RPGS are like buses. You spend ages waiting for one that's going to take you where you want to go, then three turn up at once. Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind -multi-coloured tour buses, mind you, full of beer fridges, saunas and nubile young wenches beckoning you wantonly inside. But now we're waiting again and the next one on the timetable is Arkane studios' Arx Fatalis. Something of a traditional red double decker, this one, not as highly anticipated but nevertheless full of as much satisfying promise as a warm, dry seat away from the mutterers.
Hailed as the spiritual successor to Origin's Ultima Underworld games. Arx Fatalis takes place in a world of darkness, plunged into a premature ice age by the sun disappearing from the sky. The tribes of men and monsters have been driven underground and carved vast cities from the rock. Now the only ones who dare to set foot on the surface are the intrepid members of the Traveler's Guild. But since then the tribes have started to fight among themselves, threatening the fragile balance of peace in this subterranean world. It's during all of this nasty business that your character finds himself waking up, naked apart from a furry loincloth, in a goblin prison cell.
From then on, well, you know the drill by now. You have to break out of your cell and make your way through the underground world, developing your character's stats and skills while uncovering the mysteries of the land of Arx. But what makes Arx Fatalis look like it's going to be a fulfilling experience for RPG gamers is the fact the developers have obviously paid a lot of attention to other titles, including those outside the traditional RPG realm, and created a jigsaw of a game made up of what they see as the best elements of each one.
One of the most obvious aspects that's been adopted is the method of drawing symbols in the air to cast spells, which works in a very similar way to Black & White. It's surprising that this hasn't been picked up by role-playing titles before, as it has a hands-on. arcane feel to it, as if you were really going to the effort of performing an invocation rather than just pressing a button. "To be honest; I think that every game designer on earth got the same idea when the first Palm got released back in 95," explains CEO of Arkane Studios, Raphael Cdantonio. "It was then only a question of finding the appropnate use for a sign-recognition system, and I think drawing sequences of runes in a real-time RPG is a very good application, as it brings something new to the spellcasting gameplay. You have to compose all of your spells in real-time, summoning the various elements that will make your spell, instead of simply clicking on an icon with no risk. This system changes the gameplay quite a bit. because you always have to think and concentrate before casting a spell."
As your skill in the art of magic increases, you'll be able to cast the basic spells quicker. Just in case faffing around drawing spells while trying to fend off approaching hordes is too much for you, the developers have built in the ability to hotkey a few spells for those with less nimble fingers. But it's immensely more satisfying drawing them by hand.
Pick and mix
You'll also notice a few Thief elements in the mix, including a light gauge to let you know how visible you are to the enemy, and particularly good sound effects which make it seem like something awful is about to happen to you about 99 per cent of the time. There are also more obvious Ultima homages in the way you can use plants to make potions and fire to cook raw food or even whip up the occasional pie. Underlying all these elements is highly story-driven quest-based gameplay, in the best role-playing traditions. While Arx Fatalis probably won't be the next Morrowind. it certainly has the potential to be a very enjoyable title, put together by a team that are passionate about creating an immersive RPG experience.
Download Arx Fatalis
AH.. . Ultima Underworld... what a game that was. It was technologically astounding at the time of its release, and incredibly it had depth of gameplay to match its technological ambitions. Its level design was breathtaking, the NPCs were intelligent and full of character and it was so atmospheric it had grown men quaking in their boots. It was a classic, and many predicted there would never be another game like it. They were wrong; there was another game that came out later that was just as good in every way. It was called, er, Ultima Underworld 2. So, the same people predicted there would never be another one like that one either. They were right, or were they? Let's take a look at the latest contender for the Ultima Underworld crown: Arx Fatalis.
Yes, the beginning, always a good place to start we think, and Arx Fatalis starts as it means to go on, in a dank, dark underground environment with as little light as possible. There you are stuck in a prison cell with no obvious way out while guards march up and down outside your door (sound familiar? It should...) and so your first puzzle commences, as you search every nook and cranny of your cell for a means to escape.
While it may be cliched and trite, you won't be thinking about that at this point. You'll be thinking about the graphics and how amazing they are. You'll forget you're in a dungeon that looks just like all the other dungeons you've seen in games of this type and instead you'll be staring at the guy in the cell next to you and marvelling at how incredibly detailed he is. You'll be looking at the torch in his cell and remarking on how uncannily lifelike it seems and your thoughts will race speedily ahead in anticipation of the graphic delights this beautiful game has in store for you.
Yes, that's right, even the walls are hugely detailed close up. Arx Fatalis then, is pretty high in the graphical detail department (No shit? - Ed). but it's also pretty high on keeping the action to a fairly pedestrian speed.
No Alarms And No Surprises
Arx Fatalis features some incredibly casual gameplay. There are no hit-and-run assaults, everything takes place at a leisurely pace from the moment you leave your cell right up to the point where you enter the city of Arx itself and find out your destiny (or the game's idea of what your destiny should be). Rest assured though, it's not long after you enter the city that things start to heat up. There's huge depth in terms of exploration and masses to discover while wandering the lush landscape, with a multitude of NPCs to converse with (although some of them are somewhat reluctant to say anything of use) and some great plot twists to discover. In the early stages there seems to be little plot development, but with a little perseverance you'll soon uncover all kinds of sinister goings-on if you have the patience to wait that long. And believe me, you're going to want to, as Arx is filled with exciting combat and tricky puzzles to keep you engrossed throughout.
The plot revolves around a demon called Akbaa who intends to return to Arx and make short work of it. Your intentions, as ever, are to prevent all this nonsense and save Arx from the Fatalis of the title.
Items you attain during your travels can be combined to create unique new ones, much like in Diablo II. Working out how to successfully link the runes you learn on your travels in order to make useful spells is one of Arx's most compelling features. Spellcasting itself involves tracing these runes on screen with your mouse, much like in Black & White, which makes spell-combat particularly tense, especially when confronted with some of the more powerful nasties you stumble across later on.
Sadly though, Arx Fatalis is no Ultima Underworld. The somewhat limited character development and NPC interaction and simplistic melee combat (see enemy, click mouse) let it down somewhat. Where it scores highly is in its fantastic graphics, believable and realistic environments, brilliant spellcasting system and eerily atmospheric presentation. If, you're after a solid dungeon crawl that oozes atmosphere, Arx Fatalis is more than worthy of your time.
Murder In The Dark
I'll Kill It... If I Can Only Find It...
Many of the areas in Arx Fatalis are pretty dark, what with it being mainly dungeon-based and all. This is a good thing, we love it. What we don't love is fumbling round in the dark trying to find what we're supposed to hit because our torch has gone out and we can't see the damn thing. It's particularly frustrating here, because you end up missing out on some stunning looking creatures in their full glory.
Any Game Steeped in the traditions of Ultima Underworld is worthy of continued attention, especially when it rocks up on Good Old Games. In fact, Arx Fatalis was intended to be Ultima Underworld III, but developers Arkane (responsible for Dark Messiah and the upcoming The Crossing) were unable to secure the licence.
Set in a world where people are forced to live underground because of the planet's sun has failed, Arx was innovative back in the day, with a rune drawing system implemented by using sketching out the outline of a spell's symbol in mid-air. You could select the spell without bothering with the runes business, but where's the fun in that?
The game also follows a part-linear/ part open-ended plot path, with the main quest, involving killing some guy called Akbaa, was supplemented by some side quests that allowed for more freedom of thought.
The graphics haven't been too kindly treated by time, but the fundamentals of the Arx Fatalis remain as solid as ever. And remember, this is the closest you are likely to ever get to playing Ultima Underworld III.
Arx Fatalis is the latest offering from Austrian based JoWood Productions. A solid, well designed action/strategy title with some role-playing elements, this game blends hack and slash techniques with an interesting magic system. Add a dash of thieving, puzzle solving and other RPG elements, along with an engrossing if somewhat clichéd (and linear) plot, and you're ready to delve into the world of Arx.
If you're at all familiar with Ultima Underworld, Arx Fatalis will be extremely familiar, with the first person perspective, runes, and item usage, such as combining items to make new products, prevalent in Arx. Though initially almost exactly alike, Arx Fatalis separates itself with a much more artistically designed world and improved graphics. In fact, the entire underground world of Arx is a testament to excellent artistry and graphics, giving the whole a gritty, spooky feel. Item usage, enemy AI, and other aspects of the game are for the most part extremely well done, as is the instructive manual. Sound is also excellent, and extremely necessary, as often dialogue is not printed out in text, and your character will often audibly let you know his status or needs.
One item that bears mentioning is the unique magic system. Although you will need runes in order to cast spells, you also need to manually cast each spell by using the mouse to sketch the runes magically in air'a nice touch. You can also precast at least three spells to be used instantaneously during battle or exploration.
This game has a few flaws, of course, such as some slight clipping issues, along with a limited number of avatars that can be used (only four, and all are male). There is also no multiplayer aspect of the game. Still, gameplay is so enjoyable and engrossing, I feel I must give this game a Recommended Buy. A must have title for the fantasy action aficionado, Arx Fatalis will also appeal to the novice RPG enthusiast as well. Those who like less linear plots might find the title boring after some time, but for the rest of you, Arx Fatalis looks to offer loads of solid gameplay.