Travels In Arx Fatalis: Part One

By Alec Meer on March 23rd, 2011 at 1:53 pm.

This man will save the world. First though, more meths.

Arkane’s 2002 dungeonering game Arx Fatalis passed me by at the time – arriving, perhaps, in an age where I felt positively spoilt for choice in terms of RPGs. In this new age of endless manshoots and a contemporary legion of platformers, I have no such surfeit. The time is right, then, to look backwards.

This is an occasional diary series, to be updated as and when I dip in and out of the game. I should warn you now that it’s more than possible this won’t run until the game finishes. Consider it selected extracts rather than the full, unabridged story.

I awake, as I have so often awoken, in a jail cell. For a change, though, I’m naked. Well, I’m wearing a belt over my nipples and some furry pants, but I’d get at least as many funny looks as I would if I were naked.

It is clear, as it is always clear, that I have somehow been wronged. Well, obviously. Otherwise I’d probably spend the rest of the game sat here ruminating upon the crime I’d committed, which wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun. Some indie developer will make a prisoner simulator sooner or later though, you mark my words. We’ve had Dinner Date and Desert Bus, so why not Life Sentence?

I look sort of like George Clooney, if George Clooney had subsisted on a sole diet of crystal meth for every year of his life and now worked in a bondage parlour. Frankly, I’d lock me up too. Still, something about not looking like a textbook hero makes me a little more fond of this role I’m playing.

I suppose I’d better break out of this jail, then. Fortunately there’s a wobbly bar, which is the sort of thing you’d have thought jailers would check for regularly. Then again, the jailers are goblins, and everyone knows goblins are stupid. Racial stereotyping’s fine when the race is fabricated, huh?

Egged on by a frail-looking friendly stranger in the adjacent cell, I use a curious system of pulling and wobbling to manually remove the bar, then sneak outside and clobber the guarding gobbo around the back of the head. Or at least that’s the plan. In fact, I’ve specced my character as a magic specialist, leaving him as psyhsically weak as an asthmatic kitten. A spell right now would be great. But no.

Instead, I end up in a desperate dance, slapping away at the furious gobbo with a bit of thigh bone I found at the floor. He has a club, and muscles. This isn’t going well. Somehow, I survive, purely by dint of repeatedly running away. The combat is a curious stop-start affair, stilted as if it’s turn-based but allowing me the chance to dive out the way of the gobbo’s ripostes in between every frenzied lunge I make myself.

Right, looting time. Raw fish (inedible, apparently), some potions, the gobbo’s club. This is more like it! I’m still dressed like emaciated S&M He-Man, unfortunately, but no-one else seems bothered. My hobbling chum from the next cell over mutters some sort of exposition and maybe something about a prophecy, which I ignore. Actually, that’s a lie. In curiosity, I thump him with my new club. He dies instantly. I stare at his crumpled corpse. I feel terrible. Then I try to loot his body.

Wait, no, that wasn’t what happened. I just remembered it wrong. Look, the image above proves that I definitely did not kill him. And I definitely didn’t reload a savegame to pretend that I hadn’t killed him. So chummo’s completely fine, and I need to head down, deeper and down. I don’t get the sense I’m likely to see daylight anytime soon.

More dungeons, more goblins. The fights don’t get any easier, but at least I didn’t die. I definitely did not repeatedly die and reload the game, no sir.

A few corridors later, I’ve even worked out how to pick things up rather than immediately consume or lob them. Not the most intuitive interface, this. Wait, what’s an interface? Sorry, all that time in prison for whatever that crime I didn’t commit was must have sent me a bit loopy.

Next: spiders! Spells! String!

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67 Comments »

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  1. Richard Cobbett says:

    There’s at least one prisoner simulator out there. But it’s craaaay-zey…

    • xandertron says:

      That is quite, quite crazy. When I got to the ‘MORE’ button at the end I nearly spat out my drink.

    • Atic Atac says:

      That MD Dickie site….what is this I don’t even :O

      Why do I feel like I’ve stumbled upon some dark corner of the internet?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      At the risk of linking my work on the Other Site, this is The You Testament – the work of the same guy.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Richard’s You Testament Crap Shoot is jaw-hurting-laugh-inducing priceless. Seriously, click the link!

      I did think the Gamer commenters were better than that though. Sometimes being on RPS is like living in Internet Civility Castle with only the occasional unsightly glance over the parapet. Be a dear and pass me the Reason biscuits, would you.

    • Cooper says:

      http://www.prisontycoon.com

      I wish this were not true.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Glad you liked it :-) To be honest, there were only a couple of idiots in that comment thread – most people in it were very civil and took the thing in the right spirit.

      As for Tycoon games, this wins.

    • Thants says:

      You don’t know Mat Dickie? But he’s gaming’s most outspoken character, according to… himself.

    • mercurio says:

      That HARD Timegame is so strange. There are weapons lying all around the prison including swords, pistols and machine guns. Every now and then terrorists attack the facility and no one seems to mind or even notice. I think the court-room scenes are totally random since I, a repeat offender and a gang member, was not convicted of shooting a leg and several fingers of a guard because the judge thought the attack wasn’t all that serious and the guards were drama queens.
      Then a guard who continued to work despite having lost both arms pushed me down into a frenzied mob where I got trampled to death by fat shirtless child molester.

    • godkingemperor says:

      matt dickie sent me an angry email once for a negative youtube comment

  2. Premium User Badge

    HermitUK says:

    I love Arx Fatalis. The interface is a clunky thing, but I’ve always loved RPGs set inside massive sprawling dungeons. Growing up on a diet of Eye of the Beholder and Ultima Underworld will do that to you. My favourite moment is finding the observatory. Climbing to its top, there’s a telescope you can use to look out on the dead, dark surface of the planet. The setting is genius.
    I really liked the approach to spells in this game, too. Drawing sigils in the air to build spells was neat, and the fact that you could store a few precast spells meant you could easily use a few powerful spells to tip combat in your favour while preventing you just spamming Fireball all the time.
    I do hope that Arkane’s next game takes the brutal combat from Dark Messiah and puts it into a similarly sprawling underground world.

    • qrter says:

      I underwrite everything HermitUK says, including the bits about the clunky interface (I only have 10 fingers, Arkane) and the observatory.

      Most impressive aspect of this game is its worldbuilding – it reminds me of Looking Glass’ worldbuilding, where the world feels alien and familiar at the same time, kind of oppressive and claustrophobic. I love that.

    • Wulf says:

      I have mildly fond memories of this game too. I liked the storyline, including the various and very alien and quite bizarre sentient races that were present in those dungeons (it wasn’t just ye olde orkies and trollies, thank goodness for that), and I was fond of the magic system, too.

      Any magic system that involves chanting ‘OM! NOM!‘ is fine by me.

    • Evil Timmy says:

      Yeah, I thought the world was truly unique, and dripping (sometimes literally) with atmosphere. While certain fantasy tropes were apparent, it didn’t feel like “We renamed Tolkien”. I found myself consistently impressed with the surprises around each corner. Melee was my class of choice, and that made the spell system feel like I’ve always thought magic should be: powerful, but unreliable and difficult.

      Also, anyone else think Audioslave’s Last Remaining Light feels like it was written for this game’s soundtrack? Listen here.

  3. Eclipse says:

    oh Arx Fatalis… such a wonderful game.
    *goes to his GOG.com account to reinstall the game*

    • Benjamin L. says:

      It is an amazing dungeon crawler, in an age where those are all but extinct.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    This slipped my by also when it arrived, but when I heard it was made by the guys behind Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, I bought it.

    Arx is available on GoG and Steam.

    Dark Messiah on Steam.

    Arkane Studios are now part of the Bethesdah family. I expect great things there…

    • jon_hill987 says:

      “Arkane Studios are now part of the Bethesdah family. I expect great things there…”

      Really? I expect a buggy mess with a terrible plot and dumb NPCs in the gamebryo engine. It will have a really nice open world to make up for it though.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      @jon

      It’s pretty unlikely they are going to do any more games with Gamebryo now that they have at least two new engines of their own.

      The plot of Oblivion or Fallout 3 didn’t really thrill me either, but Morrowind on the other hand…

    • Jad says:

      Bethesda the publisher is bigger than just Bethesda the developer now. Bethesda is publishing Brink and Rage, which are neither Gamebryo games or open world games (well, Rage seems like it might be semi-open — not sure yet on that). Just like Rockstar is not just the GTA company — they’ve published Bully and Manhunt and Midnight Club and Red Dead Redemption and Table Tennis.

    • idiotapocs says:

      Why on Earth can I not buy Dark Messiah on Steam? “This item is currently unavailable in your region”

    • jeremypeel says:

      Great things indeed, especially as ex-Ion Stormer Harvey Smith is heading up an immersive sim at Arkane’s Austin office now…

  5. TheAncientGoat says:

    BTW, Arx Fatalis was recently Open Sourced, and the community has already ported it to Linux and replaced the font code with FreeType which speeds up the game rather dramatically. They’re working at making higher quality, open source data for the engine to run, but at the moment, you still need the commercial game data to play.

    Their wiki is here: http://arx.parpg.net/

    • quintesse says:

      OMG! That’s incredible news! …. I’ll have to play it for a third time then :)
      (which I almost never do, but this RPG is just one of those quirky things that really hit the spot for me)

  6. Premium User Badge

    Faldrath says:

    So does this behave well in newer computers, then? I have the CD somewhere, but I also forgot about this game back when it was released.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      Steam version worked well on one of my laptops. Forgot which, one has Vista+Geforce, the other Windows7+Ati Mobility Radeon card.

    • Megadyptes says:

      The developers recently released a patch which I think makes it work fine on modern machines, and also released the source code. What splendid chaps.

    • karry says:

      Mine doesnt. At all. It works on my old dusty P-900 i found in the closet recently, but not on my new machine. I even tried “demoing” the GOG updated version – doesnt work. Why is it that some people create games that work for dozens of years, and others create games that stop working before half a decade had passed.
      For example, i wanted to join the Total War community, and found out to much displeasure, that first games in the series all require some unorthodox dickery to launch. Much anger ensues.

      “I think makes it work fine on modern machines”
      I can testify that they didnt work on it as much as they should. Otherwise i would be able to launch the game.

    • qrter says:

      It runs on my mini notebook, with tiny shitty graphics card and Windows 7.

      I do believe Arkane released one last patch, but only for the GoG version of the game, which seems a bit mean (if it’s correct).

    • Wulf says:

      The patch is apparently GOG only, but someone packaged it up into a standalone patch:

      http://www.ttlg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=129779

      I can’t speak for how reputable it is, but I have seen those links repeated around the Internet a lot, and a bunch of people saying that it works.

      Edit #1: The gist I get from all the research I just randomly did is that once the source was released, GoG actually did their own patch for it, fixing some of the issues. That or they paid Arkane for a patch which is exclusive to them.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      The retail and steam releases were patched up to 1.18. Then the GoG version came out which was patched by one of the Arkane guys to 1.19 (can’t remember all the fixes, but it fixed the “coronas through walls” glitch). More recently the source code and 1.21 patch were released for every version of the game.

  7. Navagon says:

    I got this game from GOG just recently. I haven’t played it yet due in part to hard drive switching shenanigans but I think that will change now.

  8. adonf says:

    “Racial stereotyping’s fine when the race is fabricated, huh?”

    In this case it’s not racism, it’s speciesism

    • jeremypeel says:

      Depends on your goblin origin story, I suppose.

      Oh no wait, they were elves in Middle-Earth first, right? But Uruk Hai are half-human, half tortured-to-the-point-of-genetic-mutation elves. Really depends on where you draw the line on the species, I suppose.

      Oh. Looks like you guys already killed them goblins. What was I saying? Ah, don’t worry ’bout it. Probably not important.

    • Wulf says:

      Aren’t Warhammer goblins in general (except for the farmers) exceptionally smart, just not too versed in the proper use of language (having picked bad habits up from the orks)?

  9. Lacessit says:

    I had the exact same sensation as Alec a few months ago and borrowed this off a friend of mine (that’s right Ubisoft, a hand-me-down game!) I liked the beginning and the tone, but I was physically unable to do the magic signs. I ran around on the same spot for hours (and in the game) trying to do that miserly second magic sign you learn. Couldn’t do it. So I quit.

    Sad, but a true story.

    • N'Al says:

      The magic system is VERY finicky, but is easy enough once you get used to it.

      Essentially, don’t try to draw the rune too quickly and always make sure you’re drawing pretty much straight (in whichever direction you need to draw).

    • qrter says:

      Also, do make use of the “storage” thingy, where you can store up to 3 spells to use them instantly later on – it helps to draw the signs when you’re not frantically trying to stay alive.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      Is in anything like drawing runes in Black and White? I ended up plugging in a graphics tablet to play that game…

    • Acorino says:

      It was finicky, but not as bad as with The Void, which is just unbearably terrible in this regard. I think I only was sucessful in drawing the…blooming spell, the circle, which you have to use on the trees, once. I I think what made partly the difference was how fast you drew it. You really have to take your time…
      But yeah, stopped playing The Void for this, since I got stock on the second cycle and wasn’t fond of the idea of starting over. What a harsh start.

    • Wulf says:

      It actually is rather similar to the system in Black & White! That hadn’t occurred to me, but indeed, they both handle magic in the same way. Though it’s slightly more awkward in Arx because I remember the detection system being kind of picky. But I got the hang of it eventually and was soon OM! NOM!-ing my way to victory.

  10. Jason Moyer says:

    Arx Fatalis is probably in my top 10 RPG’s of all time. Haven’t played it in years and reading this is making me want to dig it out and have another go.

    Edit: Also, it should be noted, Arx came out when games still came with manuals instead of dedicating the first half of the game to tutorials, so I highly recommend you flip through it because it has some useful things in it (like crafting formulae).

  11. gorgol says:

    I read the first few paragraphs and I’m sold! Love the idea of starting out as nothing and having to be quite realistic to get things done.

    EDIUT: won’t read more ‘cos I don’t wanna spoil it for when I try it :P Thanks for the heads up! :)

  12. blainestereo says:

    I’ve found that the best way to enjoy arx fatalis is to cheat yourself a bit of combat skills (with moderation, so combat gets just a bit easier but much less annoying) and a lot of thief/repair/crafting skills.

    I daresay thieving system in Arx is one of the best in the history of CRPG, on par with Gothic 2, but way too demanding skillpoint-wise. Ditto crafting.

    So with a bit of creative on-the-fly rebalancing the game really opens up for posibilities, but doesn’t become a cakewalk.

  13. Maade says:

    The GOG.com version kind of works on my machine (HD5850, AMD X4 970, 6Gb of DDR3). For some reason, I can’t really cast spells (Might be the widescreen resolution) and the game has some weird speed hickups. Once in a while it runs at twice the speed it should.

    I actually have the boxed copy too and maybe some day I try it out and see if the problems are caused by the GOG version of the game.

  14. Stuart Walton says:

    The thing I love best about the Arx Fatalis crafting system is that even thought the UI isn’t the greatest, the logic behind making stuff matches your intuition. When I first played the demo most of the item combinations I tried actually worked! Making bread felt like a massive achivement, helped by the dual pay-off of not just having some healing but also the sight of your dough rising and then forming a nice crust. Almost as rewarding as baking your first loaf in real life. Imagine what it was like when I worked out how to make a pie! When I first played Minecraft Survival it brought back memories of Arx Fatalis.

  15. Teddy Leach says:

    But… You’ll never see daylight!

  16. Cooper says:

    The original title to this article was much better.

  17. Derk_Henderson says:

    I just recently bought Arx Fatalis for $5 on Steam thanks to my friend’s recommendation, but I cannot get it to run on Win7 x64. Has anyone run into issues with that and solved them? I’d love to play, I need something besides Shogun 2 to tide me over until Witcher 2.

  18. diebroken says:

    Sic transit gloria PC…

  19. Hybrid says:

    I bought this on Steam during one of those crazy sales and I guess I’m about halfway, maybe more than halfway through it. Often though, I would play for a bit then come back weeks later and have no idea where to go next. A walkthrough is almost necessary. I really enjoyed Dark Messiah which is basically an updated version of this but Arx is still a good RPG when you know what your supposed to be doing.

  20. Reverend Lovebutter says:

    I played, many years ago. When I looked down and saw the animation of my cute little feet paddling as I walked, I laughed and laughed and laughed.

    It lacked the polish and sure-footed [heh heh] sense of action and pacing of a AAA game. But perhaps being such a snob has robbed me of a charming dungeon crawl.

  21. brulleks says:

    I enjoyed it for a while, but it sure punishes exploration. almost demanding you do everything in a set pattern. I eventually gave up after poking my nose into the wrong hole and falling through into a strange citadel full of giant serpents that I was in no way capable of killing yet. In itself that would have been acceptable – if there’d been any way I could get out again, but there wasn’t. This was the last of many unsuccesful attempts I’d made to walk off the beaten track, so I gave up after that. I can kind of understand why other people enjoyed it, but it just didn’t give me the freedom of exploration I demand from an RPG.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Yes I found this as well. The most crucial aspect of a good dungeon crawl is being able to go anywhere. You might get your arse kicked by enemies that are much higher level than you, but you can still go there if you want! (And escape, too.)

      People here that aren’t complete PC-snobs, and can look past the fact that it’s a console game, should try King’s Field. Simple gameplay, but immensely satisfying dungeon crawling. Rock hard, too. Then there’s Towers 2… (which no-one has heard of)

    • Baby Baby Baby Oh says:

      Or you could just play Demon’s Souls..

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Nope. Demon’s Souls is a semi-linear hack-n-slash with little worth exploring. From Software forgot how to make dungeon crawlers, because it certainly isn’t one.

  22. Alphabet says:

    Be careful! On my WIndows 7, it works until about 70% through the plot and then crashes continuously. This was a recent GOG purchase. I put a few hours into trying to fix it, then gave up. I loved the opening hours, but it did pall, so I wasn’t too bothered. Decent value for whatever I paid, anyway,

  23. Premium User Badge

    drewski says:

    “Alec Meer had heard of the concept of the “fourth wall”, but wanted no truck with it.”

  24. Mman says:

    Protip: However you plan to build your character either get at least 50 magic, or get 30 magic and always keep two +10 magic rings (not too tough to find from what I recall) with you for a boost when you need it. I learned the hard way that there’s a certain enemy type you meet later on that’s near impossible to beat without sufficiently strong magic unless you exploit the hell out of their AI or/and get extremely lucky.

  25. dethtoll says:

    I really want to get into Arx Fatalis, but the mouse smoothing is so non-existent it goes into negative numbers, where a single movement of my mouse jerks my view about 3 pixels. It’s really jarring and so I feel like I’ve lost $5. :(

  26. mercurio says:

    How come no one has made a prison Rogue-like?
    A prison game using a similar damage system as Dwarf Fortress would be awesome.

  27. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    What timing, Alec.
    I’ve just bought this thing and was planning on starting my first run tonight. This game keeps being mentioned in the same breath as some of the greatest games of all time, and I just need to know why.

    So… any more tips for the beginner?

    I prefer to play this kind of games taffing around with stealth and glitches and asshole physics, looking for unexpected solutions to problems, exploring areas I’m not supposed to explore and then trying desperately to get out of those areas in one piece… You know, “emerging”. I don’t know whether this one will allow me to do all this, but I’m fairly optimistic.

    There’s this guide of course: http://www.it-he.org/arx.htm but it’s probably spoilerific as hell, and the author says it will ruin the game for me. And I don’t want it ruined for me, whatever that means. But the fact that this guide exists itself is filling me with hope.

  28. bill says:

    Sweet. Another of Alec’s random adventures i RPG-land series! I only got hooked on RPS though the Fool in Morrowind ones. Shame they never get finished.

    I’ve been interested in trying Arx for ages, as i always thought I should love the Ultima Underworld games, yet their age has made them hard to get into. But i could never work out if it was a game that would be great or terrible.

    I shall therefor tune in avidly and play vicariously until the series peters out.

  29. WJonathan says:

    Don’t feel bad, Alec. I kill my NPC companions right after a quicksave, too.

    Then again I’m an awful, AWFUL person in real life.