Arx Fatalis Review
publisher: JoWooD Productions
developer: Arkane Studios
PII- 500, 64MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 750MB HD
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Nov 11, 02
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This week we've received a whole bunch of titles from the German publisher JoWood. Among these was the long-awaited first-person RPG Arx Fatalis, which was initially going to be distributed by the former publisher Fishtank Interactive. When we tested the last preview build of Arx Fatalis, we saw it had great potential in terms of RPG gameplay. The French developer, Arkane Studios did a rather good job on the original spell-casting system, which is one of the best ideas I've ever seen in an RPG title. Most games tend to offer standard and pretty straightforward RPG features. Whereas Arx Fatalis presents a novel, yet extremely simple technique of casting spells and chants (rather similar to what we saw in Molyneux's "Black and White" actually - Ed). In addition to that, the game is huge. It lets you interact with the environment and tons of items that can be found all over the dungeons and caverns. But, all of these nifty features would mean zilch, if it weren't for game's profound story that keeps you going.
Put another sweet and tasty rat on the fire. Nice, fat, and crispy is the way I like 'em!
Is that a tale tucked between your rat-lergs or what?
The brief introduction sequence will introduce you to the terrible fate that has befallen the people of Arx. Your character wakes up in a mysterious and unpleasant dungeon, completely unaware of his heritage (original - NOT! - Ed). After rescuing a fellow inmate and finding a way out of the prison cell you will be hailed as Am Shaegar, which means "the nameless one." The prisoner you've rescued also suggested that you might be part of a certain travelers' guild that may know something about your identity. From there, you're pretty much on your own. At the beginning of the game, your sole purpose is to exit the horrible dungeons you found yourself in. This won't be a simple task, since you're starved, unequipped, and have no idea of your whereabouts. So, yeah, it's gonna be a challenge...
Initially, you will have to get used to the interface and character control system. The inventory is well-designed and the controls can be adjusted to your preference; although I would strongly recommend using the default settings. Even though the game has a steepish learning curve in terms of controls, the entire GUI is intuitive and copes rather well with the game's complexity. There are several hot-keys for spells, scrolls, and potions, you should get used to if you want to stay alive.
Contrary to most FPS titles, the gameplay in Arx Fatalis doesn't revolve around sheer combat and mindless action. Unless you want your character to die of starvation, you'll have to keep a very large supply of food in your inventory. This shouldn't be a problem, since most areas are abundant with various animals and plants (rat ribs will be one of your main delicacies, *yum*). Most of the levels you travel through have all the things you need to survive the day. For example, if you find a raw fish, you can light a fire and cook it in a matter of minutes (make that, seconds).
Additionally, you can use your skills such as sneaking any time you want - for instance, there's a certain bridge you have to cross, but a huge troll will refuse to let you pass. To cross it you won't have to kill him, you can just shimmy across the wall behind him. So, as you may have gathered, Arx Fatalis doesn't have any restrictions whatsoever. You can cook, eat, sneak, cast-spells, create your own weapon, etc. However, when it comes to "weapon creation," there's a certain number of flaws that could've easily been avoided if the developers just made things simpler. For starters, stuff like armor and powerful melee weapons are in short supply throughout most of the game. But, when you finally find all the necessary ingredients for weapon-making, you're gonna have to learn how to use the appropriate forge facilities to mold a desirable object. The instructions for that are pretty vague. What's more, there are only a couple of spots in the entire game, where you are allowed to trade items. And, that's a major bummer since most of your weapons tend to deteriorate rather quickly and you'll often need ones. Such inconvenient moments make the game dreary. At first, you get to have fun slicing and dicing opponents with diverse weapons and spells, but after a while it just becomes a senseless search for weapons, mushrooms, and garlic. This doesn't sound very interesting now does it? The thing is that a good number of players is likely to be drawn into the story. Plus, there's a variety of items you can tangle with, so that can kinda keeps you busy for a certain period of time. Even though the game tends to look promising at the beginning, after a while you'll realize that it just cycles you through confined cave-like environments without any challenges or motivating quests that might reduce the monotony. This aspect has seriously downgraded the game's overall score. So, no matter how deep you may have involved yourself in the story, it still cannot compensate the game's general lack of gameplay depth.
Spell-casting, on the other hand, might salvage Arx Fatalis from becoming a regular dungeon-roamer. The player picks up different runes along the way, and uses them in several combinations to produce a spell. Of course the best part is that each spell can be hurled by holding down the 'CTRL' key and drawing the rune shapes on the screen in the required order. Pretty cool, and very easy to learn. Sorry to say though, that I was discouraged to find a small choice of spells throughout at the beginning. Well, actually, I've managed to survive through 8 enormous and extremely difficult levels, without so much as a twinkle of magic - I just couldn't find any runes. Hence, most of the spells won't be usable until later on. You can purchase some runes from a local trader, but it won't make any difference since they are very expensive and your cash resources are somewhat limited. Which is another unfortunate bummer.
This carnage is not my fault you know.
A ha! A sleep on guard duty! The king of Arxshnbaheshufx shall hear about this!
When you travel from section to section, you'll notice a great variety of opponents coming your way. Their appearance will scare the shit out of you, and their AI is not to be messed with - when it works. Sadly, there's a most annoying bug in the game's engine as well as the AI code. What frequently happens is that enemy creatures can jam on corners, between stone pillars, etc. When that occurs, the opponents become sitting ducks and the game looses its appeal and challenging aspects. Sloppy, rather, sloppy.
On the surface, Arx Fatalis seems to offer a pleasing variety of visual effects. The environments are abundant with texture detail and most of the objects can be moved or utilized by the player (for an RPG of course - Ed). Also, I rather like the imaginative variety of different beings. They are all beautifully animated and furnished with an appropriate amount of details. This unfortunately cannot be said about the weapon models, which look too simplistic. The physics are not bad, but there are some obvious engine drawbacks. The opponent-sticking syndrome is a very common occurrence and it shows that the engine has several unattended code bugs. A good example for that would be my "troll incident." I used my bow and arrows to keep the huge sucker at bay, but at that moment he started to climb a huge pillar that stood in his path and he jammed on the ceiling (!?!). "Alrighty then" - says I. Let's just install the patch and see what happens. Once the game was patched, the opponent-sticking syndrome was less frequent, but it was still there... And, that's not all. The patch doesn't address numerous issues such as jumping or climbing in certain parts of the game.
Well, I think I'd be happier if the developers included brighter environments as opposed to all of those gloomy dungeons and sewers we've seen many times over.
Fair enough, the game displays decent shadow and light effects from time to time, and the spells and incantations are luminous and colorful. Plus, I enjoyed using ranged weaponry such as the bow because it has a very effective zooming mode, which looks good and helps you nail down your opponent easily.
The sound deserves admiration all the way. Everything from music, sound-effects, and voiceovers is spot on. Sometimes though, I wish there had been more music themes in the background, since the endless roaming through dungeons and caves can be tiresome; a nice tune now and then could've brightened up the atmosphere.
Well, even next to all of the bugs I have to admit I had fun while playing Arx Fatalis. The game's innovative plot and magic system, supplemented with a great deal of interactivity, will surely appeal to most gamers, while the sheer complexity and skill advancement should please RPG fans. You just have to see what suits you. Still, there are many unoriginal moments in the game, such as restricted level design, engine flaws, annoying AI bugs, excessively murky atmospheres, and so on. Personally, I think the game would've been more enjoyable if the developers took the time to polish and fix the technical discrepancies and, shall we say, lighten up the ambiance a bit.
6.9 Above Average
Innovative gameplay elements such as intuitive spell-casting and weapon-creation scheme. Pleasing sounds and a wide-variety of opponents. Entangling storyline. A huge and complex game;
Too tedious at times. And definitely too dark. Pointless roaming through huge and claustrophobic dungeon labyrinths. Various bugs that cannot be mended even with the use of the latest patch. Buggish. Creatures get jammed on walls and objects that obstruct their path.
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