This review is based on the Final code in German, courtesy of Jowood.
"Returning to the Underworld"
Many years ago the world of Arx was a world not too different from other worlds. Of course there was conflict, yes even war raged between the different species from time to time. But then something happened that would change the life of every inhabitant of Arx - not matter if human, dwarf, goblin, or ratling. The sun of Arx began to die. With the climate getting colder every day all conflict was soon forgotten and for perhaps the first time in history all races worked together to complete a common goal: survival.
The whole civilization of Arx was moved and rebuilt far below ground where the earthmother itself protected everyone from the harsh climate of the now ice covered world. Place was limited of course from the very beginning and soon the common goal was forgotten and again the species began to distrust each other and war is always at hand. And what dark intentions have the members of an ancient cult that has arises in the darkness?
You awaken in this world, captured by goblins and robbed of all your belongings and to make things worse even without any memories to call your own. Explore the world of Arx, regain your memory and find your place in a cold, dark underworld!
"Seeing the Darkness..."
Arx Fatalis tries - like so many games before - to successfully combine elements of different genres. We start off with a "classic" RPG with character development, a magic system based on runes and all the other things we know from various RPGs, give it a First Person point of view to bring the action closer to the player, wrap it up in a lovely package of nice graphics combined with a intriguing story line and you *should* have a good game. Well, in my humble opinion you have.
To tell the truth - when I saw the first screenshots of the game I wasn't to impressed. The graphics looked plain and the characters even a little out of place. But after actually playing the game I can gladly confirm that the game looks much better than the screenshots make you perhaps think.
The engine offers everything from lightning effects to bump mapping a gamer wants, yet it doesn't look as good as some other RPG's I played lately. While the programmers did spent much of their time on details and created gigantic dungeons without being repetitive in level design like other games I have to criticize some aspects.
To start with - the lack of difference of looks between NPCs. Especially the "critters" and every day inhabitants like orcs, goblins, soldiers and all the others that should bring life to the game look very much the same too me. While orcs and goblins do look EXACTLY the same (you might claim that this is genetically) human foot men have at least little differences regarding their faces but no difference regarding size or body shape.
There are other things in the game that annoy like castle decorations which look out of place, or obvious logical flaws like the shapes and sizes of buildings being different depending if you are inside or outside the building. Annoying flaws that the programmers could have fixed.
But let's put the flaws and the in general not outstanding graphics aside - the graphics do their job and they do it good. You feel like you really are in a world that had to live underground for years. A little more variation in NPC design would have been welcome - but gameplay is anyway the more important thing in a RPG. Let's see if Arx Fatalis can score here.
"Moving in the Darkness"
What RPG's lately often lack are comfortable controls. Too often a good game is unplayable only because everyday users just can't cope with the way too complex controls. Arx Fatalis succeeds where others have failed. An all in one fighting, moving, inventory and interaction system - and all you need is your mouse and just a few keys on your keyboard. After the first 40 minutes of playing you will with ease cast spells while moving around and slaying your enemies at the same time. A job well done by the programmers at Arkane Studios - congratulations.
A special feature of controlling Arx Fatalis I especially liked was the spell recognition system.
To cast a spell you draw magical symbols a.k.a. runes with your mouse and if you draw all runes correctly and in the right order the spell will be cast. If you have the right runes you can even create you own spells if you know the basic meanings of the runes. For example let's take the runes "Aam" (create), "Nhi" (destroy) and "Yok" (fire). The first spell you will learn on your adventure is "create fire". 100 points if you can guess what this spell does and additional 400 points if you know what happens if you combine "nhi" and "yok" instead.
Unlike most RPGs you don't have to choose a character class at the beginning of the game - character creation is all up to you. With the help of 14 abilities and 4 attributes you can design your character at will. Definitely nothing for RPG newbies on the other hand.
"A Light in the Darkness"
Plain and simple: RPG Hardcore fans get it now or if you don't know any german and have to wait for the international release later this year pre-order it. The people at Arkane Studios had some refreshing ideas of how to put the pieces of a classic RPG together to realize new ideas.
For all the others think about what you really want in a game. Be warned regarding these aspects of the game: Arx Fatalis offers good but maybe not top of the notch graphics. In addition to this please note that Arx Fatalis is one of those games you can play for months and still haven't discovered every single secret of the game or even worse still haven't reached the end. If you can live with these perhaps even look for these in a game you neither won't regret buying it. Arx Fatalis will lure into the darkness. How you return is your problem.