Arx takes place in a world where the sun has died out causing an ice age on the surface of the planet. The denizens of this planet saw the signs of the pending doom so they were able to band together to make underground kingdoms. Dwarves, Ogres, Goblins, Snake Women and Humans all worked together for survival but once they settled in the ties were kind of broken. There is also a race of rat people but they didn't play well with the others.
So the game has an interesting setting. Despite the environment being all cavernous, there are some unique areas such as underground lakes, Ogre run mines, secret temples, a vast crypt, kingdoms of the various races and a few other surprises. Arx is really just a classic dungeon crawler with all the right stuff put in it.
Too bad about the bugs though. The game often crashes because of a memory leak but fortunately frequent quick saves almost gets rid of this problem. After that there are just some AI and collision detection issues. Objects that impede the hero are simply stepped on and over by hostile enemies, I've seen people sleep a foot or two over a bed in Ghostbusters-like fashion and AI can easily be easily tricked or get stuck on certain things. There was also a weird situation where I would precast a spell too high for my character to actually cast so when I tried to use it, it would fail but still work as a "Remove Field" spell when I wasn't able to cast that spell either. It's just a bunch of minor and a major annoyance that definitely detracted from the game.
Character creation seems a little imbalanced also. I tried to make a character that was decent at fighting and had pretty good stealth but found out that if you don't devout a lot of points into a skill, that it is pretty much useless. I was able to almost achieve the character I wanted but by the end my character was still a little too weak in fighting. It seems the best way to make a character would just go all the way for a mage type or a fighter and then spend some points in skills like Object Identification or Trap Finding.
The graphics were good for the day and after a few years they're still not eyesores. I didn't experience any slowdown but like I mentioned before, there were a few clipping issues and the physics were a little wonky at times. I really enjoyed the environment and setting of this game for some reason. I think it had something to do with all the little nooks and crannies and the secret passages, things that really fleshed out the world of Arx.
Music was suitable while the voice acting was hammy and campy. The worst performances had to be the lead character and the snake women while the highlights would be the idiotic things goblins would say to one another. For a first in a game, a sound effect really got on my nerves and that is the walking sound effect. It just had this weird pattern to it that didn't sound realistic and just replayed over and over every 2-3 seconds the character moves. I know it sounds like nitpicking but in a game where there's a lot of backtracking and walking going on. Hearing the same strange sound over and over again is just bothersome.
I briefly mentioned Magic and that is one of the more original things this game does. Every character, more or less, has the ability to use magic, it all depends if you have the right runes and your skill level is high enough to use that spell. There are more than a dozen or so runes and finding a spell combination automatically gets the spell logged into your spell book. To cast a spell you actually have to make the movement of the runes with the mouse while in spell mode and if you hold down the sneak button in spell mode you get to store a spell in the precast section.
So while this set-up is original, it just doesn't work out too well. You can only precast 3 spells and after that, the system is too cumbersome to successfully cast spells on the fly in the middle of combat. If maybe the majority of foes didn't outright charge into battle, this would work but it's simply not the case in Arx.
There are some cool things you can do with items such as grind reagents to make potions, cook food and enchant items and these actions just complement a good inventory system based on puzzles and riddles. One obstacle was putting an ingredient that the goblin king is allergic to into his favorite food which causes the reclusive monarch to run get a bad case of the runs. In Arx, if you find something there's a good chance you're going to need it sooner or later. So keeping items in places you can remember is key in a game that has some brain busting puzzles. On the other hand, this game also has puzzles that are simply trial and error which will cause you to reload game saves and one puzzle I can say for 98% certainty I was doing it correctly but it never worked.
Maybe what's even better than these puzzles is that, in the occasion where I couldn't figure one of them out, I always had an alternate way to get what I want. That route was killing and stealing. In fact any character in the game can be killed and the only negative side effect is that the game brings them back to life for cut scenes. I remember being set on a quest to find a shield for this one group of people but when I couldn't figure out how to get into the room with the shield itself, I went back to the group, killed some guards and made off with the reward. Another time I just went into the snake women's kingdom and when they started to attack me, I slaughtered them all and made off with all of their goodies. I found out later that they could have helped me but I did fine without them. I enjoyed this freedom and it was nice how the plot or progress changed when key characters weren't around. If it wasn't for this one guy that I killed who mysteriously helped me out later in the game the game would have pulled off this aspect perfectly.
The story involves a cult that is assisting an evil God's trip into Arx's dimension which turns out to be a big no-no in the rulebook of the Gods. Along the way you'll run into who's behind the conspiracy, why and exactly how far it goes. You also get plenty of time to explore 8 levels of the underground, kill or help out most of the other kingdoms and also do a bit of tomb raiding and side quests.
All in all I was pleasantly surprised with this game. At times, Arx Fatalis is a pretty good game while at other times it shows how rough it is around the edges. I'd safely file it away in my underappreciated category also after playing through this game.