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Arx Fatalis

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: JoWooD Productions
Developer: Arkane Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG


Graphics & Sound:

Arx Fatalis, the latest first person perspective RPG to hit the PC market, offers outstanding graphics and sound. Whereas Morrowind, which came out earlier this year, features gorgeous muted hues, Arx Fatalis goes for an almost photo-realistic look. Colors are bright, almost cartoon-like, and some NPCs, especially humans, look very realistic. Other NPCs, like the goblins and trolls, are caricatures of their typical fantasy representations, with exaggerated features, such as long noses, huge bellies and nipples, or colorful costume jewelry. All creatures and humans have an amazing amount of detail, and there are quite a few unique NPCs in the gaming world.

The frame rate is very smooth, except right after a new level has loaded, or when an NPC has been killed, in which case there is a second or two of jerkiness. Although water doesn't look too good, other objects, including wood, stone, grass, flowers, and metal, all have richly detailed textures and look very realistic. Chickens, pigs, rats, bats, mice, and fish fill the game world, and all look and move just like their real world counterparts.

Sound is very rich in Arx Fatalis. There are sound effects for every action, all dialogue is spoken aloud, the music is effective although subdued, and overall the audio is suspenseful and extremely well done. Most of the voiceover work is very professional, although a few of the spoken lines sound forced. You will be hard pressed to keep the volume down, though, as the sound is so engaging, you will want to hear every detail.


Gameplay:

Character creation in Arx Fatalis is simple, with both manual and automatic methods available. Only a few portraits are offered, though, and the protagonist is always male. The game supports four base statistics: Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, and Constitution, as well as a number of skills, including Close Combat, Long Distance Weapons, Technical, Object Knowledge, Stealth, and several others. All of these, including attributes like Armour Class, Life Energy, Mana, and Damage, are standard fare for RPGs.

When creating your character, and each time he levels, the game allows you to add 1 point to the base statistics and gives you 15 points to add to the various skills. Leveling occurs often, although you are not given the opportunity to just roam around and generate experience points (XP) at will. Enemy creatures are plentiful in certain areas, but tend to be clustered around quests, so as you pursue quests, you will gain XP and level.

Arx Fatalis is an amazing romp through a well thought-out game world. The sun in Exosta, the world the game takes place in, flamed out in the recent past, and this has forced its inhabitants underground. This means the game consists mainly of dungeons, the underground city of Arx, and crypts, mines, and other underground areas. Although not as expansive as Morrowind, there is much to do in the game, with lots of clever quests, varied combat, interesting puzzles, non-interactive conversations, lots of items to buy and make, and many spells to learn and use.

As just mentioned, one of the more non-traditional aspects of the game are the conversations: There are never any dialogue choices! Unlike your typical RPG, most conversations are played out in a letter box view, using the game engine to show your character conversing with NPCs. Your character will always appear equipped appropriately, though, so if your character is currently bare-chested, then that is how he will appear during the conversation. The conversations are usually pretty short, so it's not like you are watching a movie, but oftentimes the conversations have pertinent quest information, so it is important to pay attention to them.

Arx Fatalis has an inadequate journal and map, so to really keep track of things, you had better keep paper and pen handy. The journal does not offer sorting or filtering, but since it contains so little quest related information, that's not really a problem. The map is generally useful, but it does not label locations, and it cannot be annotated. These shortcomings are unfortunate, especially since games like Baldur's Gate II and Tribunal do a good job of tracking quest information.

The game is not completely linear, but there are areas that will not be open until you have completed a particular quest, or you have obtained the correct items or skills to access them. There is much freedom in the game, though, so quests can be completed in just about any order you prefer, and in a number of different ways.


Difficulty:

I saved magic and combat for the difficulty section of this review, because of all of the difficult aspects of Arx Fatalis, these two are probably worst of all. The other parts of the game that can be frustrating include the poorly constructed journal and map, but those have already been discussed. There are no difficulty settings for the game, but combat seems to be just about right, considering you have an adequately skilled character.

Magic, first of all, is available in runes and scrolls. Once your character has learned a new rune, if his magic skill is high enough, and he has enough available mana, then he can cast the spell. Spell casting is performed by drawing runes on the screen using the mouse. It is similar to the way the game Black and White handled magic, but it is fortunately much more forgiving in Arx Fatalis. What is difficult though, is remembering the runes, as there is no way to pause combat in order to 'look them up'.

There is some help in this regard, though, as you can open the spell book, select a spell, and the runes will appear in the upper right hand corner of the screen. As you then draw each rune, the corresponding helper rune will highlight, and once the spell has been successfully cast, they will disappear altogether.

Another aid is the ability to memorize three spells, whether from a scroll or runes. They are cast by pressing the keys 1-3 on the keyboard, but the spells unfortunately have to be memorized every time. This means you will be drawing runes constantly, either to cast the spells when you need them, or to memorize them.

Combat, whether using melee or ranged weapons, is straight-forward, but since you can't pause the game and still issue commands, it takes some real skill to do well, especially against tough opponents. Regardless of the type of weapon used, one simply has to hold down the left mouse button, which charges up the weapon, and then release it to strike at the opponent. The longer the left mouse button is held down, the more damage will be dealt, so it is often necessary to get away from your enemy, charge up the weapon, and then move in to strike.

Ranged weapons are handled in an interesting manner. When you hold down the left mouse button, the view zooms in, and this makes targeting easier. There isn't a targeting reticule, though, so you have to practice in order to become skilled at using ranged weapons in the game. Even with these frustrations, combat and magic are very satisfying, as they seem well balanced, with excellent spell effects, and wondrously damaging critical strikes.


Game Mechanics:

Arx Fatalis is similar to other recent RPGs, including the initial release of Morrowind, in that it shipped with a number of serious bugs. There are occasional crashes, some graphical glitches, and some problems with quests. Many of the bugs have been fixed in recent patches, and the game is very playable. On the test system used, crashes were infrequent. The game would occasionally minimize to the desktop, though, and there were some problems with conversations resetting after using portals, but overall, the bugs didn't really get into the way.

Arx Fatalis is far bigger, more detailed, and more enjoyable then I can really describe here. It has a highly interactive gaming world, a tried and true background story, varied and interesting NPCs, and an excellent character development system. Combat, magic, and questing is very well done, and there are plenty of well thought out puzzles. If you are a die hard RPG fan, or even just a first person stealth junkie, you will enjoy the game.

I just wish I had rated my previously reviewed RPGs a little lower, as that would signal to readers of this review that Arx Fatalis is so much better than most of what has come out before. It really offers great graphics, sound, and game play, and shouldn't be missed.


-Gordy, GameVortex Communications
AKA Gary Lucero

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 500MHz Pentium III, 64MB RAM, 16MB DirectX 8 compatible graphics card, DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card, 4x CD-ROM.
 

Test System:



Windows XP Home, 2 GHz Pentium 4, 256MB RAM, GeForce 4 Ti4200 w/64MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live! Value, 32x DVD-ROM.

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