Arx Fatalis Pays Off For Patient Gamers
Arx Fatalis is one of the more ambitious roleplaying games that I have seen for the PC. This is no doubt in part because it is a clear homage to another very ambitious, though better executed, game - Ultima Underworld. But I want to make it clear that "homage" does not by any means indicate a lack of creativity from the developers of Arx. It is very much its own game.
Much like Underworld, Arx Fatalis takes place almost entirely underground. There are glimpses of the world above available for the curious, but since the story involves an entire civilization hidden below the earth to survive the difficult conditions above, this is rare.
This dark environment is both an asset and a shortcoming. It certainly becomes atmospheric and, in some place, tense. And some of the places you end up visiting have an otherwordly beauty to them.
Arx Fatalis is an extremely free-form game. You generally have the ability to roam where you wish while following the primary storyline. The world is populated with various useful items which may be combined at times to make better items. No doubt the best of these are ingredients for alchemical use and food which may be cooked at various fires. There is something satisfying about taking ingredients and making an apple pie yourself.
Exploration can be enjoyable and yield some nice treasure. And the fact that you can definitely run into places that are deeper than you can deal with at your level is a nice touch.
Of course, the real claim to fame for Arx is its spell system. Spells in this game are made up of runic combinations. In order to cast, the player must actually draw these combinations on the screen with the mouse. In a hurried situation, this can be almost painfully difficult - a problem somewhat remedied by the ability to "store" a few spells up for later use. But overall it really adds to the enjoyment and memorability of the game. I would love to see this idea used again with a more forgiving system.
The story of Arx is very standard fantasy fare for the most part. It is serviceable, though. I enjoyed the plot as it unfolded and the ending was satisfying.
Graphics looked a bit dated in Arx, even at the time of release. Sound was decent but did not leave a big impression on me. Thankfully, in an RPG, the gameplay takes an even higher place than usual.
The rune casting system was definitely clumsy when it was most important. Some runes I was almost never able to cast properly. This could have been fixed with a more forgiving system.
While I praised it above, the darkness of the game can also get a bit grating. If you play it for too long, you may find yourself longing for brighter colors and daylight.
Finally, the NPC's in the game were largely uninspiring.
The Bottom Line
If you have the patience to deal with the flaws, Arx Fatalis is definitely worth playing. Fans of Ultima Underworld should be especially interested.