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July 27, 2014

Arx Fatalis - Review



Game reviewed: Arx Fatalis
Version: 1.21
Created byArkane studios
Released: 2002
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 8/10
Est. Playing time: 25 hours
Price$5.99



Some games you give up on and others you complete. I have no desire to force myself to play a game unless I feel the time is well spent. Few games are good enough for that. I really gave Arx Fatalis a good chance. I never played it when it originally came out in 2002 so I have no fond memories that I want to still be true.

Gameworld & Story
The story starts out quite interesting with you put into a goblin prison underground and with your memory lost. You eventually escapes and but get soaked into new problems that stalks the world outside. Soon you are the only one that can stop the evil from prevailing. But the road is long and dangerous and there is many obstacles, not the least puzzles and problems that must be solved.

The core of the story and its development is quite ok even though it always comes back to you to solve the real problems and in that you feel rather alone. There are some surprising events though like who the rebel leader was and the total overrun of the town when you return to the city after having destroyed the meteorite.

I didn´t like the gameworld in itself as its span 9 levels with several isolated areas on each of them. To find out how you travel to certain places are not the easiest part. The teleporters helped a lot during the later stages of the game but overall my memories is of constant travels back and forth during a great deal of time with the game and that was very tedious.

The world is also quite limited since its only indoor environments into which you travel so you get used to endless, labyrinth like caverns or fortresses. In the beginning I thought the world was quite full of different features and objects to manipulate but after a while that impression diminished.

Rating: 2

Economy
Money has been a constant problem since the beginning of the game. I really recommend carrying a pickaxe to get some gemstones to sell. You must repair your weapons and armours eventually and that costs a lot of money. Then you need money to actually upgrade your equipment unless you find it on your adventure. I think the balance was pretty good here. There are skills that gives you less cost in the shops but I have read those are not worth investing in. Anyway, even though I never actually run out of important money, I was never able to have both the best armour and the best weapon. It isn´t that easy to come over money either. You mostly get your money by finding it as cash or more commonly if you bring with you looted equipment to sell. But your inventory is limited so you must carefully decide what is worth carrying.

There are not too many weapons or armours available. I have only found two shops and those where quite limited. There are a lot more plants and items for alchemy to find though. I never created my own potions since I find that quite boring but in this game I think it might be important to be able to get many healing potions. Those are very expensive and you need a lot for the hard fights. Overall the economy worked quite and the system with limited inventory which you could grow by finding bigger backpacks also worked well.

Rating: 3

NPC & Interactions
You will come across a few different NPC:s in the game that will mostly tell you what to do and where to go next. There are no dialogue options at all. You watch cutscenes in which you discuss with the NPC:s. Ordinary, lesser citizens and denizens also often have something to say even though it only adds to the atmosphere.

Interactions with the environment is much more developed. You often find items you need to use in the environment like wooden sticks you have to use to replace broken levers or you have to combine items to use. There are also many preassure plates, levers and hidden buttons and bricks in the game which is a good thing since they always give a satisfying feeling when discovered. If you are lucky they lead you to hidden treasure, or allows you to progress at all by hiding a key. I think this part is pretty well implemented.

Rating 2.5

Monsters, tactics & combat system
Combat is quite simple. You click the mouse button to attack. The longer you hold the button the harder you hit. Each weapon has a different aiming time so small light weapons are faster. I think this is improved with your dexterity as well. It´s good to see that different parameters affect this. What it comes down to, though, is that you run up against the target, make your swing and then retreat or circle around. The classical hit & run tactic. I have to say it is harder to execute this manouver in Arx Fatalis but that´s how I fought my opponents. They all have different attack speeds but it is impossible to see which range their attacks has.

I tried out a little ranged attacks as well and I am not sure of what to think. If you can find a good spot to hit your opponent fram afar and make him hard to get at you (a slow foe) then it makes sense. I killed one of the feared Golems with a bow. It took a lot of hits but it worked. I suppose that if you could find a better ranged weapon than the standard bow it might be worth it. At least if you have a high sneak skill. You could then attack from your hiding and do backstab damage.

You cannot parry attacks. You have to stay out of range and as I said, that is hard to see. Most opponents run straight at you and take the shortest path. I cannot say I have found any particular tactics used but it is possible to run from them or hide in shadows. One good thing is that some opponents might try to escape. 

There are not a lot of different monsters or creatures that will cross your path. The most common ones are goblins, ogres, serpents and rats. The crypt is full of zombies (which you must stake after they have been killed or they will revive after a while), mummies or liches and there are a few other ones like the dark priests. But overall, not too many. Some of them can unleash spells at you. You might be able to avoid them by manouvering quickly.

Overall the combat system works but just barely. I think Morrowind that was released one year after had a much better system.

Rating: 2.5

Magic System
You must find or buy runes to be able to cast spells in this game. When you get a rune the combination of the runes you own will reveal which spells you could cast. What is unique in this game is that you have to draw your rune combination for each spell manually before casting them. I am told you could save a few of them as shortcuts but overall I found this system very frustrating. First you have to find out which spells you will cast and then look at the runes for it. You have to memorise how the runes look and then exit the spellbook and try to draw them just as you remembered them. You need to be exact for it to work. I found this system terrible and loathed all magic in the game because of it.

When I have read about the game it seems that playing a mage gives you quite an advantage in the later stages of the game. There are a few instances in which you will rely on magic wether you like it or not like when you activate portals. You could find scrolls that allows you to cast a spell immediately before it disappears. This was very useful for me because spells like levitate and dispel are very important to progress in the game.

Rating: 2

Character generation & development
There is only one character you can start with but you are allowed to distribute attribute and skill points that will determine if you have more focus towards a warrior, thief or mage. You get experience points for killing monsters and complete tasks. When reach another level you are automatically assigned new skill points to your pool to use whenever you like. As always I save my points until I really need them. For example when finding a weapon that requires a certain strength or melee skill. 

To be an action oriented RPG from 2002 you have quite a few abilities to choose from and overall I think it works pretty well. The problem is that you will really get stuck if you don´t spend your skill increases carefully. For example, if you don´t have a high enough object knowledge which gives you the ability to identify magical items, you cannot use the magical items. You run the risk of never utilise the power of the game that way. 

Rating 3

Map design
I suppose I should give some credit because the game includes a crude automap. The problem is that it is ugly as hell. The way it reveals the map is crude and inexact and you cannot make notes. Very few - if any - important places are marked on the map so it don´t help you much at all. I am not satisfied with that part.

Having said that the maps and levels themselves are pretty ok. The game are filled with rooms, prisons, stairs, kitchens, temples, taverns, natural caverns and cramped areas. You can move everywhere you like but it took me many hours into the game until I found out that I could jump because the default space button for jumping was not active. That forced me to use valuable levitate scrolls until I found that out. 

The crypt in particular was my favourite place along with the fortress and goblin area. 

Rating: 2.5


Manual
The manual is well written and contains much useful information together with statistical tables and weapons lists. Nothing to complain here.

Rating: 4

Graphics, Sound and Interface
The graphics in the game is pretty good to be from 2002. The faces are crude and the textures are not impressing with todays eyes but I suppose it was above average at the time. It flows quite nice and there are no problems with it. Perhaps I would have appreciated more variety in the colour scheme. My memories will constantly be filled with different colours of brown from the caverns and goblin areas the rest of the game like the crypt and city will be gray.

The soundeffects in the game are pretty good, especially in the crypt and voices are used throughout the game for everyone you meet which is nice. Unfortunately the game lacks any kind of music or catchy theme so it will not be remembered at all for that. 

Regarding the interface I found it pretty poor. It took me quite some time to get used to it. The inventory is very small as well as all items you find. I had to decrease my resolution to be able to see my items more clearly. 

I hate the fonts used. It is very hard to read books and notes because of the colour scheme. And several times I got frustrated that I couldn´t sell a whole stack of the same items at once but had to manually drag each one to the shopkeepers containers in order to sell it. Things like these drag the interface part of the game down.

Rating: 3

Gameplay
The first five, ten hours I was hooked into the game and found it pretty cool and nice. Then the constant running back and forth begun to torment me but I gladly kept playing. In the beginning I was pretty impressed with all the items that was spread out in the environment and which you could use like finding a raw fish you can cook or use a dead rats meat to use on the fire for some better food etc. You also had to combine items to give you even more valuable items in the end. Most of that I never had to use. Food is a strange concept in the game. You have no foodmeter or anything to go by. Suddenly your character just say he is hungry and you have to feed him. Since you find a lot of food in the game that will never be a problem but for me they could just have skipped it or implemented it better.

Combat is pretty fun because you could throw things in opposite direction and get enemies to look that way. As long as you stay in the dark in stealth mode they cannot see you so I suppose this game would have been a good experience if I had played a rogue.

Combat is very crude though and there is very little finesse in it. I guess playing a mage or thief would have given a better experience.

I eventually tired of the game because I found it repetitive and the puzzles got harder and harder so I had to look in walkthroughs several times. The bottom line was reached at the end when I fell I had conserved my skill points very well and still wasn´t able to even kill one single evil guard back at the town. I then gave up and went on to other games. The problem was that this difficulty never came gradually. I handled most other battles fairly well except for the Lich. 

I never had any technical problems with the game though and bought it from GOG.com as most other old games. 

Overall, the game is not bad at all it is just unforgivingly unbalanced. I don´t know who its best competitors in the genre could be at that time. The closest game I can think of came four years later in 2006: Dark Messiah Might & Magic. That game was a masterpiece and had the best graphics I have ever seen when it was released. The game was extremely good. If you haven´t played that game I strongly recommend it. 

It had to be said though that Arx Fatalis have more RPG ingredients and is more detailed. The developers actually wanted it to be Ultima Underworld III but was never given the proper license for it. 

Rating: 3

Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2
Economy
3
NPC & Interactions
2.5
Monsters, tactics & combat system
2.5
Magic system
2
Character generation & development
3
Map design
2.5
Manual
4
Graphics, Sound and Interface
3
Summary CRPG value
24.5


Gameplay
3

3 comments:

  1. Nice review, as always. Main competitor at that time was, well, Morrowind, and Neverwinter Nights came out as well. Probably not a good time for Arx.

    By the way, just a few more games and we can make a trump card game, like with cars :-)

    ...actually, that made me curious as to what game has the most points in map design currently (can you guess I'm a fan of statistics as well?). Turns out Faery Tale II and Shadows over Riva share that spot with 4 points each. This obviously means you are now required to -finally- download Temple and play it until you reach the Wyrmspire Caverns, Halls of Blind Sight or Shrine of Air, each of which is easily good for 4.5 points (there are more, but I can't spoil everything). I might even move out of my chair and complete the darn cluebook...

    Oh, and Happy Anniversary. On to the next three!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I´ll put together an excel file of all games revisited so far. It will be interesting to compare different categories to each other. I am sure I won´t agree to all of them when having them in front of me :-)

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  2. Hi :). A review is always only what think the autor, so it can't be false. But if a new player read this review, he could miss a so great RPG that i wanted to add a little things about this game. I discovered it in 2 times. The first was when it was released, and i played it only 5-6hours before to stop it. i don't remember well. i liked it, but not so much. But later, i tryed it again, and it was like a "WOW !!! " i missed that??? Because in fact, when you discover all what the game have to offer, all his mechanics, when you become to really explore all the zones, become to discover all the NPC , all the power and way to fight, he s really really a very very good game. so immersive, with a feeling of freedom. you can explore it how you want, do the quest how you want, fight how you wants, etc ...
    So yes, it's not so easy to discover all during quickly, and maybe some players can miss a lot of things in this game as i did the first time. but the more you play, the more you enjoy this game.
    if someone never tryed it, just give it a shoot if you like oldies, and retro gaming , especially RPG of course :).
    That s all. i don't want to be critical at all against this review whivh is a very good one, but i just wanted to give an other opinion to defend a little this game who really deserve it. i hope you will understand that :).
    good game all , and welcome in the underground kingdom of arx fatalis :)

    ReplyDelete