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Arx Fatalis Demo Review

Rendelius, 2002 03 02

Arx Fatalis is an RPG developed by Arkane Studios. It offers a number of interactions with objects and NPCs, realistic action fights, a unique real time spell casting system, character creation, dialogues, puzzles, exploration in an underground atmospheric world with various Cities inhabited by several races, galleries, dungeons and mines all intertwined by an unexpected epic plot.


In the Beginning
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After having played the Arx Fatalis press demo two months ago (or rather: after having tried to play it - it had serious problems on my system, crashing whenever I tried to jump into the hole in the prison), I was seriously concerned about what would happen to the game. The press demo was buggy, slow and unstable, and the controls were just awkward. So I was eager to try out the public demo, to see what has changed, what has improved and what has not.

First of all: much has changed. The demo is a lot more stable and faster (although I still think the graphics engine must see some more optimization). They have changed the controls, and very much to the better. Arx Fatalis has begun to shine with this demo, and I am certainly looking forward to the full release.

Before I go into details with the demo, I think I should mention that you will need a fast computer to see the game in its full glory. The demo is limited to 1024x768 (don't know if this is true for the full version, too), but even with this resolution and all details pumped up to the max (including bump mapping), my 1300 Athlon with 512MB RAM showed some choppiness from time to time. If you turn on bump mapping in the demo, do yourself a favour and activate anti-aliasing as well (in the control panel for your graphics card), else the look of the game will suffer from time to time. Set color depth to 32 bit, 16 bit won't look as good when you encounter fog or smoke.

Starting the game

Let's get into the game then. The story of the demo is quickly told: escape from a goblin prison and make your way to a human settlement underground. Once you get there, you'll get your first quest, but you won't be able to finish that in the demo. The demo gives you about 1 hour of gameplay (I'd say rather app. 45 minutes), nothing more. The full version should have about 80 hours of gameplay then.

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You first start out creating your character. You distribute points to various stats and skills, and you choose your appearance (there are 3 avatars to choose from). From what I have seen in the demo, you will have to start out as a rather balanced character - spell casters will have a hard time to survive, since the two spells I have found in the demo (it is said there are three) are non-combat spells. One ignites material in the vicinity of the player, the other enhances vision. You level once in the demo, and again you can distribute some points to your stats then.

After character generation, you find yourself in a cell in the prison. You neighbour asks you to try to break out (not hard to find out how), and so you'll have to fight a guard and escape through a hole in the ground. The first minutes of gameplay are used as some sort of in-game tutorial, and basic actions are nicely explained.

One thing you'll notice early on: these aren't the standard controls you are using. It takes some time to get used to how to look, fight and interact with your mouse. Once you get a hold of these controls (this should happen about half way through the demo), they aren't that bad, really - just different.

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Soon, you'll find your first runes in the game. Once you have found runes, you'll learn spells. Spells are cast by drawing the rune symbols with the mouse and holding down a key. The gestures are rather easy and well recognized by the computer (this works just the way it does in Black & White, btw). However, the demo has a bug associated with these gestures: sometimes, you seem to have your "magic cursor" outside the screen - and you can't see what you are casting. I sincerely hope that they will fix this until they release the full version. Although it isn't a show-stopper, it is rather annoying.

About bugs...

Speaking about bugs: I had two crashes with the demo early on (XP, GeForce 3 Ti 200, latest windows drivers) that sent me back to the desktop, but strangely enough: after these two crashes, everything ran fine. There are other bugs I noticed: the fog plane sometimes seemed to zoom in on me, for no apparent reason, and when you save the game with a torch in your hand, you loose it when reloading. And then there is the physics system which is … well, strange. You can pick up stones and stick them into walls, for example. This really needs some finetuning, as well as the fact that rats, for example, can attack you from within stones. Not really a bug, but strange nevertheless: When you steal the wine in the inn, Tizzy, the barmaid, didn't react at all. On the positive side: when you click her often, she makes some pretty funny remarks.

There is another complaint: speech isn't lipsynch. This looks silly sometimes, and while it isn't a big point, it would be nice if this could be fixed too.

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...and improvements
Something that has really improved since the press beta is combat. It got a lot easier and you will manage it within a few minutes. A targeting reticule would have been nice, though. Weapons tend to break (you fight with bones in the beginning), and so does armor. You will be able to repair stuff in the full version, but I haven't done this in the demo, although in the castle, you can repair your stuff at the anvil.

Your inventory is rather small, so you will have to make choices about what to carry with you and what not. You'll find different items in the game, armor and weapons of course, but food as well, and medical herbs. A nice twist is that, for example, fish has to be cooked before you can eat it, and items can be combined to create other items. Some are used in small puzzles that you will have to solve in order to advance (repair a lever, repair an escalator).

Let's talk about the atmosphere a little. This is an area where Arx Fatalis really shines. You feel immersed right from the beginning. The goblin caves are dark, full of rubble and dust. The human settlement (overrun by some creatures) looks very nice, too. The inn (not of much use in the demo) is another nice place to visit, you can talk to people there, even play a game to win some money. The "Ultima Underworld"-feeling is there, no doubt about it, and if you enjoy a dungeon crawl, you will be very happy with the demo.

The verdict

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So, what is my summary? How will Arx Fatalis compete with the other games to be released soon? If you love a first person RPG, if you liked Ultima Underworld I + II, you will enjoy the demo tremendously. Arx Fatalis still has its flaws, but a lot of work went into the game since the press demo two months ago. All in all, this game promises to be something that will keep roleplaying gamers happy for a long time. Some tweaks are still needed, some bugs will have to be eliminated. If I could suggest something to Fishtank, the publisher, it would be: don't rush it. It's a gem, but let Arkane Studios polish it. Like it is now, Arx Fatalis is a good game. It has potential to be a great game. I would love to get a great game, really.

Average Reader Ratings: 7.95 (337 votes)
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