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Platform: Windows 98/2000/ME/XP Publisher: JoWood Productions
Genre: Action RPG Developer: Arkane Studios
Format: CD-ROM Expected Release: October 30, 2002

Hands-On Impressions
10/16/02
Stephen Harris
Stephen Harris

2002 has marked an eventful year for the PC RPG industry; Bioware’s long-awaited Neverwinter Nights has finally hit retail shelves and award-winning sequels to Warcraft II and Icewind Dale have seen release. To compliment this ever-growing list is Arkane Studios’ Arx Fatalis, a 1st person RPG for Windows-based PCs. In production for over three years, this opened-ended adventure has created a stir in Europe, becoming one of the best-selling RPGs on that side of the Atlantic. Thanks to that phenomenal success, Arx Fatalis has been picked up for a domestic release by JoWood Productions and will be landing on our shores this November. Fans of the The Elderscrolls III: Morrowind will have reason to rejoice as Arx Fatalis bears more than a striking resemblance to Bethesda’s latest. Promising a vast fantasy world with complex characters and deep storytelling, Arx Fatalis stands poised as one of the most promising PC RPGs of late 2002.

On the planet of Exosta, where a dying sun has plunged the world into an ice age, great subterranean cities have emerged. As the surface was embraced in never-ending winter, the race of man, goblin, troll and others, worked together to provide refuge from the bitter cold. The great city of Arx was moved to an abandoned dwarven mine to become a haven where life could continue. Though as the years went on, the relationships between the different races would decline, and a tenuous coexistence would emerge. Even though they kept themselves segregated between the many levels of Arx, evil is an indiscriminate visitor. Under this great city lies the cult of Akbaa, god of destruction and chaos; a sect fervently seeking to return their lord to physical form. As a would-be human hero, you must take up the struggle to stop the cultists from realizing their dreams of Armageddon. The adventure will take the player through the dark halls of Arx, through various underground cities and into the hidden recesses of a lost civilization.

Arx Fatalis features a fully polygonal world and characters that are rendered in real-time and viewed from a 1st person perspective. From the playable demo available on the official site, the visuals thus far are extremely impressive. Arx Fatalis sports complex character models and a dramatic variety of subterranean locations. Both the environmental and spell effects are dazzling displays of lighting and used with a great deal of ambience. Graphically comparable to From Software’s King's Field: The Ancient City for the PS2 as well as the PC version of The Elderscrolls III: Morrowind, Arx Fatalis accommodates with a solid graphics engine and appealing visuals.

At first glance, Arx Fatalis looks like to be the typical 1st person dungeon hack n’ slash ala Hexen II, however there is a significant amount of depth to the game. As a single-player adventure, Arx Fatalis features respectable character customization as the hero can improve 4 basic attributes, influencing 16 skills. Players will also be treated to a veritable horde of equipment, items and spells along the way. Players will be able to strike with a variety of weapons from bone to broadsword. During the adventure, there will be many puzzles and secrets to be solved as you race to stop Akbaa’s resurrection. In a refreshing move similar to Bethesda’s Morrowind, puzzles and quests can be solved in a variety of ways. Players may solve a puzzle or complete a quest for an NPC for a reward, or they can chose to steal the prize from their patron. Arkane Studios magnanimously allows the player to be a valiant or a ne’er-do-well.

Combat in Arx Fatalis is executed via the mouse and keyboard with a few exciting additions. When engaged in battle, players can increase the strength of their blow by holding down the attack button for a brief period and then releasing it to strike an awesome blow. This allows players to perform a variety of attacks with various degrees of timing and pressure. While swordplay promises to be engaging, spell casting is an even bigger surprise. Using a gesture-based magic system, players cast spells by drawing runes on-screen with the mouse. Arx Fatalis will feature 20 different runes scattered about the adventure with 50 different spells to be derived from different combinations of these gestures. Thankfully, these spells will cover offensive, defensive, curative and assistive schools of magic. Hot-key fans will be happy to know that up to 3 quick spell slots can be assigned for instant combat-casting.

Arx Fatalis will also sport unique AI with reflexive enemy interaction. In battle, enemies will actually call upon their allies to assist them. Wounded enemies will also try to flee from combat, and if successful, will heal themselves before returning with a vengeance. Players will be able to use a multitude of skills such as cooking, repairing and potion-making to increase their chances of survival in the catacombs of Arx.

The soundtrack to Arx Fatalis promises to be a thorough mix of dark melodies and gothic anthems. Arkane Studios enlisted the aural talents of Floodgate's Kermel, best known for his work on Thief: The Dark Project, to score the adventure. Aside from the background music, the game features a variety of environmental, combat and personal sound effects in omni-directional audio. The world of Arx is enhanced by realistic sounds such as wind blowing through desolate corridors and dripping pools of water. Even the sound of armor clinking and treading on stone will change as equipment and terrain evolves. NPC and enemy communication is completely voice-acted and JoWood Productions seems to have spared no expense in hiring a competent cast of characters. Prisoners will beckon with whispers while intelligent creatures will call out to their allies or taunt you in combat.

With an incredibly interactive world, an impressive graphics engine and a host of unique mechanics, Arx Fatalis appears to be wothy enough to share shelfspace with Dungeon Siege and Neverwinter Nights. RPG fans looking for a lengthy and involving RPG this winter may find a gem in JoWood’s latest. Arx Fatalis is slated for a November 11th release this year.

The minimum system requirements are:

500 MHz, Pentium ® III or compatible
Microsoft Windows ® 98/ME/2000/XP
64 MB RAM
DirectX 8 or higher installed
DirectX 8 compatible sound card
DirectX 8 compatible 16MB video card
750 MB HDD space

RPGFan Recommends:

Microsoft Windows ® XP Home or XP Professional
1.4 GHz Pentium ® 4 or higher
512 MB DDR RAM
DirectX 8.1 or higher installed
DirectX 8.1 compatible Dolby Digital 5.1 sound card
DirectX 8.1 compatible 64 MB or higher AGP video card
750 MB HDD space



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© 2002 Arkane Studios, © 2002 JoWooD Productions Software AG
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"Egads! What a stench!"

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"Time to smack the goblin..."

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Tons of in-game cinemas.

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Amazing architecture.

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