, Fatesworn, due out next year. Given that the base game itself was considered something of a commercial flop, THQ's faith in the property (which it only picked up the rights to in 2018) might seem misguided. Anyone who's played the game for themselves, however, will happily tell you otherwise, and Pollice points out that the universe of Amalur, conjured up by renowned author Robert Anthony Salvatore, was begging to be explored further.
"We've done many remasters of games in the past and expanding on original games is something we've always wanted to do," he tells me, "but the games we previously remastered were not easy fits for additional content."
"We felt that an expansion would work well within the structure of Amalur, though, and so this was our goal from day zero. It is also the next logical step once a team has familiarised itself with the DNA of an intellectual property: you have to work with stuff to get better at it, and we have numerous, successful cases to prove it in our ensemble of studios."
Taking place after the events of the main campaign, Fatesworn ushers in new threats brought about by the unravelling of the universe itself, which your character, the Fateless One, may or may not be responsible for. It's unclear what this expansion will look like, or how it will play next to its eight year old sibling, but if it's anything as endearing or compelling, then the series might finally be about to receive the recognition it's always deserved.
For now, however, both longtime fans and new recruits have plenty to tuck into with Re-Reckoning, which also bundles in both previously released story expansions from 38 Studios, The Legend of Dead Kel and Teeth of Naros. According to Pollice, THQ knew it wanted to reintroduce the cult classic to a modern audience as soon as it had acquired the rights to do so.
"Our approach was to try and find the best setup possible and then get to work, however long it takes to find said optimal setup. So basically, instead of asking when the right time was for remastering Kingdoms of Amalur, we think the other way around: when is the remastered game going to be in the best possible shape for the audience? We worry a little bit less about exact timing as a result. "
With its malleable progression system, thrilling combat, production value, and gorgeous art spearheaded by Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane, it's not difficult to fall under the spell of Kingdoms of Amalur's charm. What's more, in a generation where RPGs and open world games are starting to amalgamate into one, amorphous, live service blob, Kingdoms of Amalur's old school, purist approach to role-playing offers the kind of simple pleasures that are increasingly hard to come by in today's interactive entertainment.
"I think that RPGs in their purest form are still a rare breed compared to massively overcrowded genres such as first-person shooters or action games," agrees Pollice. "So whenever there is a game done really well, people are all over it. This was rightfully the case with Kingdoms of Amalur."
Re-Reckoning has the potential to revive a franchise that was unceremoniously killed off before its time, rekindling fond memories for those who played the 2012 original while creating new ones for others who missed out, and setting the stage for further adventures in the miasmic realms of the Faelands and far beyond. It's also reunited this player with his beloved chakrams, and for that reason alone, I'm ready to invest hundreds of hours of my spare time exploring Amalur all over again.
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