The Plot

Arx used once to be a very rich and busy City, ruled by the greatest of his kings, King Poxellius. Wisely he faced every adversity, winnig the love and the respect of his people, which considered him a kindly and clever leader. There often was trouble with goblin and rat-man raids, but thanks to the well-trained skills of the city guards, Arx always was able to defend itself, pushing back the attacks almost easily. But the hard times were to come when the only thing that never should have lacked began to fade....

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The Plot

The sun, the only certain thing in a world ravaged by wars and hate among many different races, began to fade, and the land became colder and colder, ntil the mere survival on it was seriously threatened. Poxellius then decided to enter into an agreement involving the dwarves, one of the most long-lived races of the planet, the only people who were able to save itself form the catastrophe by finding shelter in the boundless underground realm structured in tunnels and caves which they had built in the years.
In the year 226 began the exodus into the underground of humans, trolls and goblins which, in the name of survival, put aside hate and misunderstanding trying to help each other digging a new home for their people and their possession.
The rat-men tried to do the same, but without any agreement with the other races.
Meanwhile the realm passed from Poxellius to the hands of his heir Lunshire, who completed his father’s job taking about five years to transfer the human race from the surface to the underground caves.
After the great trouble brought by this immense transfer, the old grudges among the races came back again; soon the peace was broken by frequent fights which used to take place on the surface as well.
The evil Akbaa, god of destruction, decided to show himself in this underground world, as if trouble was not enough for the creatures of the cursed planet, and sent his minion; it is because of this fact that your charachter will enter the game.

The character

After the beautiful intro, which presents the climate of tension among the many different races that dwell in the underground world, the game allows you to create your own digital alter ego. You will be given a sheet to compile with the base skills of the carachter; the stats will grow higher with your level as you will find some extra points to assign to them. These points will be added to both stats (strength, dexterity, intelligence, constitution) and to the skills which determine your “class” . The skills may be physical (sneak, use of weapons, melee fight, defense) of more intellectual (ethereal joint, intuition, use of magic), also including technical abilities (like the knowledge of items).

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The character

As you can see, though there is no selection of the class you will play, you may determine the charachter’s skills by assigning the points as you prefer at the beginning and while your experience increases. The system works fine, but the game seems to be easier for a generic charachter. To face the adventure with a charachter who is too much skilled in one single ability (for instance a wizard) is actually a suicide; the game becomes almost impossibile if you cannot do a bit of everything. The ideal class is the warrior/mage. If you want to survive, and successfully face the game quests exploring every single level, you must have full control of both magical and fighting abilities

Game Controls

As I said, there are many similarities between Arx Fatalis and Ultima Underworld; the old players will be moved when they will find again some solutions that they have already seen in the games mentioned above. I admit that, when I saw other people trying the game during the last edition of the SMAU in Milan, the game control system seemed to be a bit complicated, not only because of the fact that some controls are indeed strange, but mainly because some tend to think that combat is the only feature in a first-person game. Anyway do not fear, Arkane developers took care about this and you will find that the game controls are all customizable. There are two different interfaces, one shows combat and movement (and it is based on the usual controls of the first-person games, you may look around by using the mouse), while the second is the one that interacts with the environment; the interactive mode allows you to use items you have in the inventory or around you

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Game Controls

There is an option among the game preferences which allows you to switch from one mode (movement/combat) to the other (interaction); this may be done by right-clicking on the mouse (for instance when you have to pick up an item off the ground near you, you can move close to the object, look at it and then get it and put it in the inventory), and release the right button of the mouse to return to the movement/combat mode.
The game is in real time, you cannot put it in PAUSE mode by pressing the space bar like in “Baldur’s Gate”.

You will find that the “crosshair”, the viewfinder which is present in every first-person game, will disappear when a fight starts. This might give some trouble especially while casting a spell, but remember that arrows and spells and blows are directed to the center of the screen while you fight, so you will not miss the viewfinder after you got a bit used to this fact.

The Combat

The fight system is actually identical to the one you had in Ultima Underworld. After you have selected your weapon, just press the key to pass on to the aggressive mode, and click on the mouse to strike the opponent; the blow will be more or less strong according to how long you keep the mouse button pressed. For more accuracy, you may combine movement keys to the blow, for example use the back arrow to make a lunge, and try left and right arrows to have the other kinds of blows form left to right and so on. The use of bows and arrows is clearly inspired to the one of the game “Thief”, by Looking Glass (which now does not exist any more); once you wield the bow, left-click on the mouse to take aim, and the game will zoom on the target allowing more precision of your strike. You can keep the aim as long as you want, while in “Thief” this use of the bow made the charachter tired and the game forced you to release the arrow after a while.
The arrows’ trajectory will always be straight, and not affected by gravity.

The weapons you may use in the game are the most classical ones. There are two-handed and single-handed swords, small and big axes, hammers, daggers, staffs and even bones to strike your opponent. Armors are typical too, you have hide cuirass, chain mail, full plate, and many kinds of shields. You also may find magical or rare (for example mithril) armor.

I was a bit surprised when I noticed that there is not much difference in the damage you deal with big or small weapons; one usually deals much more damage with a huge sword than a dagger, yet opponents do not seem to be more or less sensitive to the different kinds of weapon in use, you simply must try to find the most powerful weapon you can and it will have the same effect on any opponent.

The Magic

The reason why you should also use magic is not only the fact that a single-class charachter’s life is harder, but also the great fun you will have by using it and the perfect realization of this Art in the game.
I think that in Arx Fatalis you will find the most complex and refined system of magic ever implemented in a CRPG, both for the quality of spells and their use, which is very realistic as you realize how difficult it is to make use of the magical arts during a fight. If you are fond of fantasy books and play games like D&D (true Roleplay with dice and charachter sheets and miniatures and much imagination in your mind), you already know that the wizard is the hardest class to play at the low levels, the most fragile, but the most efficient and destructive once it reaches the high levels. One often forgets the fact that a mage must learn by heart all of his spells, which at the beginnig are only a few ones and not so powerful, and that spellcasting requires much concentration which becomes a great physical and mental effort.
You will find all of this perfectly transposed in Arx. To be a good magic user you must be fast, precise, remember your spells by heart and use the right ones at the right time, so forget the “machine gun” wizard you used to have in Diablo and Baldur’s Gate. Let us see how does it all work.

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The Magic

The system is based on runes and mana. Runes are magical symbols that you must collect on your spellbook. Each rune has a specific meaning, and you will have to combine them in a certain order to obtain certain effects. Mana is the magical energy the wizard has, and each spell consumes a quantity of mana according to the powers, the duration and the level of the spell itself. There are two ways to regain mana, by resting or using potions; in the first case the regain time depends on your intelligence and magical skills, while if you use a potion it depends on how much you drink and on how powerful it was.

As you collect runes, you become able to cast more and more spells; there are 40 base spells (10 spell levels with 4 spells each), and some more secret spells you have to discover.
You may use spells in many different ways, the most important come in 4 categories of spells: defense, attack, cure and enlargement. The first kind of spells increases your defense against several weapons, the second allows you to hurt the opponents (by magic missiles, fireballs and so on). The cure spells are used to regain hit point, cure poison, and the spells of enlargement increase the effectiveness of your senses (haste, resistance, wizard-eye and so on).

Spells are well-balanced and you will find them very useful, there are only a few which are never used.

To cast a spell, press the key to get to the spell mode, use the charachter’s hand (controlled by mouse) to combine the runes, and if you put them in the right sequence, with the rigth amount of mana, the spell will be casted correctly.
This system may look funny and comfortable in a quiet situation, but when you try it in in a frantic moment while fighting against an opponent, you will see that it is not easy to remain focused and remember the right runes at the right moment as a buch of trolls is attacking you!
Last but not least, the runes must be recalled using a strange magical powder which is much harder to use when you’re facing an attack. In fact, you should compose an image by using the mouse and it may end up deformed so that you don’t see exactly the rune you are creating; you must use your intuition to draw correctly the runes you need.
All of these things make the system of spells in Arx Fatalis one of the most complex and interesting ever seen in a computer game.

Opponents and NPC

Despite the fact that the world you will explore is quite wide, there are only a few living species, and this may be considered a fault in the game. There are many opponents, and they often challenge your abilities, but there is not much to choose among the races that you have to fight against, especially when you raid free areas which are not dwelled by “civilized”races, you will find yourself fighting against rats, spiders and three types of undead creatures.
Anyway these areas only represent a connection between some more interesting places which are more important for the game plot and story (and these are much wider and important), so you can consider them as small interludes.
The opponents’ behaviour has been developed with great care, and it fully shows the use of the artificial intelligence of the game. The monsters have a different attitude according to their race. Goblins, for instance, are social beings but quite wimpy so if you face only a single one it will attack you bravely at the very beginning, but it will flee as soon as it gets too hurt, shouting to get some help from his companions. Spiders and other animals do not do this, while humans and undead creatures will make use of both physical and magical attacks. What is more, if you face a bunch of opponents they will try to encircle you instead of standing on only one side.

Levels

The game is structured in 8 levels, each one with its own graphical style and races of NPC involved in it. At first the areas to explore are only a few, and the plot is quite simple, but after an hour of game or so, you find yourself free to explore almost anywhere. The level of difficulty increases as you descend deeper and deeper in the game levels and after some hours of playing you are able to intrude the most hidden places of the underground realm, unlocking new areas one by one as you follow the main quest of the game, each one with new elements to deal with and harder challenges. The levels’ design is very detailed, you will find very complex passages in some levels, while others look more logical (like, for instance, the city of Arx which is built in medieval style). Furniture and textures are brilliant, and models have lots of polygons.
There also are a lot of secret areas, some you will find with a careful study of your map, some are more hidden but the player is motivated to search for more

Playing

Let us now spend some words about some sensations you get while playing this game. Much depends upon on how much you like to play first-person computer games. This game favours a pragmatic style of exploration, and your inventory will be almost full ever since the very beginning; you will often deal with almost useless items, just to see what are they for later in the game.

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Playing

Interaction with NPCs is quite essential, because the game is based on the main charachter you control; this also shows during the dialogs, you cannot choose your answer, they only take place in animated sequences.
Some charachters have a precise behaviour (for examples shops are open only by day) but the heart of the game is your charachter and his/her actions. Everything that happens depends on what you do and what is the level of the plot you have reached. This fact, combined to the first-person style, increases your emotions and envolves you more and more while playing.
After less than half an hour of game you will have to explore, cook your own food, go fishing, build something... and almos forget about fighting; many quests can be completed without using any violence, by alternative means like a cunning use of items in your inventory, a careful exploration and so on.
The plot is classical for some aspects, but it also has turnings of events you don’t expect, making you hunter or prey depending on situations, and often in a very surprising way.
At the beginning there is no precise opponent (and this will remind you of another masterpiece, Planescape Torment), you are alone and trapped and you don’t even know your name or what you are doing here, you face the first events without a chance of reply, except for “what do you have to gain in being involved in this new situation and doing what you are asked to do”. Anyway this will not last long and you will soon become much more active, when you are revealed your true role in the story. From now on, you will be able to do almost anything, encouraged by the richness of details and the great care taken in developing the game. As said before, your inventory is always full of items you can use in many ways, and you will have a chance to cook bread, bake a cake, create your own fishing-rod, forge or repair your weapons, and so on. Some of these actions are only for your fun and are not related to the main plot, but a poisoned cake may reveal very useful.
Like many other crpgs, Arx Fatalis lets you find a lot of books to read to gather more information. You may come across these books in shops or while exploring buildings, or anywhere around you in each level.
The amount of written text does not compare to the one you have in Baldur’s Gate or Morrowind, but it is very important anyway: any information you get may reveal essential to continue and understand the game, while some are needed to complete the quests.

It is hard to give a judgement about the game difficulty, it depends on how you feel to play first-person games and on your ability to develop the charachters’ features in order to face the aspects of the game. A warrior-mage is quite balanced from this point of view. No fight will be reveal itself impossible, not because opponents are weak but because a cunning player will soon understand how to move to avoid too much damage, keep the right distance, and combine magic and steel in the most profitable way. You will see for yourself how challenging it is to be attacked in a confined space by a good opponent, especially if the situation forces you to make use of magic during the combat.
Quests also are funny and you will have to solve interesting riddles and enigmas, not only by pulling levers or pressing buttons but mostly through a careful observation and exploration of the surroundings, maybe not with a strict logic but this seems to me an advancement in quality, if you compare the game to the current standard crpg, and a return to a model which seemed lost.

Technical observations

From the technical point of view the game is almost flawless.
Despite the fact that the whole story takes place underground, you often find wide and complex landscapes, which will not give any problem of slowness even on quite old computers. Models have a good number of polygons and textures are well-defined, with a bump- mapping that makes them look very good. Even waterfalls or lava streams do not slow at all the game while you take a look around. The animation and special effects of spells are graphically very nice, for example explosions and effects of luminescence, walls of fire, magic missiles, and as said above, the game does not slow when these effects are shown even on high resolution. The only effect you may not like are the strange angles in the effects of creation of a portal (portals have a pyramidal shape and angles come out because the sides are oblique), but you may remove this by using a full-screen antialias, which should be always available (* non so come si dice scheda video). The luminescence effect on magical weapons and armor is not so thrilling too, but these where the only faults I could find in the whole game, it was quite hard indeed to find some faults, which means that the game was very carefully developed.
Audio effects are nice too, there is no real music but the sounds of the surroundings which are a bit repetitive, so after a while I preferred do hear only the charachter’s footsteps sound.
Loading time is a bit long, especially when switching to a new level, and I did not find much difference between loading time obtained with a 512 Mb RAM or a 1 Gb RAM, it was the same, but patch 1.14 and 1.15 updates should solve these problems

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Technical observations

The space required on HD for the game is between 650 and 750 Mb but much depends on how many saves you store.
The game shows no problem as regards compatibility or frame rate. I tested it on a AMD Athlon Xp 2000 with a GPU based on a Sis Xabre 400 chipset and it worked very well on full detail even without the full screen antialiasing; resolution was1024x768 px with a 32-bit palette. I also tested the game using a Radeon 7500 GPU and noticed no difference; these are two very common GPUs so I suppose that those who have better ones will enjoy the game even more setting full screen antialiasing on and increasing the graphic detail which already is remarkable.
I tested both the english and italian version dialogues, and I found the original version sounded much better than the translated one, though I much appreciate the translation of the game, I feel it sounds much better in english, for italian dubbers are much less expressive and give almost no emotion in the dialogue. During a battle, for example, you don’t hear the original wild battlecries, but strange statements like “you fight like an altar-boy” or “you will not arrive alive to the prison” spoken in a voice that reminds you of some tearoom conversation instead of a fight for your life in a dark cave.

Final Comments

Time to sum up.
I found a very good gameplay, exciting battles, which may be solved in many different ways (for example I once reloaded the game to face a fight with magic only) with a bit of fantasy, the underground world has many different places to explore, and though there are only a few races of creatures, they are very well portrayed. Faults are few and marginale; one may say that dialogues and quests are not linear but I do not think this is a defect, since it was determined by a precise choice in the creation of the game itself. Arx Fatalis is a great game and I think it was the best crpg published in 2002, a very good game to buy both for old cprg players and beginners.

Presentation: 6 The italian version package is made of the usual, horrible dvd box, luckily there is only one CD so you will not find any loose CD. I am appalled on how high the price remains while the game is released by italian distribution in such a cheap package. Probably they think we are so stupid not to notice it. As for the real intro instead, the quality of the movies is excellent, they look like live shots. Were it not for the movies, i would have rather given no vote for the presentation.

Graphic: 8 Excellent for textures, models, and special effects triggered by spellcasting, and with all of this the game still works quite fast.

Sounds: 7 Audio effects are good though a bit repetitive in the surroundings, the spoken part is much better in the english version, the italian dubbing is definitely unsuitable and it spoils the game feeling.

Gameplay: 9 The best part of the game, it is very involving and will keep you sticked to the computer for hours. The system of magic itself is so great that it would alone deserve the vote of this section. If there was a cprg in which you had each class developed with the same care you find for the wizard in Arx Fatalis, that would be the definitive game that would need no further study or development and maybe even put the gaming industry to its knees.

Final vote: 91 Arx is a game you must try, there is no way to deny this. It is so beautiful that you will ignore the faults of the italian version (as for package and dubbing, which is acceptable though not so exciting). It may be considered a milestone for this kind of games, and the real heir of the Ultima Underworld saga.

Paolo "Tasslehoff" Regonesi
Translated by :
Elena "Rowena" Ricci



Link:

Official Site: Arx Fatalis
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: JoWooD
Distributor: Leader

Arx Fatalis - rpg "old school"

I have been waiting for Arx Fatalis for a very long time, ever since voices were spread about a barely known software house going to release a more up-to-date remake of the legendary game “Ultima Underworld”, which I consider a masterwork in the history of the Role- Playing games for PC; so it is not easy to me to write about it.
Now that I have completed the game exploring each level of its plot in full detail, I can finally say : “Rejoice, the King is back!” The new-born child Arx Fatalis is a product by Arcane Studios, a software house born in France in 1999 and directed by Raphael Colantonio, a genius of italian origin like many others in his staff. The publisher of the game is JoWood, which shows to believe both in rolaplaying games even when they do not have a huge budget behind them, and in the Italian developers of this kind of games. Thanks to them, and to the distruibution by Leader as well, we are enjoying some fine and well-translated games. Arx Fatalis is a single-player first-person Computer Roleplaying game with real-time combat and no party behind you; it may be included in a group of historical games like Ultima Underworld itself, Daggerfall, System Shock and many others alike. And just like its “grandfather” Ultima Underworld, Arx Fatalis’ plot takes place in a world entirely made of underground tunnels. Let us now examine the reasons why...

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