If there was one cautionary tale any developer or publisher should have taken to heart in the last decade, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning would likely be the go-to candidate. It was a confluence of big name talent and massive scandals, of ambitious plans and atrocious management, and it ultimately led to a fire sale where THQ Nordic bought the rights to the game for a song. One would expect that the remaster would iron out the bugs, kinks, and peculiarities which affected the original release. And one would be disappointed.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning updates the original game for play on current hardware (and one would presume it would be ready for next-gen hardware). The original game was previously released on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and THQ Nordic's advertising copy has indicated that this is a full remaster. That, however, is a rather slippery term.
From a visual perspective, Re-Reckoning does make some improvements on the execution of Todd McFarlane's original art style. The character models are a little more fleshed out, the environments look a bit more natural, and the gear seems to be a touch more detailed than when the original game released. There isn't what you'd call a wholesale rejection of the art style in game, just minor improvements sticking within the existing style. Unfortunately, there are still some visual problems which the developers responsible for the remaster either haven't ironed out or they cropped up in response to the work they did. A number of character models have some shader tearing, particularly in the face, which is highly distracting when you're dealing with conversational cutscenes and chunks of a character's head look like they just got smashed with a colander.
Another problem is a holdover from the original game, when the camera shifts perspective when an NPC is talking in conversation. More often than is probably acceptable, the position chosen either has the main character completely obscuring the speaker or some chunk of the environment getting in the way. Finally, an issue occurs when the main character is "ambushed" and the camera clips halfway through the landscape to announce the impending attack. There are other smaller bobbles, such as weapon models occasionally duplicating on the main character or a special effect for the "Fate Attack" hanging on well after the character has completed it, but these are more rare. The game's engine also occasionally slows to single digit frame rates when it has no good reason to do so (and this was on a PS4, not a PC).
Audio was one of the few bright spots in the original game, and Re-Reckoning has not done anything obvious to fiddle with it. If anything has changed, the changes are subtle enough to easily escape notice. While there are a couple of instances here and there of the subtitles not perfectly matching the spoken dialogue, the actual delivery of the lines is still uniformly excellent. The music score is still well done and evocative, though it does lack the orchestral bombast of Skyrim or the moodiness of The Witcher III. Sound effects are still well executed, and often useful at times when you've triggered a trap or an enemy is about to make a special attack.
It's the fine details of gameplay in Curt Schilling's magnum opus which proved problematic when the original game came out, along with some absolutely bush league QA mistakes. Given the opportunity to remaster the game, it's not unreasonable to expect that somebody at Kaiko (the developers who got the job of handling the remastering) would have gone through to refine clunky mechanics, improve engine performance, and fix those pesky little problems as a first step. And then you come across stuff like this:
Of course, this isn't the only problem Re-Reckoning demonstrates. The inventory system, both for the player and for the vendors, is still a complete shambles. Certain items cannot be dropped because they're ostensibly quest items and vendors hold on to literally everything you have ever sold them as if they're hoping against hope you'll buy them back. Documents and in-game books are inconsistent as to whether they take up a precious slot in the backpack, which could have been avoided with a good "codex" system or just default setting all documents not to count towards backpack space.
The control scheme is kind of iffy, and it's way too easy for inadvertent NPC activation (or run-by pickpocketing) to occur given the default layout. And, just to make things a little more complicated, THQ Nordic decided to package in all of the original game's DLC including pre-order bonuses which were usually special items and armor sets. Normally, that would be a good thing, since we get to see all the cool stuff which was added to the game as an enticement, including a Mass Effect themed armor set. Unfortunately, there are so many of these bonus items that a starting player will never be able to carry them all and still carry anything else useful like potions. Chances are, if you had a beef with how the original game functioned, you're not going to experience anything refreshing in Re-Reckoning.
For those who didn't pick up the original game in one Steam sale or another, the DLC additions certainly provide more to do in terms of story, but one of Re-Reckoning's selling points was that a third DLC titled "Fatesworn" would be released. As it is, "Fatesworn" isn't due to come out until sometime next year, by which time people might well forget they purchased Re-Reckoning. One of the complaints reviewers of the original game had was that the plot seemed oddly heavy handed, with a bunch of people talking and complaining about fate and how you (as the main character) seemed to be outside of it all. It's still not exactly R.A. Salvatore's best work by any means, even remastered, and there doesn't seem to have been any changes to the original story content or pacing. That being said, the main story and a number of the faction quest chains are enjoyable. They lack a lot of the narrative heft of something like The Witcher III, but they're fun while they last.
There's a distinct difference between "remaster" and "remake." And while Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is very clearly a remaster, it's a very conservative remaster, one which could stand a much deeper pass to iron out the mistakes made by 38 Studios to bring it up to the high gloss it deserves. Nothing quite as radical as Final Fantasy VII Remake, obviously, but seeing the problems which ultimately crippled the game in its original incarnation repeated after eight years suggests a certain lack of urgency on THQ Nordic's part. Six more months might have made this remaster a lot better. As it stands right now, fans who expect the foibles and failings of the original to be preserved rather than corrected will likely find Re-Reckoning a tolerable port to current consoles. Those who've never played the original should realize going in that, much like some of the characters in the game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is trapped in a cycle of mistakes where it cannot break free of its own fate.
This review was based off a code provided by the publisher.