Arx Fatalis is a 3D Role-Playing Game developed by French company Arkane Studios and first published by JoWooD Productions in 2002.
On the face of it, Arx Fatalis doesn’t look particularly special, but scratch under the surface – make some headway into the game – and you might begin to think that it’s actually pretty darn good.
To play, it’s fairly similar to The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, except dialogue plays less of a part and your actions decide which direction the game takes you. It’s nowhere near as good as Morrowind, though, and don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. Arx Fatalis is good, but it’s not that good.
Arx Fatalis is relatively open-ended and is known for being a game that does not hold your hand while playing. Helpful hints do pop up as you play, but these are just bare bones tips. Without any prior knowledge of the game – and without a walkthrough – it can be a struggle to progress. The magic system, in particular, takes some getting used to. You have to use mouse gestures to cast spells, and although the manual is okay it doesn’t explain everything. Thankfully you can ‘pre-cast’ spells and assign them to number keys.
What is good about Arx Fatalis is that the world is well-constructed and atmospheric. You can manipulate most objects, and can combine a lot of them to make potions and new items. The game is a solid challenge too. On the downside: the combat is a bit poor (hold down mouse button to charge up your swing, then let go); the menus and inventories are weird; the scrolling text during dialogue is strange (why have it scroll vertically when non-scrolling text would have been much better?); the ‘pre-cast’ magic system is a bind in terms of key-presses; and there are either bugs or game idiosyncrasies that cause a real headache (like, for example, something I did (no idea what) that caused my life energy to slowly deplete, which made me give up on the game; or the levitate spell that doesn’t end unless you save and reload).
I’ve read a few comments online that rave about this game, but – come on – Arx Fatalis is really not that great! Playing it now it just seems like too much of a pain in the butt to play any further than the temple levels. If you like tearing your hair out when gaming, then Arx Fatalis might be for you. For everyone else, though, it’s probably a little too deformed to get any major fun out of.
Note: Arx Fatalis was patched by Arkane and re-released on Steam and GOG in 2011, but as the game was not written to run on more modern systems it does come with some problems. The game did not run ‘out-of-the-box’ for me (and many others, it seems). Thankfully the original game source code has been released online (just the game engine – not the assets), and a group of fans called Arx Liberatis have released their own patches to address some of the issues. It is frustrating that a game I bought (on GOG.com) required a patch to make it playable, but the fix was easy enough, and the game is really worth fixing and playing. Whether your game will need patching or not is down to your individual system setup. At the time of writing (2019) the required patches are still available online.