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Review by: Jack King
Published: February 13, 2003
Arx Fatalis, a role-playing epic from freshman Arkane Studios, pits you against the dark reaches of a cavernous world. The past several years have seen a true renaissance in computer RPGs, with massive titles pushing the boundaries of plot and adventure. Will the claustrophobic confines of Arx Fatalis appeal to players who’ve come to expect the wide-open expanses of wilderness adventures?
Here’s the story that sets Arx Fatalis in motion: In an age long past, the sun sank beyond the hills and a time of darkness descended on the realm. Without the sun, a harsh winter set in and buried the land in ice and snow. To survive this great cataclysm, the kingdom of Arx made a pact with their goblin and troll neighbors, forging a new era of peace and cooperation. Old enemies worked together to modify a nearby dwarven mine, carving out a new life beneath the windswept wastes of their now dead world. Peace reigned for a time, but the fragile alliances were slowly forgotten as the kingdoms sought to exploit limited resources and confined space in the underground.
You begin in a cold, damp cell; a goblin guard snarls at you through the bars. An old man in the next chamber calls for your attention, and together you plan your escape. From the very beginning, Arx Fatalis throws you into the action. Foul gods have awoken, the tenuous peace between the goblins, humans and trolls is threatened, murderers roam the streets of Arx, and a mysterious force has begun to raid the human outposts. It’s just another day in paradise for gamers.
Like most CRPGs, the gameplay is built on a system of player-defined statistics. Before beginning a session, you’ll flesh out your character by spending points on improving raw skills and attributes. The method of character building should be familiar to anyone who’s spent time with a CRPG; details of the various stats and skills appear by rolling the mouse over each section, prompting details to appear onscreen. While other CRPGs offer nearly limitless character types, archetypes, races and sexes from which to choose, Arx Fatalis narrows the choice down to a few specifics. The game is designed around a system wherein players earn additional points with each experience level, and experience is earned by completing tasks or killing foes. Without character classes, players can choose to build a character as they see fit by spending points either on attributes like strength, intelligence, stealth, or constitution, or on skills. The nine skills are centered on three basic themes: combat skills, stealth skills and magic-based skills, the latter of which includes spell casting and alchemy. Although players begin with at least some rating in each skill, the difference in approaching the game comes from how points are spent enhancing them.
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