reviews\ Nov 25, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Arx Fatalis - PC - Review

No memory, and from the looks of it, not much of a future. All he knew was that he awoke in a goblin jail cell, almost naked with no idea of whom he was. The prisoner in the next cell gives him a name: Am Shaegar, which basically means someone with no name.

With at least a name that he can respond to, the next order of business is to escape the cell. A wall block wedged between two bars that separate Am Shaegar’s cell from another unoccupied cell is moved and the bars bend to allow the man egress to the empty room. He picks up a heavy bone to use as a club. There is only one guard … then there is none. The adventure begins.

Arx Fatalis, a PC release from Arkane Studios and JoWooD, is a role-playing game that seldom sees the light of day, and is ­ in some regards ­ a massive dungeon crawl. Am Shaegar is on a quest to learn his identity and fulfill an unknown destiny. To that end he will have to improve his skills, improve his weaponry, use his magical abilities, solve puzzles, accomplish a variety of quests and battle a wide variety of foes.

Arx Fatalis takes place on a planet where all the inhabitants were forced to move underground. The world of Exosta was, at one time, a beautiful place. But then the sun died, and the perpetual darkness and cold drove the surface dwellers underground. It was a massive undertaking, but the races banded together, and for a time the worlds of goblins, trolls, dwarves, orcs, ratmen, humans and other exotic races lived in peace. But in the close proximity to one another, and cramped confined spaces of this underworld, the fragile thread holding the peace frayed, and conflict flared. Awakened by the hatred and violence, Akbaa the Lord of Destruction was freed into the new world of Arx.

According to legend, Akbaa had once allied with the human high priest Iserbius to found a cult to worship him and spread his reign of terror. Hidden temples were built and humans were sacrificed to the evil lord. Finally one of the king’s astronomers uncovered the evil doings of the high priest and sent a message to the Sybarta, the keepers of balance between good and evil. The Sybarta, according to the legends, send an emissary or guardian to Arx to counter the threat of Akbaa. This guardian’s power would be able to restore the bonds that once held Akbaa, but apparently the guardian ­ upon whom were the hopes of leading Arx out of darkness ­ never appeared.

And then, a ‘man’ with no name, and no memory finds himself locked in a goblin dungeon.

Well, it really doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the story is leading, however Arx Fatalis is fraught with side quests and missions that will keep Am Shaegar busy for quite some time. And game players must make the decision whether to fight or to be a bit smarter and work through situations with a minimum of violence (which can be unavoidable at times). The idea is to level up your character, and improve his inventory. When you do level, you are given points to spend in two categories ­ your avatar’s attributes and skills.

One of the aspects of Arx that might not make some players happy is the way equipment wears out so quickly. You can repair them if you have a blacksmith’s hammer and the right environment, but all that is few and far between in this world. It’s best to have a store of weapons in your inventory. You can also purchase items, but again, those points in the game are few and far between, and because gold doesn’t plop into your lap, you have to watch how you spend.

An intriguing and wonderful game feature is the magic-casting system. You find or buy runes and then memorize the symbol and using the control key in conjunction with the mouse, draw the rune on the computer monitor to cast the spell. The effect is stunning. You can also find scrolls, which give you a one-time shot at certain spells.

The control elements are somewhat involved and will take some time to get used to. And because this is a first-person game, that perspective hampers you. It is also a problem in combat. Unfortunately Arx doesn’t have a way for you to effectively block or avoid blows in melee combat. You try to deliver the blow before the enemy does and hope to stagger him enough to get in another shot or two. Holding a weapon doesn’t affect spellcasting, but the game could have incorporated an option for equipping and switching between two weapons. If one wears down in combat to the point of being somewhat ineffective, the time it takes to open your inventory and equip another weapon could be the determining factor in the battle. You can try to retreat, but when you open your inventory, you stop moving.

Graphically Arx is very good. Some of the animation is a bit off (when you meet the goblin who is collecting the gems mined by the trolls, he asks you to follow him and then seems to occasionally, and without reason, walk in a tight circle), but overall the game looks very good.

The sound is also very solid.

While the game has a number of puzzles and quests, the replayability of the game suffers because of the linear nature. If you go through a couple of levels, then go back and create a new character, emphasizing different attributes, you will find the same monsters and problems as you did the first time through.

In spite of that, though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable game. It looks good and has some terrific features. Arx Fatalis may not be the one RPG that will redefine the genre, but it is a great fix for RPG junkies.

This game is rated Mature for blood and gore, and violence.


Gameplay: 8
There are some load times involved as your avatar moves from one level to the next. But once in a level, the game moves very well. The game does have a few minor clipping problems.

Graphics: 8.6
The animation is well done, the environments are excellent and the magic-casting system is superb. The game features dynamic lighting effects, which boost the look of the environments.

Sound: 7.8
The music is very nice, the combat and special effects are well done and the vocal characterizations are generally very good. Some of the latter are a little effectual, but the principals voice their characters well.

Difficulty: Medium
This game has a learning curve of 30-40 minutes to get comfortable with the controls. Because weapons wear out quickly and rune stones are tough to find or very costly, this game presents a superb challenge.

Concept: 7.8
The player interface is easy to access and work through. The spell-casting system is excellent. The combat is rather basic, though, and could have been much better. Other games, like Gothic or The Wheel of Time, have used the same style of combat. What would have improved it? The ability to duck under blows, or counter them rather than take the blow and retaliate. It is almost like two boxer standing in the middle of the ring, toe-to-toe, slugging it out. Missile combat is solid, but is similar to other games.

Overall: 8.3
The game looks good and plays well. It may have a few minor problems, but is quite enjoyable, and though somewhat linear in regards to the overall storyline, still is quite entertaining.  


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