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Arx Fatalis (Xbox) Review
Chris 'limesix' Rediske, 2004-01-20

In retrospect, if there's one lesson that I would hope game developers take away from the games of 2003, it's this: you don't have to dumb it down for consoles. As more games are either developed concurrently for more than one platform or ported from PC to console, there seems to be a feeling in the industry that you need to take a broader approach to appeal to both audiences, but at least two games released for the Xbox in 2003 provide ample evidence that this just isn't true. The first of these, obviously, is Morrowind - with continued sales of the original game throughout the year, Bethesda decided to combine the PC expansion packs with the main adventure and release a Game of the Year edition that sacrifices absolutely none of what made all three games great on the PC.

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The Xbox as RPG machine?
The second, and in some ways more compelling example is the recent Xbox release of Arx Fatalis, an Ultima Underworld inspired dungeon crawl that translates easily and fluidly to the most powerful of the modern gaming consoles, managing to feel right at home. For those gamers who may only be familiar with what are generally considered console RPG's - Final Fantasy and the like - you may want to prepare yourself for quite a different experience. But for anyone who is looking for a deep, involving RPG that takes place in a living, breathing world ripe with possibilities, you'll want to dive right into Arx Fatalis. Created by Arkane Studios, a small French developer, and distributed by Dreamcatcher Games, Arx Fatalis is a testament to the kind of innovation that only comes with the absence of focus group thinking and the courage to create the game you want, regardless of the perceived niche it may fit into.

So, you already know it's good…
As this website has already reviewed the PC version of this game, and the two are identical, I'll mainly address the conversion of Arx from PC to console, and how the game plays on the Xbox - if you're looking for a detailed review of the game itself, check out Sia Manzari's excellent PC review. However, let me take a moment to say how impressed I was by what Dreamcatcher and Arkane Studios have accomplished with Arx Fatalis. From the moment I first stepped foot in the dungeons of Arx, it was obvious that I was in for a classic, genre-defining RPG experience. Complex and involving in the best way, Arx Fatalis demands that you truly become your character - you'll need to eat when you're hungry, think your way through puzzles, fight your way out of trouble, and pay attention to the world around you. Items can be combined to create new, more powerful items, the currency is well balanced and forces you to take care of your items and money, and hey, what other game lets you make an apple pie from scratch? Overall, the sense of immersion I feel while playing Arx Fatalis is as complete as any game I've ever played, including Morrowind, and while it is a good bit more linear than I generally enjoy, the overall effect places it high among my favorite games ever.

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…but how does it fare on the Xbox?
First off, the world of Arx Fatalis is beautiful. More diverse than you could imagine a game that takes place entirely below the surface of the earth could be, each level of the world is imaginatively designed, carefully crafted, and immediately identifiable. The resolution is obviously fixed on the Xbox, but the textures are of admirable quality, and the walls, ceilings, and floors all look a good bit better than the Xbox version of Morrowind. The character models can be a bit suspect, but it doesn't detract from the experience, and the spell and lighting effects are all impressive and immersive.

The sound of Arx was a strong point of the original game, and is largely unchanged here. 5.1 surround sound is supported, and the ambient noise and echo effects do a good job of drawing you into the world. The only small complaint I had here was the frequent recycling of common sound effects like footsteps - which, for example, only has three samples and can quickly become repetitive.

Controlling your hero…
The spell system in Arx was one of the most unique aspects of the game, as it required you to draw the patterns of runes in the air, using different combinations of runes to create spells. This system has been translated amazingly well for the Xbox, which uses the controller's directional pad to draw the runes onscreen. You can store five spells at a time to be cast in battle at the push of the Y button, and when not in magic mode, the directional pad accesses your inventory belt - which, while not a perfect system, remains functional. The X button prepares you to cast spells, while the B button prepares your weapon. The left trigger jumps, the right trigger strikes, and in a particularly good design move, the white and black buttons can be assigned as hot keys for any item in your inventory. Overall, the controller configuration is well designed and easy to master.

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… and trying to control the interface.
Unfortunately, some of the weaker aspects of the interface - namely the map and journal features - are unimproved from the PC version of the game, and due to the lower resolution of the TV screen, can even be a bit worse. The map can't be zoomed, moved, or annotated, and stairways in particular are nearly impossible to see. In addition, the minor annotations that the game automatically adds tend to overlap each other when in close proximity, making some of them impossible to read. Meanwhile, the journal keeps a nearly random accounting of events, and manages to miss major milestones with regularity - be forewarned, you'll need to pay attention to what NPC's tell you.

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A great port of a great game
However, the fact that a couple of minor interface issues are the worst complaint I could possible level against Arx Fatalis speaks volumes. The world is massive and immersive, and manages to rival non-RPG's like Animal Crossing in the sheer number of non-quest related things to do. Make a fishing pole, catch a fish, cook it in a fire, and have a meal. Drink a bottle of wine with dinner, then use your mortar and pestle to grind up a water lily, put the resulting powder in the empty wine bottle, and use a distillery to create a life potion. The amount of thought and work that went into creating a world that feels alive makes for a console game for people who don't like console games, and hopefully sales of the Xbox version of Arx Fatalis will be plentiful enough to convince the game development community that simpler is not always better, that console games need not be somehow more accessible than PC, and that console gamers are ready for a challenging, involving, and complex gaming experience.

The Verdict
Graphics (15%) 85%
Sound (15%) 90%
Control (25%) 90%
Fun (45%) 90%
Overall 89%

The ups and downs:
Beautiful interactive worldInterface issues:
Excellent controller setupInadequate auto-map,
Immersive audioIncomplete journal,quest entry
So damn much to doSomewhat linear

Reviewer's System
Version: retail
CPU: Standard Xbox w/ S controller

Average Reader Ratings: 7.63 (8 votes)
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