Known as a cult classic among CRPG enthusiasts, Arx Fatalis was largely overlooked when it was released back in 2002 to PC and Xbox. Though visually, and in terms of contemporaries, it falls into the same period as the excellent, TES: III Morrowind, Arx Fatalis is a very different game, though quite good. The following is my quick take on the game, as seen 10 years in the rearview mirror since it's release (I played the game for the first time just recently in 2011).
The world of Arx Fatalis is superb. The seemless blending of high fantasy and sci-fi elements works tremendously, and the whole world has a strong identity unto itself. All of the game takes place underground (as the sun has gone out) and the mythology of this subterranean world is vastly interesting and quite unique. Carving out a strong identity is saying something in a genre bloated with Middle Earth knock-offs, so this is saying something. In fact, it's one of the few games of the period that I definitely think deserves a full-scale contemporary reboot.
Also, while certainly a linear game, there's also a fair amount of openness within the play. For instance, after the goblin section early on, I got what i needed from the king, and then decided to wipe out the entire goblin kingdom. Turns out, no problem. I like this kind of freedom and Arx Fatalis embraces it.
The Interesting and Innovative but Not-well-executed:
Magic is done completely through collecting different base runes, which connect to specific types of powers and skills. For instance, casting a fireball takes 3 runes and iceblast 3 except the fire is changed for ice. Great concept! Poor execution :(. Sadly, only 3 spells can be "memorized" or quick slotted for use, which means that in combat, while being bludgeoned by your enemies you'll stand there trying to scribe spells to fire back. Trust me, this doesn't work well. Also, the game is kind of finicky when it comes to exactly matching the rune when you try to scribe it in air, meaning you'll need to retry over and over at times. Again, great idea, but in practice all you do is store 3 spells and use them followed by your melee attacks. Oh, and while the spellbook is great and comprehensive, the mana pool is limited, and with only 3 spells memorized for use, again, you largely feel very limited here. Largely I just used fireball over and over and over, which some minor healing to boot. It's too bad given the complexity of the system!
The completely mixed:
Combat has strange difficulty spikes and valleys all through the game. Melee is definitley the way to go, as ranged and magic are very limited in scope (though very usefull). Combat is very much a clicking affair, though the usage of strong and light swings is useful, and you'll spend a lot of time running up to the enemy to swing and then backing up to dodge their attack, which feels like cheating. Because block is passive, the combat feels very, well, rote.
Voice acting and dialogue are just bad. No surprise and no deal breaker. Like many of it's contemporaries, i don't know where they found the people to voice these parts, but man is the writing et. a. poor. Thankfully the overall story is good enough to bolster the entire thing.
Also, AF has lots of the old CRPG moments where you have no idea where to go next and spend time wandering around levels trying to remember a place 10 hours before that you couldn't unlock that you now can. It makes parts of the game very tedious (and a walkthrough very helpful at times) which is very much par for the course given the release date. It's too bad that more wasn't done to clue the player into what they're supposed to do, since it pretty much IS linear, but there you go.
Solidly great game. Sure it has it's faux pas, but on the whole Arx Fatalis has that "je ne sais quoi" that all great games do. The world and environments are intruiging, the storyline fascinating and original, and though the combat could use some work, there's enough going on that you won't mind.