Impressive first-person role-playing game in the Ultima Underworld mould.
RPG’s are two-a-penny these days, with titles like Morrowind, Dungeon Siege and Neverwinter Nights proving the most popular examples of the genre lately. Arx Fatalis however has emerged as something of a surprise contender, perhaps for no other reason than that it came out of nowhere, and is actually rather good. The game was in fact completed some time ago by French developer Arkane Studios, receiving warm reviews on the Continent, the game has now been regionalised for the English-speaking market. On first impressions, the influence of the Ultima Underworld series upon Arkane is plain to see, the game kicking-off in a dark and atmospheric underworld, steeped in mystery and intrigue. The game is played from a first-person perspective, too (a la Deus Ex), and blends the traditional elements of character progression, with a curious spell system, and a half-decent storyline – all delivered in some nicely polished visuals, to give a gaming experience that cries out for further investigation. With this in mind, the background story to JoWood and Arkane’s Arx Fatalis, is one steeped in the usual mists of legend and history. The sun has died, and everything living must survive underground, re-creating society in this new subterranean home where warmth can still be found. The gothic-inspired vision of Arx Fatalis is also inhabited by dwarves, goblins, and the like. It wouldn’t be an RPG otherwise, would it? In a similar style to rival Continental RPG Gothic, the player awakes with little knowledge of his situation, and no memory, imprisoned in this terrifying world, and it is from this disparaging perspective that the player enters the world and begins exploring, talking with the NPCs, and fighting for freedom. As touched upon earlier, the graphics of Arx Fatalis are taken care of nicely by the Arkane team. Not only is the player deluged with some tasty bump-mapping and lighting effects; the aesthetics show some excellent production values in being blended so expertly to create the designers’ vision of the game. The landscapes aren’t repetitive either, and whilst the scenery isn’t always entirely perfect, they combine with the echoing underground ambience of the game’s audio to make a genuinely immersive whole. The dungeon architecture is also perhaps worthy of recognition, and the landscape contains a decent amount of interactive objects. Whilst perhaps not as stunning as some notable RPGs out this annum, the sense of detail in the ability to repair weapons, and all manner of other side-attractions, really does add to the sense of Arx Fatalis as a ‘real’ and convincing place. Regarding the control system, Arkane seem to have taken their influence from some surprising places. The spell-casting system, for example, owes more to Lionhead’s landmark Black and White, than any other RPG title out this year. The spell recognition system requires you to draw ‘runes’ with the mouse, these runes can be combined to create your own spells, once you’ve progressed a little, and its actually easier than it sounds. The system’s very flexible, too, and rather intuitive, allowing you to move, fight, interact and cast spells, almost entirely via the mouse – which is a pretty good effort, and won’t take you too long to grow accustomed to either. As in any RPG worth its salt, the creation of a character isn’t too tricky, and allows you to explore the game, earning attributes as either a fighter, thief, or magician. The game story is also evolved nicely throughout the game, with Arkane displaying some nice cinematic touches with the use of atmosphere. All in all, Arkane have done a grand job of blending an original plot, some nice visuals, a decent control system, and an interesting world to interact with, into a rather good RPG. It isn’t perfect, nor ground-breaking, but what is does, it does with style. Definitely one for fans of Ultima, System Shock or even Deus Ex – despite the fact that the gameplay can be rather ‘drawn-out’ at times. A worthy,