Arx Fatalis
Game Info
Arkane Studios
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Violence
The Good

• Strong retro RPG feel to the gameplay
• Lots of customization
• Combo-oriented magic system
• Nice attempt at a realistic world

The Bad

• Dated graphics and mediocre audio
• Hit detection is iffy
• Map and diary are pretty useless


Arx Fatalis is a PC first person role-playing game, originally released in 2002, that has been brought to the Xbox by the fine folks at Dreamcatcher (who also published Syberia and Still Life). The story presented to the player at the start of the game tells of a world where the sun has gone away. Man has been forced to live in the underground fortress of Arx as the sunless surface has become unlivable. In this underground world, man must deal with other races, including goblins, trolls and the violent Ylsides. Of course, the player begins the game as an amnesiac imprisoned in a goblin's jail. After breaking free from your prison, you find an outpost laid waste by the Ylsides and must go to Arx to let the human king know of what has happened. It's not too long before you find out about the evil god Akbaa, who, of course, you will have to deal with.

Arx Fatalis is an unapologetic dungeon crawling hack-and-slash fest. The player moves with the two analog sticks and uses the A Button to select items targeted with the reticule. As you walk through the game, you'll find a lot of items of different types that you can pick up. These items are stored in a menu screen much like the Diablo series. These items include plants, gems, weapons, armor and quest items. You can also use these items by using the D-Pad to rotate through your items and even equip weapons, armor and torches. You can also assign items to the White and Black Buttons for quick use.

When you have a weapon equipped, press the B Button to pull the weapon out. Hold down the Right Trigger to prepare your swing and let it go it release the attack. The longer you hold your attack, the more powerful it is. As you perform attacks, you'll soon realize that your weapons and armor can wear down and must be repaired, either by yourself when you find an anvil or by blacksmiths.

One of the biggest elements of the game is the magic system where the player must locate runes to cast spells. When you hit the X Button to cast a spell, you must input D-Pad combinations and then hit the X Button again to launch the spell. The first spell you acquire has you inputting Left for the first rune and then Down, Left, Up for the second rune, allowing you to light fires or torches. Of course, if this seems like too much work, you can turn on an option to just cast the spell from the menu screen.

One of the nicer elements that the game gives you is a certain attempt at creating realistic requirements. When you kill some monsters, you get raw meat from them. Of course, you can't eat this, but when you get to a campfire (that you will need magic to light), you can cook the meat there. You will want to take this time as eating food allows you to regain your health.

Because Arx Fatalis and Morrowind are played in the first person perspective, some may think they may be fairly similar. Don't make that mistake. While Morrowind is an open-ended game, Arx Fatalis is more of a linear dungeon crawler. There is some exploration available and if you look, you'll find some hidden loot, but for the most part, the game plays along a linear path. Don't take this as a bad thing as the heavy dungeon crawling aspect would have been overwhelming with a more nonlinear approach.

From a visual standpoint, Arx Fatalis shows some age as this game is obviously built some time ago. While I know I'm reviewing a game that came two years ago on the Xbox, certain elements of the graphics look like they would have been dated when the game was originally released. For a dungeon crawler, the levels look appropriately dank and dreary. While there is some blockiness to the levels, the level of ambient details more than covers this up. Stationary lighting proves to be decent in spots, but the real-time lighting that comes from lighting a torch works well enough without look spectacular. Visual effects work okay, but the effects from casting spells looks nice. Character models prove to be the weakest element of the game, both in animation and in how blocky they appear. In fact, I would say that most of the character models are lackluster and stand out from the fairly good level design.

Even with as dated and inconsistent as the graphics as, the audio portion of the game is even more underwhelming. The voiceacting is pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that it sounds like it was all recording in the span of one day by people with no voice training at all. Sound effects are decent and the music, when present, is rather odd, as if it almost works with the game's theme, but not completely. On top of it all, the audio sounds as though it were recording inside a tin can.

Along with feeling pretty dated, Arx Fatalis does have some issues. Hit detection is purely hit or miss. You can charge up an attack and move into your enemy only have it not connect at all. Or, at least, it doesn't seem like it lands. There's a bit on inconsistency in what you can pick up and put in your menu and what you can only pick up and throw around. Also, I really don't care for how sloppily the diary/mission log is done and the map is barely useable. Neither are really useful in aiding your progress through the game. Most of the time, you're just better off taking your own notes.

Please don't take my negative comments to mean that Arx Fatalis is a bad game. It is what it is - a solid dungeon crawler with dated graphics and audio. If you're a fan of the genre and want to relive the old pencil-and-paper RPG playing, then try and find this title for the cheap price it's going for.

- - Vane

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