Ah, the good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, you don’t really see a lot of them these days. Everyone’s about the big open outdoor environments and their fancy sky effects. Me, I find it kind of relaxing to crawl around dark, dank environments exploring the nocks and killing the various things that inhabit those dark spaces. I remember the first time I booted up the first Wizardry…oh, wait, you’re here for Arx Fatalis, I guess I can save the stories for another time.
Arx Fatalis is a port of the PC RPG that came out last year. It was a solid first person perspective RPG and Dreamcatcher is hoping to expose it to a new audience by releasing it for the Xbox. The back-story of the game is that at one point all of the inhabitants of the world lived in one big city on the surface of the world. One day the sun disappeared and everything on the surface died and iced over. In order to survive all of the inhabitants of the world moved below the surface. This traumatic event did have the benefit of creating a bond between the races of the planet and they helped each other out during the transition, however now that they’ve been down there a while old tensions are re-surfacing.
As with most RPG’s the first thing you do is to create your character. You have the choice of four male faces for your character (sorry ladies, you’re SOL). Once you’ve picked what your character looks like you have to assign your characters physical attributes. You start with 16 attribute points to distribute between strength, dexterity, mental, and constitution. Once you’ve assigned those attributes you have 18 skill points to assign. The skills are fun things like stealth, melee weapon, ranged weapons, and lock-picking. The skills determine how you play the game. Want to be a sneaky bastard? Then crank up the dexterity and stealth skills. Going the vicious warrior route? Then crank up the melee and strength. With nine skills there are a lot of options to how you can approach the game, which is nice.
Once you’ve got that done it’s time to enter the game. The game starts off with you not knowing who you are or where you are. The good news is that you quickly find out where you are, the bad news is that you are stuck in a goblin prison. Thus begins the adventure, which has you breaking out of prison in search of your identity and how you ended up in a goblin prison. The plot of the game is rock solid and there are enough plot twists to keep you involved in the game. The developers have also done a nice job of allowing you to play the game however you want to. Each puzzle has a few different solutions so you’ve got options on how you approach each one.
There are some other nifty things about the game as well. Need to heal yourself, eat some food. Don’t have any food? Make some. You can bake pies and bread from flour and water. Want some more protein in your diet? You can kill a pig, get the ribs, cook the ribs and then dine out. You can even fish some of the watering holes in the game to collect fish to cook and eat. In addition to cooking your own food you can also brew your own potions and then use these potions to enhance your weapons.
Getting around in Arx Fatalis is easy. The left thumbstick controls your movement while the right thumbstick controls where you look. The left trigger executes a jump with the right trigger swinging whichever weapon you have equipped. The X and Y buttons activate the various aspects of the magic system (which I’ll cover a bit later on). The B button toggles if you have you weapon our or not and the D-pad controls your inventory. The Back button is used to access the spell composition, map, logbook, and master inventory screens. For the most part the control scheme works well, the game does a nice job of introducing the controls throughout the early part of the game.
My only real with the controls is that managing your inventory is kind of a pain in the ass with the Xbox controller. You can haul a lot of stuff around the dungeon and when you want to look for something to use you have to scroll through quite a bit of stuff before you find what you are looking for. The game alleviates that by automatically selecting an inventory objects that can interact with whatever is under the cursor. Another inventory helper is that can assign items to the black and white buttons but you’ll still spend quite a bit of time cycling through your stuff while you play.
Combat is part of any role-playing game and the combat system in Arx Fatalis is solid. To attack you hold down the right trigger and release it to strike. The longer you hold the trigger the harder you and the more damage you inflict. Whenever you draw your weapon a “power gem” appears at the bottom of the screen and shows you how hard your strike will be (the longer you hold it the brighter it gets). You can also change your attack by pushing a direction with the left thumbstick when you start to charge your attack. Arx Fatalis allows you to do a bit of dodging and weaving while you attack as you can attack, back up while charging your attack, and then move in to attack.
It wouldn’t be a fantasy game without magic and the magic system in Arx Fatalis is top notch. The magic system is based around the runes you find scattered around Arx, the runes can then be combined into spells. There are two magic modes in Arx Fatalis, the first is the “magic simulation” mode in which you enter the movement for the runes with the D-pad in order to cast the spell (each rune is represented by a series of directions). Once you’ve entered all of the runes you can either cast the spell using the X button or pre-cast the button pressing the Y button. Pre-casting allows you to save up spells for a later occasion when you may not have the time to enter the runes manually (such as when you are being chased by a bunch of pissed off trolls). The system is cool and helps to draw you further into the game. The second mode is the “Arcade Magic” mode where you just pick the spell that you want to cast and the game automatically selects the runes and casts the spells. This is ideal for those who want to quickly select spells and cast them without having to remember the motions for each rune and the runes by spell. The spells themselves are good and Dreamcatcher has done a nice job of putting together a nice variety of spells for you to play with. With 40 spells in the game you really aren’t going to run out of things to try.
Visually Arx Fatalis is bit hit and miss. The game features some fantastic environments for you to explore. The developers have done a great job of creating a wonderful environment for you to explore. From the bloodstained dungeons to the city of Arx there are some really impressive environments. Occasionally these graphics slow down the frame rate (especially noticeable in the main cities). The lighting effects are also tight and add a lot of ambiance to the game (light plays a critical role if you decide to play the sneaky route as the game allows you to hide in shadows).
The let down comes to the models for the characters in the game. Some of them are a bit blocky and not quite up to the level of the rest of the environment. They don’t look that bad but they do stand out in comparison to the excellence of the environment. The water effects are OK but really The other quibble I have is the font used in the game. I can’t place why it bothers me but it does feel a little out of place given the context of the game.
The audio in Arx Fatalis gets the job done but it’s not spectacular. There are a lot of cool environment sounds that help enhance the exploration sensation of the game but the rest of the sounds are a bit generic. The voice work is also a bit uneven with a bit of good work mixed with some not so good work (the goblins kind of grated on me for some reason, it’s like they all shared the same voice).
Another thing I really liked about the game is that you can save anywhere in the game and you can have as many save points as you want. This really allows you to take some risks and really explore the game without having to worry about backtracking through parts o the game.
Arx Fatalis shares some lineage with Ultima Underworld and that’s a good thing because at the end of the day Arx Fatalis is a rock-solid RPG that will offer fans of the genre a new world to explore. There are a few quirks to the game but the plot and environments help to gloss over some of the other problems in the game. IfGiven that the game can be found for around $30 the bang-for-the-buck factor is high and it represents money well spent.
Despite a few flaws, Arx Fatalis is a very solid RPG with a great story line. Be forewarned that you will lose large amounts of free time to this game without realizing it.
Rating: 8.6 Very Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.