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July 27, 2014

Arx Fatalis - Review



Game reviewed: Arx Fatalis
Version: 1.21
Created byArkane studios
Released: 2002
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 8/10
Est. Playing time: 25 hours
Price$5.99



Some games you give up on and others you complete. I have no desire to force myself to play a game unless I feel the time is well spent. Few games are good enough for that. I really gave Arx Fatalis a good chance. I never played it when it originally came out in 2002 so I have no fond memories that I want to still be true.

Gameworld & Story
The story starts out quite interesting with you put into a goblin prison underground and with your memory lost. You eventually escapes and but get soaked into new problems that stalks the world outside. Soon you are the only one that can stop the evil from prevailing. But the road is long and dangerous and there is many obstacles, not the least puzzles and problems that must be solved.

The core of the story and its development is quite ok even though it always comes back to you to solve the real problems and in that you feel rather alone. There are some surprising events though like who the rebel leader was and the total overrun of the town when you return to the city after having destroyed the meteorite.

I didn´t like the gameworld in itself as its span 9 levels with several isolated areas on each of them. To find out how you travel to certain places are not the easiest part. The teleporters helped a lot during the later stages of the game but overall my memories is of constant travels back and forth during a great deal of time with the game and that was very tedious.

The world is also quite limited since its only indoor environments into which you travel so you get used to endless, labyrinth like caverns or fortresses. In the beginning I thought the world was quite full of different features and objects to manipulate but after a while that impression diminished.

Rating: 2

Economy
Money has been a constant problem since the beginning of the game. I really recommend carrying a pickaxe to get some gemstones to sell. You must repair your weapons and armours eventually and that costs a lot of money. Then you need money to actually upgrade your equipment unless you find it on your adventure. I think the balance was pretty good here. There are skills that gives you less cost in the shops but I have read those are not worth investing in. Anyway, even though I never actually run out of important money, I was never able to have both the best armour and the best weapon. It isn´t that easy to come over money either. You mostly get your money by finding it as cash or more commonly if you bring with you looted equipment to sell. But your inventory is limited so you must carefully decide what is worth carrying.

There are not too many weapons or armours available. I have only found two shops and those where quite limited. There are a lot more plants and items for alchemy to find though. I never created my own potions since I find that quite boring but in this game I think it might be important to be able to get many healing potions. Those are very expensive and you need a lot for the hard fights. Overall the economy worked quite and the system with limited inventory which you could grow by finding bigger backpacks also worked well.

Rating: 3

NPC & Interactions
You will come across a few different NPC:s in the game that will mostly tell you what to do and where to go next. There are no dialogue options at all. You watch cutscenes in which you discuss with the NPC:s. Ordinary, lesser citizens and denizens also often have something to say even though it only adds to the atmosphere.

Interactions with the environment is much more developed. You often find items you need to use in the environment like wooden sticks you have to use to replace broken levers or you have to combine items to use. There are also many preassure plates, levers and hidden buttons and bricks in the game which is a good thing since they always give a satisfying feeling when discovered. If you are lucky they lead you to hidden treasure, or allows you to progress at all by hiding a key. I think this part is pretty well implemented.

Rating 2.5

Monsters, tactics & combat system
Combat is quite simple. You click the mouse button to attack. The longer you hold the button the harder you hit. Each weapon has a different aiming time so small light weapons are faster. I think this is improved with your dexterity as well. It´s good to see that different parameters affect this. What it comes down to, though, is that you run up against the target, make your swing and then retreat or circle around. The classical hit & run tactic. I have to say it is harder to execute this manouver in Arx Fatalis but that´s how I fought my opponents. They all have different attack speeds but it is impossible to see which range their attacks has.

I tried out a little ranged attacks as well and I am not sure of what to think. If you can find a good spot to hit your opponent fram afar and make him hard to get at you (a slow foe) then it makes sense. I killed one of the feared Golems with a bow. It took a lot of hits but it worked. I suppose that if you could find a better ranged weapon than the standard bow it might be worth it. At least if you have a high sneak skill. You could then attack from your hiding and do backstab damage.

You cannot parry attacks. You have to stay out of range and as I said, that is hard to see. Most opponents run straight at you and take the shortest path. I cannot say I have found any particular tactics used but it is possible to run from them or hide in shadows. One good thing is that some opponents might try to escape. 

There are not a lot of different monsters or creatures that will cross your path. The most common ones are goblins, ogres, serpents and rats. The crypt is full of zombies (which you must stake after they have been killed or they will revive after a while), mummies or liches and there are a few other ones like the dark priests. But overall, not too many. Some of them can unleash spells at you. You might be able to avoid them by manouvering quickly.

Overall the combat system works but just barely. I think Morrowind that was released one year after had a much better system.

Rating: 2.5

Magic System
You must find or buy runes to be able to cast spells in this game. When you get a rune the combination of the runes you own will reveal which spells you could cast. What is unique in this game is that you have to draw your rune combination for each spell manually before casting them. I am told you could save a few of them as shortcuts but overall I found this system very frustrating. First you have to find out which spells you will cast and then look at the runes for it. You have to memorise how the runes look and then exit the spellbook and try to draw them just as you remembered them. You need to be exact for it to work. I found this system terrible and loathed all magic in the game because of it.

When I have read about the game it seems that playing a mage gives you quite an advantage in the later stages of the game. There are a few instances in which you will rely on magic wether you like it or not like when you activate portals. You could find scrolls that allows you to cast a spell immediately before it disappears. This was very useful for me because spells like levitate and dispel are very important to progress in the game.

Rating: 2

Character generation & development
There is only one character you can start with but you are allowed to distribute attribute and skill points that will determine if you have more focus towards a warrior, thief or mage. You get experience points for killing monsters and complete tasks. When reach another level you are automatically assigned new skill points to your pool to use whenever you like. As always I save my points until I really need them. For example when finding a weapon that requires a certain strength or melee skill. 

To be an action oriented RPG from 2002 you have quite a few abilities to choose from and overall I think it works pretty well. The problem is that you will really get stuck if you don´t spend your skill increases carefully. For example, if you don´t have a high enough object knowledge which gives you the ability to identify magical items, you cannot use the magical items. You run the risk of never utilise the power of the game that way. 

Rating 3

Map design
I suppose I should give some credit because the game includes a crude automap. The problem is that it is ugly as hell. The way it reveals the map is crude and inexact and you cannot make notes. Very few - if any - important places are marked on the map so it don´t help you much at all. I am not satisfied with that part.

Having said that the maps and levels themselves are pretty ok. The game are filled with rooms, prisons, stairs, kitchens, temples, taverns, natural caverns and cramped areas. You can move everywhere you like but it took me many hours into the game until I found out that I could jump because the default space button for jumping was not active. That forced me to use valuable levitate scrolls until I found that out. 

The crypt in particular was my favourite place along with the fortress and goblin area. 

Rating: 2.5


Manual
The manual is well written and contains much useful information together with statistical tables and weapons lists. Nothing to complain here.

Rating: 4

Graphics, Sound and Interface
The graphics in the game is pretty good to be from 2002. The faces are crude and the textures are not impressing with todays eyes but I suppose it was above average at the time. It flows quite nice and there are no problems with it. Perhaps I would have appreciated more variety in the colour scheme. My memories will constantly be filled with different colours of brown from the caverns and goblin areas the rest of the game like the crypt and city will be gray.

The soundeffects in the game are pretty good, especially in the crypt and voices are used throughout the game for everyone you meet which is nice. Unfortunately the game lacks any kind of music or catchy theme so it will not be remembered at all for that. 

Regarding the interface I found it pretty poor. It took me quite some time to get used to it. The inventory is very small as well as all items you find. I had to decrease my resolution to be able to see my items more clearly. 

I hate the fonts used. It is very hard to read books and notes because of the colour scheme. And several times I got frustrated that I couldn´t sell a whole stack of the same items at once but had to manually drag each one to the shopkeepers containers in order to sell it. Things like these drag the interface part of the game down.

Rating: 3

Gameplay
The first five, ten hours I was hooked into the game and found it pretty cool and nice. Then the constant running back and forth begun to torment me but I gladly kept playing. In the beginning I was pretty impressed with all the items that was spread out in the environment and which you could use like finding a raw fish you can cook or use a dead rats meat to use on the fire for some better food etc. You also had to combine items to give you even more valuable items in the end. Most of that I never had to use. Food is a strange concept in the game. You have no foodmeter or anything to go by. Suddenly your character just say he is hungry and you have to feed him. Since you find a lot of food in the game that will never be a problem but for me they could just have skipped it or implemented it better.

Combat is pretty fun because you could throw things in opposite direction and get enemies to look that way. As long as you stay in the dark in stealth mode they cannot see you so I suppose this game would have been a good experience if I had played a rogue.

Combat is very crude though and there is very little finesse in it. I guess playing a mage or thief would have given a better experience.

I eventually tired of the game because I found it repetitive and the puzzles got harder and harder so I had to look in walkthroughs several times. The bottom line was reached at the end when I fell I had conserved my skill points very well and still wasn´t able to even kill one single evil guard back at the town. I then gave up and went on to other games. The problem was that this difficulty never came gradually. I handled most other battles fairly well except for the Lich. 

I never had any technical problems with the game though and bought it from GOG.com as most other old games. 

Overall, the game is not bad at all it is just unforgivingly unbalanced. I don´t know who its best competitors in the genre could be at that time. The closest game I can think of came four years later in 2006: Dark Messiah Might & Magic. That game was a masterpiece and had the best graphics I have ever seen when it was released. The game was extremely good. If you haven´t played that game I strongly recommend it. 

It had to be said though that Arx Fatalis have more RPG ingredients and is more detailed. The developers actually wanted it to be Ultima Underworld III but was never given the proper license for it. 

Rating: 3

Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2
Economy
3
NPC & Interactions
2.5
Monsters, tactics & combat system
2.5
Magic system
2
Character generation & development
3
Map design
2.5
Manual
4
Graphics, Sound and Interface
3
Summary CRPG value
24.5


Gameplay
3

July 25, 2014

The blog is now 3 years old!

Another year has passed since I launced this blog in July 2011. My time goes up and down and there have been longer periods with no postings at all. That is only due to lack of time and not lack of interest.

Since last year only three new games have been reviewed but many others has been revisited. I have slightly changed direction to accept more modern games as long as they are in the RPG genre.

What is extra fun is when the original developers find my blog and do comments on their games like in Legend Of Faerghail or Prophecy of the Shadow.

The number of pageviews has increased drastically in absolute numbers since last summer from 60.000 to over 120.000 today. The number of comments last year has risen from 373 to 473 and my articles from 133 to 170.

My visitors are still coming mainly from US, Germany, UK and Sweden and Firefox is still by far the most popular reader. Up until last year 7-8 % of the readers use their mobile phones or tablets. Now that figure is 11 %. But my summary is based on total summary since I cannot see exactly the change just for the last year. Those figures will naturally be much higher. 

Right now I have quite a hard time to find suitable games to play for this blog. There are some major modern titles that will be released this year of which I would name Dragon Age 3, Witcher 3, Risen 3 and Legend of Grimrock 2. Those will naturally be on my preferred playlist when they arrive. 

July 22, 2014

Arx Fatalis - Almost made it

I have continued to play Arx Fatalis although I have had doubts about it. 

When I reached the secret temple and found the meteorite, I had to fight a demonlike spawn of hell in that very last moment. But I also freed a captured woman that was about to be sacrificed to the evil. It was that woman I stumbled upon later on in my travels through the caverns. After a short introduction she hit me in my head and I fell unconscious. When I awoke I had been taken to the rebels hideout. I soon found out that she was the rebels leader.

The rebels had one of the two items in their possession but was only willing to depart of it if I could give them something else of great value. We struck a deal. I promised I would bring them a magical shield in return for the item. I was then released and this Rebel camp worked like a small city. There was a blacksmith there that could repair my equipment and his shop also contained some powerful items that I had the amibiton to aquire by collecting gold. 

Part of the serpents lair

So I left the Rebels camp and explored through the caverns filled with orcs and ogres and finally reached the serpents world. They was also in possession of the other important item but the only way for me to get hold of it was to go through "Test of illusion". It was made up of several rooms with lesser and major puzzles to be solved in each one of them until I at the end got hold of the item. I have to admit I had to cheat at some point or I would have got stuck.


The problems could be from pulling levers in a specific order to use a scroll of reveal to show me the real lever amongst many faked ones and finally to have me go straight through a wall since it was an illusion. That kind of things that could get you stuck for hours without solving it.

Anyway, I finally got hold of one of the important items here. I then continued to explore the caverns. The game consists of many levels and they are connected by stairs or paths leading up and down. There could be several exits on each level and each level is divided into parts that are not always accessible from each other. This means there is a lot of running around to find the right paths. Fortunately I finally found several teleporters of the ones I wrote about in my last post. I activated them and now I have at least fast short cuts that takes me to a few of the major places.

But my mission is not done yet. I have to find the rebels shield but I am not sure where to look. So to make a break in that part I opted to go down the Crypt in the city. I knew a girl had dissappeared nearby and I had finally got the keys to get down there. 

The Crypt, quite an atmospheric place

The Crypt is a very atmospheric and eerie place with strange sounds and fogs. It did improve the game a bit. Down here i had to solve several small puzzles in order to continue. I am not really sure why I am there but I plundered every grave I could find with my pickaxe and found valuable items as well as small inscripted stones which I believe will be important later on. 



The Crypt spans several levels, each one getting harder and harder to solve. There is a lot of closed portcullis, doors and traps that has to be overcome. This actually turned out to be the hardest part of the game so far puzzlewise. You have to find all levers and preassure plats and activate them in a certain order to be able to proceed. I was close to give up and had to cheat myselves through parts of this complex. 

The special stones with inscriptions is the key here. You have to find all six of them and use them to retrieve the Shield in the end. I could also, If I wished plunder the last treasure grave to give me a magical helm but the escape from that part was way to hard for me to overcome. I was chased by Liches and had no way of escaping. The helm didn´t feel really worth it.


I quickly returned back to the rebels camp and was able to switch the shield for the last magical artifact I needed. I returned to the temple and equipped both magical artifacts to be able to destroy the meteorite. I was just heading back to the city to communicate my victory when I noticed everything had changed. Enemy snake women had infested the caves. Tough opponents but I was able to kill them. I had just crept out from the caverns into the city and found it full of evil Ylsides (heavily armoured guys with huge swords). They had taken over the town. 



Even though I had saved 3 full levels of attribute and skillpoints and now spent it to maximise my close combat to over 100 and my defense and strength, I had no chance to kill any of them. They are just too powerful for me. After four hits I go down. They are also extremely fast so I cannot use hit-and-run tactics.

I also lack a supply of healing potions at this stage and don´t have much money after all repairs I have made to my equipment. So after 3 tries I just gave up. If it where only one of these I might keep trying but it seems I have to take on one after another. A wounded soldier told me that all of the survivors are being kept in the castle prison. 

I googled for this part of the game and it turns up it is a heavily ill-balanced part of the game and mostly so for the warrior type character. The hints are to sneak past or use poison and spells. Neither of which I tried since I haven´t put anything into magic. I give up on this game. I think I am not too far from the end which frustrates me but it isn´t just worth it. I even failed in finding a cheat that would help me. It feels like a waste of time to spend on a game not to finish it but in the end my meagre time could be spent on something more enjoyable. 

Coming up is the review of the game.

July 18, 2014

Arx Fatalis - Revisited

In my desperate search for new roleplaying games I stumbled upon a game called Arx Fatalis released in 2002. I had never before heard of it but I read some of the reviews both at GOG.com and at other places and got fairly interested to try it out. So here is my experience of this game.

The game comes with a 69 page very well written manual that explains most of its uses together with tables full of statistics (just what I lack today). It is written in a very personal way which only makes it more enjoyable to read. 

The game is a single player, firstperson rpg game but with more RPG focus than a pure hack´n slash game. You have several important attributes for your character: Armour class, Resistance to magic and poision, life energy, mana and damage. They change depending on what items you wear. When you create your character you spend points on strength, intelligence, dexterity and constitution. These affects your other attributes and also you skills.

There are a dozen or so skills in the game like stealth, close combat, projectiles and defense and more cryptical ones like object knowledge which is needed to repair armour, item or weapons. There is also intuition which helps you detect hidden objects, secret passages or traps. But also gives you better deals in the shops. There are a few more as well.

The background states that for many thosuands of years ago the world known as Exosta was inhabited by Humans, Orcs, Ratmen and more. They lived on the surface under the sky. But then the sun died and everything turned into darkness. The creatures was forced underground into the old Dwarf mines and made it their new home called Arx. In the beginning the races cooperated but soon the animosities between the races flared up again and led to aggression. This was nurtured by Akbaa the Lord of Destruction. Akbaa allied with the human high priest Iserbius and founded a cult that worshipped the dark master and spread his reign of terror. The cult was finally discovered by king Lunshire´s astronomer but he has shortly disposed of. He did however manage to send a message to the Sybarta which keep the balance of power between the gods. And it is said Sybarta sent a guardian to Arx to counter the threat of Akbaa by restoring the bonds that once harnessed the Lord of Destruction. To this day no one has seen the guardian or know when this saviour might appear and lead Arx out of darkness.

You start out in a dungeon. You have lost your memory and have not the slightest idea what you are doing there. By talking to another prisoner you soon find a way to break out and kill the jailer with a found human bone. From there, you manage to crawl out from a tunnel into the goblin stronghold who has got you captive.

I have just escaped from my cell and looks for something to plunder

You have to carefully move forward, bypassing or luring the guards away by throwing items in the opposite direction. You could also put out light sources if you have access to water. In this respect it reminds me a little of the thief series although it is far from Thief's exceptional implementation. Since you lack any items in the beginning whatsoever, you have to pick up everything you find and after killing the first jailers you could get hold of a dagger which inflicts more damage.

The game features voices for the goblins you meet. They go around talking to themselves or eachother or shouts during fights against you. Eventually I managed to flee into a natural cavern that I explored with underground streams and nasty rats.



There is an automap in the game but I have to say it is not very good. The maps are hard to get a good overview on and the fogness removal of them is not working too well. But it helps out in a very general way. You can´t even place notes on it.

The automap is not very good

The interface is fairly clumsy overall and it took me a few hours to get used to. The interface is sluggish and requires all too many clicks. I even had to reduce the resolution because the items got too small. Your inventory is limited and you have to manage it carefully because it gets full fairly quickly. Later on you will be able to buy a backpack to increase it.


Stealth is pretty well implemented and there is a skill for it. You could sneak up on enemies from behind and do backstabbing damage. I opted to go for a warrior though and put most of my skillpoints into strength, close combat and defense so my success in sneaking is very limited. 

After I had broke out from the goblin jail I came upon a human fortress that had just been overrun by an unseen enemy. A wounded soldier asked me to look for the captain and when I found him he said that the way to the city has been blocked by a slither. He asked me to find another way and report to the king what had happened here and to send reinforcements. After some time I managed to find a way that led me to the city. For the first time I came across shops that allowed me to sell my now full inventory. I got some valuable gold for it and was able to buy a better weapon.


I reported my findings to the king who said that the giants should be able to help clear the way to the outpost and sent me over to negotiate with them. I got into the giants parts of the underground caves and had to help them out for them to help me. They had put up a strike and refused to work for the goblins in finding gems. I sorted this problem out by going over to the goblin king and solved some minor tasks like poisioning his food in order to access his throne room. Soon I managed to strike a deal with the goblin king to let me enter a previously forbidden area in exchange that I saw to it that the giants returned to work. To make a long story short I completed these tasks.



There is a lot of tiresome running back and forth in this game. Your movement is pretty slow and it has gotten to bore me down a lot to go back and forth between the city and the parts in which the adventure takes place. It is true that later on I stumbled over portals that could be activated in order to allow for fast-travel. But they appear too late and are too few to really make much difference.

Combat is done in realtime. You have to move close in order to make a hit. Since you move quite slowly I feel the system quite cumbersome to use. It is very hard to measure distance. The more you hold your mousebutton the more damage you inflict before releasing the key. It seems there is only one type of attack. If you manage to attack from behind undetected you do backstabbing damage and if you are lucky you could make a critical hit but that is decided by your dexterity. 

I also bought a longbow and found some arrows. Using a ranged weapon do have its advantage even though the damage dealt is much less. At least you stay out of danger if you constantly retreat while shooting. But even so the system is not perfect.

I really dislike the use of magic in the game. You find runes and by combining them you gain access to different types of spells. You have to find or buy the runes. So far so good. The problem is that when you are trying to cast a spell you have to draw your spell by painting in the air in accordance to how the runes look. That is just ridiculous. It adds nothing but frustration and only takes time. I have decided not to use any magic at all because of this. 


And I haven´t understood why you have to eat. You find a lot of different kinds of food in the game. From the rats you kill to cheese and bread. And sometimes your character says he is hungry so you feed him some food. But there is no way in which you could see that your character is hungry or why you would need food. Food only helps very little in restoring your health. The best way is just to wait for the time to pass to restore your health. The developers surely thought they where ingenius when they allow you to cook your raw fish, meat or even combine different ingredients like flour and water to dough and by putting the dough into the fire it turns into a bread. For me, that just makes it tiresome. There is no fun in micromanaging different ingredients and that´s why I always never do alchemy in these kind of games. Did I say you find a lot of natural ingredients like leaves, flowers and stuff in order to make your own potions ? Sounds good in theory but for me it just micromanaging without much effects in the end. 


See how small my inventory is
Later on in the game the king and his advisors discover the dark rituals performed by cultists in their search for support of the dark lord Akbaa. My mission will be to finally destroy this evil and so I am sent to the temple where I should look for a meteorite that only I - the guardian that was sent - could destroy. This temple is filled with spell-casting priests that gave quite a challenge to me. The game is filled with secret rooms and hidden buttons. In one room in the temple I stumbled upon a Lich that trapped me. Despite five attempts to kill him I failed and had to leave him for now. Also there was some puzzles to solve involving golems. 

This is the king

When you reach a certain amount of experience points (XP) you automatically gain a level and could put one point into strength, intelligence, dexterity or constitution. You are also give 15 points to distribute between your skills freely. I like this system and it works quite good. You don´t have to spend all points at once. You could save them until you really need them - Something I use when the game system allows you too. 




Your weapons and armours will gradually degrade in the fights and if you don´t maintain them they will be destroyed. Since they are quite expensive to buy it is better you repair them or pay the blacksmith to do it for you.

I eventually stumbled upon the meteorite which I was sent to destroy but it wasn´t possible to harm it. Instead my life energy was sucked out from me when I touched the stone. The only way to harm it was to find two specifc items and combine them. That would protect me from having my energy drawn out. I am just now down where the rebels and serpents are in the world in a mission to try to recover these important items.

I am attacked by a ratman

The game started out very interestingly - like they all do. But after 5-10 hours it begun to degrade partly because of the long distances you have to run back and forth and also because the world is quite empty and lifeless. I feel I am past half of the game right now and perhaps I will see it to the end but the experience of the game balances between enjoyment and a chore right now.