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Reviewed: Arx Fatalis
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: September 12th, 2004
Page: 2
The basic premise of Arx Fatalis is the standard plot hook for many RPG/adventure titles; you've just awoken, your memory shattered, in a prison. The tutorial area is your fight to get out; after that you're on your own to put the pieces back together.

Through the game, there's plenty to explore. Seven large-sized underground levels are available for players to go back and forth in, completing quests for various characters and beating up monsters for fun and profit. This doesn't make the game as large as Morrowind or any of the King's Field games, but that's a good thing - those titles were most of empty space and time spent wasn't spent exploring, but rather trying to get from point A to point B. In Arx Fatalis, while the area itself is compressed, there are NPC's or plot points in almost every nook and cranny.

The game's got an item breakage system, so being careful about preserving key items is important. Armor and weapons - weapons mostly - will slowly degrade in a toughness stat when used. If they hit zero, they'll break, and that's that. Weapons that are not yet broken can be repaired by the player (though doing so will lower their maximum toughness) for free in areas with blacksmith tools available, or can be repaired with no penalty by paying gold to blacksmith NPC's. There's also a weaponsmithing system and itemcrafting, but with the exception of distilling potions neither of these is all that useful.

The magic system is intriguing, but changed from the PC to accomodate the Xbox controller. The guts of the system are in "runes", basic shapes that are drawn in the air. Finding a rune stone and using it gives access to that particular rune. Combinations of runes give magic spells - telekinesis, levitation, fireballs, invisibility, and so on. On the PC, these runes were drawn with the mouse. Since the Xbox doesn't have that, the designers switched over to the D-pad, aligning the runes with a series of directional presses like "up right down right". It's workable, but sometimes annoyingly easy to screw up, as the timing for entering the runes is relatively fast. Thankfully, players don't have to be casting these in combat. Up to four can be pre-cast and used later.

As players explore the game, they find a multitude of NPC's, all of whom want something. The Goblins want money. The Orcs are contented, but want an idol that the Goblins stole from them. The humans are embroiled in what their King deems to be a civil war, as well as trying to defend their lands from a group of evil warriors who are attacking them. That's just scratching the surface, of course. Each of these groups has a key role to play, and completing key quests causes the game's storyline to move on, chapter-style. Ultimately, your REAL role is to stop an evil god from materializing in Arx and destroying everything, though to say any more would be to spoil the plotline. Choices of what to say are relatively limited, and causing the NPC's to attack the player by talking is impossible most of the time; instead, simply attacking them usually works.

Every quest has multiple solutions. One of the beginning quests involves getting access to the rest of the game; there's a goblin in the prisons who, if rescued, offers to do a favor later. The player also finds a note from the Goblin chief, left unsigned. To pass the Goblin guards and get into their city area, the player can either get his friend to forge the signature, or else just pay a bribe to the guards.

In terms of bugs, the Xbox is almost too perfect a port. Notable game-crashing bugs from the PC version are not only present, but work the same way; for instance, attempting to summon a demon in a space too small for it will freeze the game. There aren't very many of these bugs, but the old adage "Save early, save often" is wise, especially if you're using one or two of the bugged spells on a regular basis. I also ran across a bug wherein I was able to slip past a barrier intended to keep me out of a high-level area and unable to return to the game, which wasn't good - keeping a series of savegames, and at least one pegged to each chapter opening, is therefore warranted.

Also a downside, the number of enemies that can be killed in the game is limited; respawns only happen between chapters, and the game "remembers" its entire map. While this is realistic, it means that it is indeed possible to completely clear out the game, and it produces a definite cap on the player's abilities at any given point, which some gamers may not like. On the other hand, this cap on abilities does keep the game balanced and the enemies relatively challenging.


Added:  Sunday, September 12, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Score:
Page: 2/3

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