Currently playing: Nox Archaist

July 18, 2014

Arx Fatalis - Revisited

In my desperate search for new roleplaying games I stumbled upon a game called Arx Fatalis released in 2002. I had never before heard of it but I read some of the reviews both at and at other places and got fairly interested to try it out. So here is my experience of this game.

The game comes with a 69 page very well written manual that explains most of its uses together with tables full of statistics (just what I lack today). It is written in a very personal way which only makes it more enjoyable to read. 

The game is a single player, firstperson rpg game but with more RPG focus than a pure hack´n slash game. You have several important attributes for your character: Armour class, Resistance to magic and poision, life energy, mana and damage. They change depending on what items you wear. When you create your character you spend points on strength, intelligence, dexterity and constitution. These affects your other attributes and also you skills.

There are a dozen or so skills in the game like stealth, close combat, projectiles and defense and more cryptical ones like object knowledge which is needed to repair armour, item or weapons. There is also intuition which helps you detect hidden objects, secret passages or traps. But also gives you better deals in the shops. There are a few more as well.

The background states that for many thosuands of years ago the world known as Exosta was inhabited by Humans, Orcs, Ratmen and more. They lived on the surface under the sky. But then the sun died and everything turned into darkness. The creatures was forced underground into the old Dwarf mines and made it their new home called Arx. In the beginning the races cooperated but soon the animosities between the races flared up again and led to aggression. This was nurtured by Akbaa the Lord of Destruction. Akbaa allied with the human high priest Iserbius and founded a cult that worshipped the dark master and spread his reign of terror. The cult was finally discovered by king Lunshire´s astronomer but he has shortly disposed of. He did however manage to send a message to the Sybarta which keep the balance of power between the gods. And it is said Sybarta sent a guardian to Arx to counter the threat of Akbaa by restoring the bonds that once harnessed the Lord of Destruction. To this day no one has seen the guardian or know when this saviour might appear and lead Arx out of darkness.

You start out in a dungeon. You have lost your memory and have not the slightest idea what you are doing there. By talking to another prisoner you soon find a way to break out and kill the jailer with a found human bone. From there, you manage to crawl out from a tunnel into the goblin stronghold who has got you captive.

I have just escaped from my cell and looks for something to plunder

You have to carefully move forward, bypassing or luring the guards away by throwing items in the opposite direction. You could also put out light sources if you have access to water. In this respect it reminds me a little of the thief series although it is far from Thief's exceptional implementation. Since you lack any items in the beginning whatsoever, you have to pick up everything you find and after killing the first jailers you could get hold of a dagger which inflicts more damage.

The game features voices for the goblins you meet. They go around talking to themselves or eachother or shouts during fights against you. Eventually I managed to flee into a natural cavern that I explored with underground streams and nasty rats.

There is an automap in the game but I have to say it is not very good. The maps are hard to get a good overview on and the fogness removal of them is not working too well. But it helps out in a very general way. You can´t even place notes on it.

The automap is not very good

The interface is fairly clumsy overall and it took me a few hours to get used to. The interface is sluggish and requires all too many clicks. I even had to reduce the resolution because the items got too small. Your inventory is limited and you have to manage it carefully because it gets full fairly quickly. Later on you will be able to buy a backpack to increase it.

Stealth is pretty well implemented and there is a skill for it. You could sneak up on enemies from behind and do backstabbing damage. I opted to go for a warrior though and put most of my skillpoints into strength, close combat and defense so my success in sneaking is very limited. 

After I had broke out from the goblin jail I came upon a human fortress that had just been overrun by an unseen enemy. A wounded soldier asked me to look for the captain and when I found him he said that the way to the city has been blocked by a slither. He asked me to find another way and report to the king what had happened here and to send reinforcements. After some time I managed to find a way that led me to the city. For the first time I came across shops that allowed me to sell my now full inventory. I got some valuable gold for it and was able to buy a better weapon.

I reported my findings to the king who said that the giants should be able to help clear the way to the outpost and sent me over to negotiate with them. I got into the giants parts of the underground caves and had to help them out for them to help me. They had put up a strike and refused to work for the goblins in finding gems. I sorted this problem out by going over to the goblin king and solved some minor tasks like poisioning his food in order to access his throne room. Soon I managed to strike a deal with the goblin king to let me enter a previously forbidden area in exchange that I saw to it that the giants returned to work. To make a long story short I completed these tasks.

There is a lot of tiresome running back and forth in this game. Your movement is pretty slow and it has gotten to bore me down a lot to go back and forth between the city and the parts in which the adventure takes place. It is true that later on I stumbled over portals that could be activated in order to allow for fast-travel. But they appear too late and are too few to really make much difference.

Combat is done in realtime. You have to move close in order to make a hit. Since you move quite slowly I feel the system quite cumbersome to use. It is very hard to measure distance. The more you hold your mousebutton the more damage you inflict before releasing the key. It seems there is only one type of attack. If you manage to attack from behind undetected you do backstabbing damage and if you are lucky you could make a critical hit but that is decided by your dexterity. 

I also bought a longbow and found some arrows. Using a ranged weapon do have its advantage even though the damage dealt is much less. At least you stay out of danger if you constantly retreat while shooting. But even so the system is not perfect.

I really dislike the use of magic in the game. You find runes and by combining them you gain access to different types of spells. You have to find or buy the runes. So far so good. The problem is that when you are trying to cast a spell you have to draw your spell by painting in the air in accordance to how the runes look. That is just ridiculous. It adds nothing but frustration and only takes time. I have decided not to use any magic at all because of this. 

And I haven´t understood why you have to eat. You find a lot of different kinds of food in the game. From the rats you kill to cheese and bread. And sometimes your character says he is hungry so you feed him some food. But there is no way in which you could see that your character is hungry or why you would need food. Food only helps very little in restoring your health. The best way is just to wait for the time to pass to restore your health. The developers surely thought they where ingenius when they allow you to cook your raw fish, meat or even combine different ingredients like flour and water to dough and by putting the dough into the fire it turns into a bread. For me, that just makes it tiresome. There is no fun in micromanaging different ingredients and that´s why I always never do alchemy in these kind of games. Did I say you find a lot of natural ingredients like leaves, flowers and stuff in order to make your own potions ? Sounds good in theory but for me it just micromanaging without much effects in the end. 

See how small my inventory is
Later on in the game the king and his advisors discover the dark rituals performed by cultists in their search for support of the dark lord Akbaa. My mission will be to finally destroy this evil and so I am sent to the temple where I should look for a meteorite that only I - the guardian that was sent - could destroy. This temple is filled with spell-casting priests that gave quite a challenge to me. The game is filled with secret rooms and hidden buttons. In one room in the temple I stumbled upon a Lich that trapped me. Despite five attempts to kill him I failed and had to leave him for now. Also there was some puzzles to solve involving golems. 

This is the king

When you reach a certain amount of experience points (XP) you automatically gain a level and could put one point into strength, intelligence, dexterity or constitution. You are also give 15 points to distribute between your skills freely. I like this system and it works quite good. You don´t have to spend all points at once. You could save them until you really need them - Something I use when the game system allows you too. 

Your weapons and armours will gradually degrade in the fights and if you don´t maintain them they will be destroyed. Since they are quite expensive to buy it is better you repair them or pay the blacksmith to do it for you.

I eventually stumbled upon the meteorite which I was sent to destroy but it wasn´t possible to harm it. Instead my life energy was sucked out from me when I touched the stone. The only way to harm it was to find two specifc items and combine them. That would protect me from having my energy drawn out. I am just now down where the rebels and serpents are in the world in a mission to try to recover these important items.

I am attacked by a ratman

The game started out very interestingly - like they all do. But after 5-10 hours it begun to degrade partly because of the long distances you have to run back and forth and also because the world is quite empty and lifeless. I feel I am past half of the game right now and perhaps I will see it to the end but the experience of the game balances between enjoyment and a chore right now. 

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