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Arx Fatalis Review
game: Arx Fatalis
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: JoWood Productions
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Dec 22nd, 2002
last revision: 03:43 PM Sun Oct 23rd, 2005

by Todd Allen

Just when you thought it was safe to close the book on one of the best RPG years ever, in slips a quality title like Arx Fatalis. For many, this game will be like a trip down memory lane. Before sprawling landscapes pervaded RPG\'s there were the deep, dark dungeons, which snared many an adventurer. Arx Fatalis takes us back there in style with a compelling visual presentation and novel story. Break out the torches folks; it\'s dungeon crawling time.

Arx Fatalis begins with a pretty straightforward character creation sequence. Here you\'ll be able to choose from several pre-made appearances for your hero. After that, players will be required to spread out some experience points over your new hero\'s statistics. Following the creation of your character, the story will pick up with you being carted off to a prison cell by a nasty goblin. While in prison you will soon meet up with a man named Kultar. Unfortunately when you begin to speak with him you realize that you have no memory of who you are or where you came from. Granted, it\'s not the most original way to start a story, but you\'ll soon learn what makes the world of Arx Fatalis a pretty unique place and upon your and Kultar\'s escape, your new friend reminds you of it. Apparently the sun has fizzled out, forcing the world\'s inhabitants to tunnel underground towards the warm center of the planet. Now that is a great dungeon-crawling environment to work with. With these different races in such close proximity, conflict is inevitable and your hero gets caught up in it whether he wants to or not.

There are a couple of distinct similarities between Arx Fatalis and Morrowind, released earlier this year. Arx has a first-person layout like Morrowind as well as a very easily manipulated environment. Many will be delighted to discover that in Arx Fatalis, if it isn\'t nailed down, it can be taken, but that isn\'t always an advantageous outlook on things as many had also learned from the third installment in the Elder Scrolls series. Arcane went a little further in the detail department, though. For one thing when you look down you can see your hero\'s feet as well as his swaying arms while walking. This attention to detail really shines through in the graphics as well.

Since Arx Fatalis occurs underground, the developers had to make sure that the graphical presentation fleshed out an environment where gamers would want to hang around, knowing that there were no breathtaking sunsets, lush forests, or rural countryside awaiting them. The game\'s graphics are well done, with painstaking detail obviously shown in each brick and stalagmite. Arcane has really succeeded in creating a compelling environment with a dark mood. The somber, closed in feel may begin to grate on you, though. Personally I\'m a sucker for a pretty sunset, but if you\'re a tried and true dungeon-crawler you\'ll eat it up.

Another novel concept in Arx Fatalis is its magic system. Rather than clicking a button to produce a spell, Arx employs a \"rune\" system where players trace shapes on the screen to produce their spells. First you have to locate a rock with the rune carved on it so you can copy it into your spell book. The first two runes you\'ll find work together to make a useful spell that can light torches and cooking fires. Players simply use the mouse to draw the shapes on the screen. Exiting magic mode will produce the spell. Players may pre-cast three spells and save them for later use, but in the heat of battle a sword may prove more useful than quickly trying to draw runes in the air. The combat system is functional yet quite dry--much like the melee combat in Morrowind. Arx does try to add some spice, though, by providing pretty grisly death scenes of those you vanquish, which vary depending on how you hit them.

Arx Fatalis also provides interesting content with its \"combination\" system. Say you find a fresh fish during your quest. Sushi hasn\'t hit yet so what use is raw meat? Arx adds a deeper layer here by requiring you cook your food at times. You\'d do this by \"combining\" fire and a fresh fish. You can also go deeper and try to cook other things like pies. This requires different ingredients like water and flour along with the proper utensils to prepare it. Players may also make their own potions much like the alchemists in Morrowind and Asheron\'s Call. Determined craftsmen in Arx Fatalis may even find ways to catch their own fish by fashioning a fishing pole. Additions like these really should become mandatory in all RPG\'s because they add so much value to your experience by providing fun diversions that still prove useful to the quest.

With great titles like Neverwinter Nights, Morrowind, Divine Divinity, and Dungeon Siege, this year has more than generous towards us RPG fans. With that said Arx Fatalis is not just icing on the cake. Despite its similarities with Morrowind, Arx provides more than enough content to secure a spot of uniqueness among its peers. While I don\'t think that it has the broad appeal of say, a Neverwinter Nights, it is a testament to one of the founding fathers of the RPG genre: the first-person dungeon-crawler. If you find yourself at home in the depths of the earth this title is a no-brainer.

Todd Allen (12/22/2002)