Review: Arx Fatalis (XB)

Ah Dreamcatcher. A publisher I have a strange love-hate relationship for. They’ve given me some incredible games I’ve fallen in love with like Dracula: Resurrection, Dracula: Last Sanctuary and Necronomicon. However, they’ve also released some real crap like Jekyll and Hyde.

And now they’ve given us Arx Fatalis. In truth, Arx has been out for quite some time on the PC and it’s finally headed to the Xbox, where Dreamcatcher has released quite a few console exclusives, including Curse: The Eye of Isis, which I will be reviewing later.

At first glance Arx Fatalis appears to be a Morrowind wanna-be, from the first person real time RPG perspective, to a second rate version of the graphics. Even some of the play control is similar. Still, any game with even the remotest similarity to Morrowind is going to get compared to the Game of the Year winner. Arkane Studios has made a game that feel distinct and unique from Morrowind while emulating some of the visual qualities that made that game so very very popular.

Let’s Review

1. Plot

Another time? Another world? It’s not clear, but what is known is that once this world has a sun shining and life giving as our own. But somehow the sun died and humanity had to flee underground to the warmth of the core while all above ground died from an endless winter night. Man, Troll, goblin, etc all united to forge kingdoms underground and create a temporary peace.

This of course was fleeting and fights sprung up, truces were formed, and the cycle repeated. You can never trust goblins you see.

The game begins long after the underearth has been settled. You begin seeing your character enveloped in a blue light and learns he is an amnesiac who knows nothing of the world or its history. Cheesy and cliche, but an easy way to make you learn the history of Arx Fatalis. You are a prisoner of goblins. You escape. You wander around. You discover a Human outpost where everyone was slaughtered horribly. And slowly a conspiracy unfolds itself.

What kind of a conspiracy? I’ll let you discover that for yourselves…

What I really like is how the game introduces you slowly to the mechanics of everything. From how to cast your first spell to fighting your first major battle with help from a fellow prisoner to learning to cook food and tiny little quests that get bigger as you go through the game.

I enjoyed and got into Arx very easily. I love the concept of an entire world exists under the earth with the surface of the planet being unable to sustain life.

Is this the best game for the Xbox? No. There are better RPGs like Morrowind and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. And with Fallout and BG:DA2 on the way, Arx is going to suffer the same fate that happens to all non Dracula Dreamcatcher games: being ignored for a higher profile game. It’s a pity though. Arx has a meaty story and delivers it slowly like an old pulp novel.

Story Ranking: 7/10

2. Graphics

Dreamcatcher has always published games that are visually stunning in terms of graphics. When I first discovered them I was blown away by the fact they did jaw dropping graphics and had pretty good stories to boot.

Alas, Arx Fatalis seems to be the exception.

Don’t get me wrong, the graphics aren’t bad. But sometimes things are a blurry mess. I thought I saw a crushed human until I realized it was a bearskin rug for example. A lot of the monsters are okay looking, but nothing truly amazing. Even the templates for your main character are pretty ugly, and there are 4 choices. Two of them even look like Ps1 quality graphics. Yuck.

None of the character models look very good. It’s blunt but truthful. The backgrounds however are usually pretty good, although there can be blurring to them.

There is also slowdown sometimes during combat. Especially when fighting two or more monsters.

I would never recommend this game to a graphics whore, as it’s not next-gen quality. However, the game isn’t awful on the eyes, and as everything else about it is good, I can ignore the graphics.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

Any game that offers the sound of a chicken’s death throes and makes sure it sounds like dying poultry deserves props.

The voice acting is very good and each voice fit their characters properly. Even the monsters have appropriate voices. The Goblins sound not quite right. They speak the English tongue, but still, there’s something decidedly nonhuman in their voice.

The music however tended to annoy me. Some places would have no music only to have me take a tiny step into full fledged background music. I’d have preferred if the game hadn’t had any music at all. It would have fit the slightly eerie mode the game tried to catch. Every time I heard music it took something away from the game for me.

I do love finally seeing a game where monsters flee when getting their butts kicked and also beg for mercy or plead for reinforcements. The incredible little touches this game has done vocally more than make up for a minor irritation in the music selection.

Plus I’ve never had so much fun beating pigs to death with a human femur before. I probably shouldn’t have watched Deliverance before playing this, eh?

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control

The game plays like Morrowind for the most part as I have said. Jump button. An attack that changes depending on what direction you press or how long you hold the attack button. A camera stick that works very well, but that can disorient you in the dark and also can be sometimes too fast for your own precision.

I love the nuances the game provides as well. Once you pummel that rat or chicken to death, you just cant eat them. They’re raw you see and your amnesiac mercenary seems to need things cooked. So you have to start a fire and cook the food. Nice touch. I miss games where you have to eat. Ah 1980’s SSI games, where are you?

The repairing of armour is a nice touch, as is mixing ingredients to create food like Bread or distilling potions. I love these little touches.

But by far what makes this game great is the spell casting ability. FINALLY a game has made you have to cast spells in real time. With the verbal and somatic bits! Actually having to make your characters scry a rune in the air to activate it takes time you might not have. And it makes the reality of how hard magic would be to use come crashing down pretty hard around you.

Unlike the PC version where you had to draw the runes with your mouse just perfectly, the Xbox version allows you to use the control pad by just pressing one of the four directions. It’s not as hard, but it’s still a distinct change from anything you’re used to.

And yes there is a little baby easy magic option to turn on for those of you who have to be a Raistlin wanna-be in every fantasy game you play. Losers.

Control Rating: 9/10

5. Replayability

Well, the game is pretty linear and is made in a way where you really can’t miss anything story wise. Unlike Morrowind where you can go and do pretty much everything, in Arx Fatalis, the whole under the earth and confined to tunnels thing rather limits your options. There is no alternate ending that I know of or anything that will change each time you play it. As well, the game is pretty long so I doubt you’ll want to pick it up for the same exact experience again and again. This is probably a one shot game and then left to sit for close to a year before you try again.

The only redeeming thing is that you can make new characters and totally customize them in a new way. If you’re into that I guess.

Replayability Rating: 3/10

6. Balance

The game is one of the most balanced I’ve seen in a long time. But that’s because of the linear nature of it. As you get more comfortable with the controls, the difficulty rises and you have to do longer quests, cast harder spells and fight monsters that do more damage and take less.

At every stage of the game there were monsters that you knew were just there to get you XP, and some which could take you down unless you fought smart. I really liked that. Just remember to save. A LOT.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

At first glance Arx Fatalis seems like it is going to be a Morrowind clone. But the more you play, the more it feels like an Eye of the Beholder game with a Morrowind Interface. And that is certainly not a bad thing.

The plot is something I don’t ever remember seeing in a video game before. That coupled with the beautiful magic casting system makes this game something worth at least renting, if only because nothing really like it has been around before. Sure there are hints of other games that influenced it. But Arx Fatalis is a game unto itself.

Originality Rating: 8/10

8. Addictiveness

For all the praise I have garnered this game, I really didn’t get that to into it. I loved the system and the plot. But it never truly sucked me in. I’d get up to eat or answer the phone or email. This was not one of those games where you’re like Just 15 more minutes’ or just one more quest’ Every time I started getting into the game, that crappy music would play, or I’d be stuck with an ungodly load time of the next level or I’d die and realize I hadn’t saved in a while and then I’d just be annoyed. That whole thing.

The game is fun and certainly worth the thirty bones I paid for it, but I found myself wanting to watch Fraser Season 2 more.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

A good RPG for the Xbox? How many of those do they have? KOTOR, Morrowind, Baldur’s Gate, D&D Heroes, and I guess Otogi counts as an RPG then if I allow D&D heroes.

That’s 5 RPGS worth owning on the Xbox. And Arx brings that total up to six. However with a few other great RPG’s coming out this month and more on the way, Arx will be lost in the scuffle due to DC being a label with a cult following ala Atlus and also little marketing.

Still, any RPG fan worth his salt will want to grab a copy of this while they can. I can’t imagine too many people complaining about this game unless they HATE real time RPG’s.

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Substandard graphics are the only thing truly marring this game. A lot of effort went into this game and it shows. Arx Fatalis has managed to create a game that feels hauntingly familiar, but is still totally original in all the ways that matter. It would be great to see this become a series but well… never you mind. Just play the game. ;-)

Miscellaneous: 8/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Arx Fatalis was a welcome blessing after reviewing some many games that had let me down over the past month. No more crap like Beyond Good and Evil or CIMA or disappointing but at least decent games like Sword of Mana or I-Ninja. Arx Fatalis is a good game overall and one I hope you RPG fans try and buy while you can find it. Now I just hope Reviews of the new Fallout and Baldur’s Gate games will be just as praise filled.