It’s like Ultima Underworld but not really.
Some of us might remember the greatness that was Ultima Underworld, a technologically astounding game at the time of its release, with depth in gameplay to rival its visuals. The level design was top quality, the characters were interesting and the 3D dungeon crawls generally entertaining. Fast forward one decade in time and we arrive at Underworld’s spiritual successor – Arx Fatalis.
Arx Fatalis starts in a dark dungeon, with no clothes or purpose. You’re stuck in a cell and realize that escaping is your first puzzle sequence. While it may be clichÃ©d and trite, you won’t be thinking about that at this point. You’ll be thinking about the graphics and how amazing they are. You’ll forget you’re in a dungeon that looks just like all the other dungeons you’ve seen and instead you’ll be staring at the guy in the cell next to you and marveling at how impressively lifelike he seems. Arx Fatalis appears very intricate, and might be the best-looking role-playing game of its time.
The interface, combat and exploration are all very slow-paced. There’s huge depth in terms of exploration and masses to discover while wandering the lush landscape, with a multitude of NPCs to converse with (although some of them are somewhat reluctant to say anything of use) and some great plot twists to discover. In the early stages there seems to be little plot development, but with a little perseverance you’ll soon uncover all kinds of sinister goings-on if you have the patience to wait that long.
Items you attain during your travels can be combined to create unique new ones, a bit like in Diablo II. Working out how to successfully link the runes you learn on your travels in order to make useful spells is one of Arx’s most compelling features. Spellcasting itself involves tracing these runes on screen with your mouse, much like in Black & White, which makes spell-combat particularly tense if overly clunky, especially when confronted with some of the more powerful nasties you stumble across later on.
Sadly though, Arx Fatalis is no Ultima Underworld. The somewhat limited character development and NPC interaction and simplistic melee combat (see enemy, click mouse) let it down somewhat. Where it scores highly is in its fantastic graphics, believable and realistic environments, brilliant ir unwieldy spellcasting system and lovely atmospheric presentation. As dungeon crawls go, Arx Fatalis is slow – even with the included tutorial level, the game is hard to grasp initially – but keeping at it will reward patient adventurers with a lot of intrigue and spectacular scenes from the underworld.
System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 750 MB HDD, Win95
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