A fun first person RPG with a great setting.

User Rating: 8 | Arx Fatalis PC
Arx Fatalis is a fantasy RPG game from Arkane Studios released in 2002 paying homage to Ultima Underworld, the game is set on a planet where the systems sun has gotten so weak there is no sun light on the planet, and so the people and various races temporarily banded together forgetting their past histories to construct cities and dungeons deep underground taking their plants, livestock and knowledge with them.
However soon afterwards the temporarily alliance proves just that, temporary and relations return to what they once were.

The games story begins with the character you design in classic RPG fashion (albeit a little more basic) choosing amongst a few stats such as strength intelligence constitution and dexterity and several other abilities both passive and active such as lock picking (technical) , casting and defence.
You're character appears in a Goblin dungeon wearing only a loin cloth and is dragged into a cell, what's worse is you've got amnesia (or have you?) and your character is likely to be killed by the Goblins sooner or later, as you play the game escaping from the dungeon and exploring you will be given quests and eventually uncover your past and your true reason for existing.

Throughout the game the cut scenes usually take place within the game engine so you'll see a third person view of your character and the other people chatting away but occasionally during important parts in the stories progression you'll be presented with some nice 2d art stills which pan across as a narration continues and some of the art is really good like the old medieval manuscripts its inspired by.

You play the game via a first person viewpoint, keyboard to move your character and to access inventory and click to interact with objects on the screen, it should be noted that there is alot of items to interact with, for example much like in Morrowind you can pick up most items in the gaming world such as flowers which you can use if you have enough alchemy skill to make potions, but unlike Morrowind even the non-resource items can actually have purposes - for example there are some puzzles which actually involve moving around blocks to weigh down panels and traps, and there are several story puzzles which require certain objects to placed in order.

But this also leads to a mix bag for the games quality, the puzzles, some are not entirely taxing and pointless, others are fairly challenging and quite rewarding to beat and the ugly puzzles are just downright awful such as the almost cryptic ...crypt puzzle involving various rune stones and a diagram on the floor with almost gibberish for instructions which are only explained once!

Graphically everything still looks ok, the game didn't look great back on release and yes its aged but still respectable, character models are mixed all of them look a little too angular and the animations are pretty poor on non humans as is evident with somersaulting rats and giant spiders and on most human characters bar the Ysilde Warriors.

Terrain looks pretty boring on the uneventful dungeons such as level 3 and level 5 but for the most part its varied and helps make the game more visually appealing with some interesting locations such as the arx castle, dragons caves, the human fort, goblin dungeon and so on.

Combat is also handled with the mouse, you can charge up attacks and unleash them if timed just right to hit the enemy and bypass their armour, occasionally being rewarded with a critical strike, maybe you snuck up on someone and delivered a backstab for more damage, also as you play the game you can stealth in shadows depending on armour that's being worn and your stealth skill which is represented in a 'man sneaking' icon.

The combat can be fun, its not strategic at all or as tactical as combat in traditional turn based games such as Fallout or even other real time combat in RPG's such as Baldurs Gate, but you need to time attacks just right , use potions , use pre casted spells too good effect and some combat in the game can be quite challenging particularly the early encounters with the Ysildes which leads to some tense battles.

An interesting element of Arx Fatalis game play is also the unique casting system, you have a mana bar but instead of activating spells via an icon you have to hold down a button and use the mouse to drag out each individual "rune" sign on the screen and a combination of 2 or 3 activates the spell , I thought this was a good addition to the game which at least helps make Arx Fatalis stand out from the RPG crowd, magic doesn't end here though, you can use scrolls and pre cast spells and hold down a key to que up 3 spells pre casted and activate them with the number keys , so you could store up three fireballs and unleash them in quick succession to obliterate enemies.

Also you talk to other characters in the world just by double clicking and listen to their conversations, however there's never ever any dialog options only a set piece of dialog exchange from your character (who's given the name Am Shegar) and the other person, this can make the game at times feel like a glorified adventure game with stats, BUT there is also real choice and consequence in this game which Ill move on to....

…right now! Your actions in the game have consequences later on, for whilst you cannot alter the game via non-existent dialog options which is a real shame, you can undertake actions which have marked effects. For example there are several quests in the game were you can usually choose one faction or another such as with the Goblins on level 5 maybe even kill both or do nothing?, or you can just refuse to help the girl Shany from being sacrificed, maybe not help the ghostly spirit in the kings tomb - huge consequences in the games ending and my favourite, you can kill any character you want.

The music in the game is pretty good, its not exciting but its no overbearing either (unlike oblivion or any Jeremy Soule piece) its ambient music - hardly as good as Fallout series (or anything by Mark Morgan) but its decent enough and there's a separate piece for each dungeon level in the game and the credits music is ok too.

Sound wise, well the game is also a mix bag, some voice overs are good noticeably the king Lunshire, the undead and the stupid Goblins , some cant really fault they are ok these being the snake women of edernium but others are just downright bad for example the kid characters sound like a badly put on voice and the main characters voice himself, am shegar sounds so bored and uninterested.
The sounds of the dungeons are solid - same goes for fighting and casting spells but the voice overs are mixed quality wise.

The game takes a good 15-20 hours to complete Id say, with a few dungeons to explore but the game world is pretty small you're backtracking around the same dungeons for most of the game , there are only a handful of NPC's and fewer still that actually do anything other than mumble the odd line of dialog, furthermore each dungeon level is small and you can easily explore each one fully in less than 20 minutes.
There are however some secret areas and some side quests to undertake - with even some secret side quests.
Furthermore while you can interact with lots of items in the world the most important items, the resources don't seem to respawn so once you've picked all the flowers or lilies in a place they wont grow back which means only a limited number of items can be player crafted, also the economy in the game is very basic, as in there are also no respawning items for shop keeps (not that there are many at all) which again means that items that might not be valuable gold wise should be used with great care such as health potions. (especially when you come up against Ysildes)

As a player you'll probably feel driven to continue playing the game by the storyline itself, the setting is great and sets up for a good story with the amnesia angle , finding out true identity and purpose to save the world but the story at times seems abit muddled, story elements at times seem suddenly tacked on with little back story before they are even mentioned but these moments can be forgiven because overall Id say its a good enough story to give some impetus to keep on playing.

So Arx Fatalis is a decent real time first person RPG light on dialog but with some choice and consequence, it looks average and has some good ambient music with an interesting setting and story and I would recommend fans of RPG's picking it up , especially given how cheap it is nowadays (if you can find it)


.Art direction is very good overall
.Ambient music is fitting
.Some choice and consequence game play
.Most puzzles are fairly rewarding to work out
.Setting is great
.The story is quite interesting overall but not great
.Quite abit of interaction in the world – lots to cook, potions to make etc
.Combat can be quite fun and intense
.Challenging difficulty .Game lasts a good 15 – 20 hours which is a decent enough length.
.Terrain looks good still even after all these years and each level is varied.
.Character creation and development is quite good although a little basic .Unique casting system much more involving than normal RPG's.

.Some story elements are introduced too suddenly "you have to destroy this meteor" ok where is the preceding back story why am I hearing about this now?
.Voices overall are average, some are good such as the king and goblins but others are pretty poor such as Am Shegars.

.Character models look pretty poor due to them being quite angular .Some animations are likewise pretty poor
.Very few NPC's to interact with
.While there is some choice and consequence to the game play there's no dialog options which makes this RPG at times feel more like an adventure game with stats. .The game world seems too small
.And there does not appear to be many side quests
.Some puzzle are ridiculously difficult – the crypt one for example and are not fun
.Limited economy and resources don't respawn, once they're collected that's it