Arx Fatalis impressions

We delve into Arkane Studios' atmospheric 3D RPG, an homage to Ultima Underworld. New details, screens, and movies inside.


French developer Arkane Studios recently finished working on Arx Fatalis, a 3D role-playing game that's highly reminiscent of the classic Ultima Underworld series. In Ultima Underworld, players navigated many large and complex dungeons from a first-person perspective, and Arx Fatalis has a similar theme: It takes just a few moments with the game to see that it's highly atmospheric and clearly aims to immerse you in its subterranean fantasy setting. We've been playing the final review build of the game and are here to bring you some early details and media of what's by all means been an impressive experience thus far.

Arx Fatalis is set in a fantasy world filled not just with humans, but with goblins, trolls, dwarves, and more. What distinguishes this setting from any other like it is that here, the sun has set on the world--permanently. Survivors have been forced to re-create society far under the ground, where the land is still relatively warm. The main character's adventure in this world begins in prison. He has no memory of his past, only a natural instinct to escape.

The game is played entirely from a first-person perspective. We were immediately struck by the quality of Arx Fatalis' production values. Simply put, the graphics are excellent, and the sound is phenomenal. Sounds resonate loudly against the cavern walls, and there's tremendous variety in the ambient noise. Together with the convincingly detailed architecture of the dungeon, and the moody, realistic lighting, the world of Arx Fatalis not only looks realistic but also has a real sense of mass and depth. You can interact with or at least pick up many objects in the environment and do things like cook raw food or repair and forge weapons. Apparently the detail in the gameplay is not compromised for the detail in its graphics. Visually, the game compares favorably to this year's other graphically stunning RPG, Morrowind, and in some ways looks even better.

Combat in the game is handled much like in Ultima Underworld or Morrowind, only it's much more dynamic and visceral. Enemy goblins may flee and call for help after they sustain a few hits. A critical hit might slice one right in half or relieve the poor thing of its head. The real-time combat largely involves using vertical slashes, horizontal slashes, and thrusts while weaving front and back to try to avoid enemy retaliation, but the action looks and sounds convincingly brutal and has proven to be very satisfying thus far.

The runic magic system in Arx Fatalis challenges you to trace arcane symbols in the air, using your mouse, in order to cast a variety of different spells. It's mechanically similar to the spell system in last year's Black & White. Fortunately, it's possible to store up to three spells at a time so that they can easily be used in combat situations. Of course, characters need not rely on magic if they're good with a conventional weapon.

Character creation in the game is fairly simple, but there are a lot of options in how to apply skill points toward the game's primary statistics and skills. It seems viable to play through the game as a fighter, sneaky thief type, or magic user, though you will likely need to have proficiency in all types of skills to some extent.

Above all, the game seems successful at creating a real sense that you truly are deep down in some dangerous dungeon. The game's look and feel are so authentic that there's even a slight bobbing effect when the main character is standing perfectly still--this seems to represent the character's natural tendency to shift slightly and breathe in and out.

We'd be quick to admit that we've enjoyed the time we've spent with Arx Fatalis so far. Thus we recommend that players fond of the Ultima Underworld series, as well as first-person role-playing games such as System Shock 2 or Deus Ex, should definitely keep an eye out for this one when it's released in about a week. We'll have a full review soon, but for now, take a look at these impressive screenshots and movies of the game in action. And turn the volume up for those movies to better get a sense of the game's audio.

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Avatar image for jakeboudville

kinda impressive