Review by Old
"Today, Evil Is Knocking at the Gates" Narrator
Welcome to the land of Arx Fatalisthe Fortress of Fate. Welcome
to a world shrouded in eternal darkness due to apocalyptic wars,
where all societies have fled underground. Common differences are
put to one side, at least for a while, until food and water become
scarce. Now, we also welcome you to a perpetual state of conflict,
among all racesGoblins, Trolls, Orcs, and Humans. Finally,
we welcome you to the possible end of times. Rising from, perhaps
produced by, this distrust and racial hatred is an unspeakable evilAkbaa,
the Lord of Destruction. All seems lost.
He Who Has No Name
You are thrust into a dank, gloomy cell. Your memory is gone. You
can't even recall your name. A nearby prisoner offers the appellation
of Am Shaegar"He Who Has No Name." Your subsequent
actions and quests lead you, step by painful step, from your cell
into the world of Arx, where you'll discover your fate and help
resolve the fate of all of the disparate societies. A Guardian has
been promised to deal with Akbaa and his influences. Could you be
Arx Fatalis is a single-player, first-person perspective
RPG, the first effort of Arkane Studios. Some of their team members
had worked on one of my favorite adventures of a few years agoDark
Earth. The developers suggest up to 100 hours of potential play,
if all side quests are completed. My experience was in the 50-hour
range, and I would estimate that the main storyline could be completed
in about 35 hours.
You begin, as with all RPGs, by selecting your character depiction
(choice of four white males) and balance of skillsstrength,
intelligence, dexterity, constitution and stealth. The "quick
generation" (instant hero) seems like the best way to go, since
a careful balance of all 18 skill points works best in the forthcoming
"Listen to Me, and Take Note of What I Have to Say"
Arx has a control scheme resembling a first-person shooter
(mouse plus keyboard movement controls), with 360-degree rotation.
The storyline and logical puzzles lead one to think of adventure
gaming. Yet Arx is much (much!) more involved and complex
than games in either of these genres. The weakest component of Arx,
the interface, includes a quest log, map, book of magic, and
diary. Each of these has significant limitations of design, which
are as likely to intrude on gameplay execution as to enable smoother
play. Indeed, much like Gothic
of a couple of years ago, management of keyboard, mouse, map
and more requires adaptation to an unfamiliar interface, with a
high learning curve (at least for this player). An otherwise compelling
game becomes flawed, seriously at times, by this intrinsic level
For example, the much touted Black & Whitelike
spell casting system is a cumbersome affair, using runes for creative
combinations. Although looking good on paper, so to speak, as a
nice feature, the actual implementation, in the heat of battle,
reminds this player of why I don't like flight sims! In spite of
the hot keys, the switching and clicking are typically more frustrating
than satisfying. It's too bad, since this Achilles heel of design
brings our rating of Arx below the coveted Gold Star.
Throughout the game, particularly in the initial stages, there
are some timely tutorial hints presented on screen, which is a nice
touch within this otherwise awkward-to-manage game. A blue light
and musical note may alert you to an important item, even such as
a spot on the wall. A direct clue may be given (see the picture
of gears on the wall), such as "Double-click on the rope in
your Inventory when you have found it and place it on the elevator
mechanism." These are thoughtful and welcome.
Blue Skies, Smiling at Me ...
... Nothing but blue skies do I see. Not! Arx Fatalis's
graphics, while clear and detailed for a rather dated engine,
are done in various shades of brownno blues, yellows, reds
in this world. Even the very fine 71-page manual is mostly done
in variations of brown! Having said that, the world of Arx is underground,
without the sun, dependent on flickering torches for light. Yet
it is evident that considerable designer care has gone into the
graphic components of the land of Arx. We not only "dungeon
crawl," but also visit temples, busy towns, various huge cavernsmost
of these bustling with life, although sometimes not the kind of
life you want to meet in a dark, brown alley. The level of objects
and detail within the environment is varied and impressive, contributing,
together with the first-person perspective, to a real sense of "being
there." The graphical engine needs at least a midrange system
to perform smoothly, however. The game "crawled" considerably
on my older PII with a 16 MB nVidia video card, but did run smoothlywith
800×600, 32-bit resolutionon my newer P4 with an nVidia
Environmental sounds are among the best I've heard in any game.
My initial reaction to the first few minutes in the prison cell
was, simply, "Wow!" Occasional drips of condensation were
heard on the stones; the scuttling of rats and cries of tortured
prisoners all impact and embellish the graphical level of immersion.
Voice acting, as well, is nicely done. Music is largely absent and
unneeded. The variation of your footsteps, depending on surface,
is accurately done. Indeed, much like the Thief series, you
need to be very careful not to attract unwanted attention when sneaking
"I'm Hungry" Am Shaegar
It's 5:30 in the morning, and I haven't had my English muffin yet.
No, wait, that's not why I wrote, "I'm hungry." This plea
for nourishment is an all-too-frequent complaint of our hero along
the path of his adventure (alleviated somewhat by a highly recommended
1.16a patch). This dynamic does contribute, though, to increasing
the degree of "realism" and involvement with your character.
The movement of Am Shaegar through his often-treacherous journey
of discovery includes the traditional RPG item/spell/inventory accumulation
and leveling up. Enemies of various shapes and varieties (Trolls,
Rat-Men, spiders, giant rats) are encountered along the way and
must be dispatched or avoided. Often there is a choice of action
available, which is interesting.
As regards choice, and thinking of a recent discussion in our forums,
basic gameplay design (not the interface!) is just how I like it.
There are levels or chapters, if you will, that need to be resolved
prior to moving on. Within those sections, however, one may choose
different routes to accomplish the outcome, starting from the base
of character creation all the way to specific actions takensneaking
versus fighting, for example. Some call this game linear, but I
would contend that this balance of relative freedom within the context
of a progressive story with levels is the best of both worlds (strict
linearity versus complete freedomcf. Morrowind).
Engrossing, Appealing, Involving ... and Frustrating
In conclusion, Arx Fatalis is an RPG/adventure with a fine
and involving storyline, lovely brown graphics, magnificent environmental
sounds, and sensible gameplay progressionall within an atmosphere
of relative freedom of movement. It offers up to 100 hours of playing
time, with replay value due to various actions producing different
Unfortunately, Arx is encumbered with an awkward and problematic
interface, making an already difficult game even harder, and often
hair-pullingly frustrating! Since I only have 12 hairs left, this
poses a real problem.
If you like first-person perspectives in RPGs and enjoyed Morrowind
(an all-around better game), plus have a high tolerance for
the aforementioned idiosyncrasies of Arx, then I would recommend
this title to you. It certainly, in spite of the warts, is one of
the better RPGs I've played in the last year. This first-time developer
is already hard at work on "Arx 2" and has provided good
customer support through the publisher. They've done more right
than wrong with Arx, which leads to my strong Thumb Up rating.
What I Liked About Arx Fatalis
- Engrossing atmosphere and world.
- Graphically detailed and varied, within the context of brown.
- Solid and interesting story.
- Great environmental sounds.
- Creative spell system.
- Various paths to "success."
What I Didn't Like About Arx Fatalis
- Very difficult overall.
- Claustrophobic and "brown."
- Cumbersome interface, especially map, journal, inventory management.
- Difficult-to-manage spell system.
- Prone to crash, even with the 1.16a patch.
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Release Date: November 2002
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium II 500 (PIII 900 recommended)
64 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
8X CD-ROM drive
16 MB 3D DirectX 8.0 compatible video card (32 MB recommended)
DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card
750 MB free HD space
Where to Find It
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