Hidden Gems is what I hope will be another semi-regular series here on Average Caucasian Shark, along with 80s Night Bitches! Similarly, it’s going to look at less well-known properties, but the difference is that it’s not confined to 80s movies, it can be anything. We’re starting with a gem that I meant to write about a month ago when the news about it broke out, but life got in the way again. It has a habit of doing that to me, and I’m starting to get suspicious.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, that's an IP (Intellectual Property) that I never expected to hear about again; then on September 6, 2018, THQ announces that they’ve bought the IP. If you’ve never heard of Kingdoms of Amalur, I’m not surprised. I’ve only met three other individuals, besides myself, who have even played it. Kingdoms of Amalur was an action role-playing game released in 2012 for the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Why it never took off I’m not entirely sure. It had three big names attached to it. Its Executive Designer was Ken Rolston, the lead designer for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, both of which are legendary games. The game’s lore was created by R.A. Salvatore, known for his work on Dungeons & Dragons, as well as his many fantasy novels. The art and designs were done by Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn and co-creator of Venom. It had a lot going for it.
Now before I get into why the game is awesome, I want to give a quick history of what happened to this IP to make it so obscure. Kingdoms of Amalur was developed by 38 Studios. That’s the name of the studio, not the number of studios involved. Kingdoms of Amalur was the first and only game they ever released. Based in Rhode Island, the company was able to secure a $75 million loan from the state due to some economic policy they have that would take way too long to explain. The short version is that the State Government of Rhode Island loaned the money to the newly created 38 Studios because of the jobs the studio would supposedly bring in.
Kingdoms of Amalur managed to sell 1.2 million units in its first 90 days, which isn’t bad for a new IP, but it wasn’t enough. 38 Studios defaulted on a loan payment which eventually lead to the company filing for bankruptcy. 38 Studios shut down, and ownership of the IP went to the State of Rhode Island. It’s the only instance that I am aware of where a U.S. state ended up owning the rights to a video game. After that happened, I assumed that was the end of it. Rhode Island wasn’t going to finance a sequel, leaving the IP effectively dead. Then last month, as stated previously, THQ bought the IP. I presume this means they plan on doing something with it, whether that’s going to be a remaster or a sequel I don’t know. I’m hoping for both. However, the publishing rights to Kingdoms of Amalur is still owned by EA, which could very well be the monkey wrench that halts it. But if nothing else, the IP isn’t dead anymore.
Now for the game itself. As I said, it's an action role-playing game. At the start of the game you choose your race (two variants of humans and two variants of elves are your options) and your class. You can play as your basic fighter, mage or thief (standard RPG fare). However, unlike other RPGs, its class system was fluid, letting you pick and choose abilities from all three classes. So, you could play as a single class, or you could mix it up and become a hybrid class. I realize this doesn’t seem like anything special, but when the game came out, fluid classes were rare. The big game that didn’t tie you down to one set of abilities was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Since its release, we’ve seen more games that let you mix-and-match abilities, but Kingdoms of Amalur came out only three months after Skyrim. At the time, it was pretty unique.
So, your character wakes up with no memories, having come back from the dead. Since the PC came back from the dead, he or she, now exists outside of fate. This is the in-story reason for why you can pick from different class abilities, the PC’s fate is not determined. The PC also has the ability to alter the fate of other characters, it’s a unique game mechanic. The PC sets out to find out who they were and how they died, hijinks ensue.
The gameplay and combat are similar to Fable, you choose your abilities and map them to certain buttons, but you can always swap them out for other abilities if you want too. I remember the combat as being tighter than Fable, but it's been years since I’ve played either game. I do remember that I thought the combat was fantastic, and the main reason for playing the game. Now I would consider myself a story driven gamer. I generally like single player games, and about 90% of the time I play a game because I’m interested in the story. Obviously, the gameplay has to be fun as well, but a deep story is what keeps me engaged. Which is probably why I play RPGs more than anything else.
I bring this up because I think the gameplay and combat are the main reason for playing Kingdoms of Amalur. I personally found the lore of the game to be fairly mediocre. Now I know my friend Gerard vehemently disagrees with me on this, so your mileage may vary, but I found it to be to stock fantasy for my liking. That said, it is exceedingly rare for me to play a game where the importance of gameplay is higher than the story. Soulsborne games are one of the exceptions to this rule (someone on reddit is screaming about Dark Souls deep lore at me right now, I just know it), those games I play for the combat. My point is that in order for me to care about a game without much of a story, the gameplay has to be exceptional. I beat Kingdoms of Amalur because I enjoyed it that much. If you still have a PS3 or an Xbox 360, I would definitely recommend this game if you can find it. For now, I’m crossing my fingers to see what THQ does with this.