Have You Played… Arx Fatalis?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Arx Fatalis was horribly ignored on release. It’s still horribly ignored today. The creators of Dishonored made this, you know!

It was Dark Messiah Of Might & Magic that finally saw Arkane get the attention they deserved. That combination of action and first-person with RPG came four years after Arx Fatalis should have made them superstars.

This, a tribute to the wondrous Ultima Underworld games, offered a dauntingly open-ended approach for 2002. There were optional sidequests alongside a main story that could be approached in the order you chose. It allowed for both hectic combat and sneaky stealth. Heck, it even featured crafting, which gaming had long forgotten, not to properly remember for a good while longer.

Oh, and it featured one of the best magic casting systems ever, where you drew runes in the air with your mouse. And it’s yours for just £3 on Steam or GOG these days!

62 Comments

  1. padger says:

    Arse Fatalis, more like.

    • Mr_Blastman says:

      Only if you suck at videogames. Arx is one of the best RPGs ever made.

  2. Risingson says:

    One of the games I have restarted the most. I am not that much of a fan of the magic system. All efforts that are aimed towards paying respect to Ultima Underworld are welcome, of course, but even when the game was released I was personally a bit tired of dungeon crawling. Of maze crawling.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Maybe it’s an issue with my cheap optical mouse, but the magic system was horribly, comically irresponsive. It was extremely frustrating having to use it just for the fast-travel teleport system, not to mention trying to run backwards firing spells at chasing baddies.

      Other then that Arx was pretty excellent, the standout moment being the long and daunting trek into the catacombs beneath the city. With tons of treasure, traps enemies and puzzles it was some of the finest first person dungeoneering this side of Thief.

      • Risingson says:

        The bad thing about these kind of games is that they do not allow the gameplay during many years, with gaps that last around 3 or 4 months. Which is the way I usually play.

        • Michael Fogg says:

          Well, your save games don’t have an expiration date. It’s just that you have to relearn how to play, which is irritating (I had to do it with W3 recently).

  3. Senethro says:

    It was good and all and I was willing to overlook how ropey it was in places. It was way too easy to screw yourself over by building your character one of the many “wrong” ways. This messed up my playthrough to the point where I only ever beat the final boss by finding out that if you’re close enough to him, but on a different height, then his AI can’t “see” you as a target for his strongest attacks.

    • Mr_Blastman says:

      That is good game design. Players should be punished for being idiots.

  4. Renevent says:

    Yes I have, and it’s one of my favorite RPG’s of all time.

    • OmNomNom says:

      Yep, mine too :)

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I was a bit uncertain I would like it, but based on replies like this I determined to get it myself. Since I still wasn’t sure I’d like it, I got someone to trade it with me on GoG for a game code I got through a Humble Bundle. Now it’s quite high on my old-school RPG backlog, but I haven’t played it yet.

      • magogjack says:

        Mine three.
        Even If I’ve never finished it because of two lost playthroughs due to bugs.

        It is like a first person Legend of Zelda to me, I will fight the internet over this!

  5. DrMcCoy says:

    Revelant: Arx Libertatis, a cross-platform, open source port: link to arx-libertatis.org . It basically improves upon the publically released Arx Fatalis sources, fixing bugs and making it run on more systems, like GNU/Linux and Mac OS X.

    It doesn’t inlcude the base game data, of course, so you still need to buy Arx Fatalis to run Arx Libertatis.

    • magogjack says:

      I did not know aqbout this !( I had only heard of Arx – End of Sun).

      Back under ground for me this weekend, Cheers!

  6. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    I tried, and was genuinely surprised that it was considerably clumsier to play than the Ultima Underworlds. Which isn’t how a spiritual sequel should work, I think.

    The ideas are good, but the execution was sorely lacking. But I felt the same about Dark Messiah.

    • Geebs says:

      Dark Messiah’s execution of podomachia was without peer.

      • frightlever says:

        What is “podomachia”? Google thinks you’re lying.

      • Premium User Badge

        kfix says:

        Foot makeup? Toenail painting? Some more, er, sophisticated foot-related practices? whaaaaat?

  7. ScubaMonster says:

    I loved this game, and I was only playing the crappy Xbox version.

  8. Dave Tosser says:

    Flawed but very good at scratching a specific itch. The interconnectedness of all its different levels is nice in a pre Dark Souls way. Finding a tunnel tucked away somewhere and emerging somewhere you’ve been before is a great way of making everything feel like one world. Even if it is just 20 people. Or better than that, emerging somewhere you haven’t seen before where you can tell you really shouldn’t be in there.

    And how you can go right down to the deepest levels, or sequence break like hell and jimmy the lock to the Crypts and buy a dragon egg early.

    Plus it had a dank cthonic atmosphere and the spells were all useful and fun even when casting them was a bitch at first.

    • geisler says:

      You’re pretty new to this RPG stuff aren’t you? What you’re describing CRPGs have been doing since the late 80s.

      • Dave Tosser says:

        Bit of an assumption there. What was nice about Arx was that it was neat and focused when everything else promised a sprawl. And that’s still why it stands out, just as the Underworlds do.

      • DevilishEggs says:

        Sorry I also have nightmares where everything is described as “pre good for pre-Dark Souls.” Although I generally agree with your point and wish more games were like that. More like .. the Ocarina of Time. And now I have to flail myself 100 times.

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        gritz says:

        Not really, no. By far the dominant design for dungeon crawling RPG’s, including the Underworld games, was separate levels (floors) with a single entrance and a single exit. Maybe one or two secret entrances and exits if you’re lucky.

        That’s nothing like the complete interconnectedness that the OP is describing.

  9. Psychomorph says:

    YES I HAVE, I HAVE PLAYED THEM ALL, STOP IT ALREADY!

    …just kidding, keep it up. :D

  10. Razumen says:

    Have it, plus the sourceport Arx Libertatis, but I haven’t had time to try it out yet…

  11. ansionnach says:

    I’ve had it for years. Was waiting to complete the two Ultima Underworlds before playing it. Finally got through UW2 earlier this year so it might be time to take a look.

  12. Blake Casimir says:

    Arx Fatalis is still a brilliant game.

    The problem is not that it was horribly ignored, it is that “first person dungeon crawling immersive simulation” has been horribly ignored for ages unless Bethesda release something new.

    I’m just glad Night Dive and Otherside exist. I’m closely watching their progress on System Shock and Underworld respectively. Who else is making games like this? Practically no-one.

    • geisler says:

      Really? First of all, Bethesdard titles don’t apply since they lack the features of being even called an RPG after Morrowind. Second, if you’re willing to trade realtime with turn based combat, theres actually a lot of titles that apply (in the context of being 1st person and dungeon crawling). In my opinion, 1st person dungeon crawling is far from dead, and quite a few (indie) devs seem to be focusing on them.

      I’ll list some still worthwhile playing today (both turnbase and realtime), and a couple of new ones at the end: Might and Magic VI & VII & X, Wizardry 8, Legend of Grimrock I & II, The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians, Crystal Rift(EA), Dungeon Kingdom: Sign of the Moon(EA).

      • Risingson says:

        Ehm, er, you know that Wizardry VII was not precisely a success and that the games that you mention there are wildly different in release date, don’t you?

        Arx Fatalis was a “cult” success. Which means that it was appreciated, but unless a magazine or a website like this one remided about the game often, it would be forgotten inmediately. It happened with a lot of games rescued by Night Dive.

        • geisler says:

          No i didn’t know that, i’m new to all those games, thanks for the heads up!

      • Frank says:

        To me, the important point is not “dungeon crawler” so much as “immersive sim”, and no, none of those count.

      • Blake Casimir says:

        Most of the games you’ve mentioned (except Wizardy 8 and some of those M&M games) are TILE BASED dungeon crawlers. Crystal Rift in particular drives me nuts. It has free look but not free movement. Perhaps I should have specified this.

        ALMOST NO free-look FREE-MOVEMENT first person dungeon crawlers with real-time melee combat are being made. From Software stopped with the incredible King’s Field all the way back in 2004, Wizardy 8 was from a similar time, as was Morrowind.

        Who is making games in this genre any more? Please tell me, because I’m desperate to play them. Grid-based, turn-based dungeon crawlers just make me fall asleep and crave movement freedom.

        Oh and though I’m no fan of the newer Beth games, any argument you could have had by labelling them immaturely “Bethstard” was ruled out.

        • frightlever says:

          Give me janky Arx over Grimrock anyday. Playing Grimrock was like filling in an application for a job at the paint factory as a drying analyst.

          • Risingson says:

            You should have really approached the game in another way, then.

          • Risingson says:

            EDIT. You should have really had to approach the game in another way. Meaning, you know, it’s a Dungeon Master clone, but a nice one extremely streamlined to have the frustration at minimum nearly non existent levels.

        • geisler says:

          Sounds like CRPGs with real RPG systems put you to sleep, there’s a new Bethesdard action game you should play instead.

          Oh god its TILE BASED (WHAT A DISASTER LETS ACCENTUATE IT WITH CAPS), i’d rather strafe around and use shitty free form arcade combat, anything else and i’m not stimulated boohoo.

          • Sin Vega says:

            Tile based games are not inherently better nor do they make you cleverer than other games. Grow up or stop talking.

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            Harlander says:

            I’m not going to take any guff about the intellectual stimulation of my choice of time metric from someone who still things “Bethesdard” is a witty insult.

          • Premium User Badge

            Harlander says:

            What do you know, I ballsed it up.

            s/things/thinks

            That’s Muphry’s Law for you.

  13. Neurotic says:

    Yep, and never forgotten it (for happy reasons).

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    Bluerps says:

    I have. Unfortunately, I only really remember that I liked it, that it took place in caves and that magic worked by drawing symbols with the mouse. Maybe I’ll replay it one day.

  15. TheH says:

    Deus Ex and Arx Fatalis are my two all time favourite games.

    And both are very similar.

    Every NPC can be killed, player actions have consequences (not freeing Kultar at the beginning, killing the traders in the troll caves, giving a book of finance to the troll king etc.), alternate/hidden ways of completing quests to which the game responds intelligently, gripping atmosphere, several viable ways of playing and speccing the main character etc.

    I replay it once every year. Brilliant title.

  16. Cosmo D says:

    Excellent game – Arkane were punching above their weight then and now are properly seeing their talents through with the Dishonored series. I’d love to see Arx’s edgier design corners come back into Dishonored but it’s probably not going to happen. There were many moments of tension and feelings of powerlessness against steep odds in Arx and you don’t get that as much with the power fantasy of Dishonored. Still the ace atmosphere, music and sound design were well in place then.

  17. Mags says:

    I quite enjoyed the demo I played back when it originally came out, but I don’t think I ever found it in a shop. Mind you, it was only sheer luck that I ever managed to find games like Startopia or Freelance back then. Digital distribution (and the internet in general) makes life much easier.

  18. Ross Angus says:

    Was Steven Russell involved in this game? No wonder Through the Looking Glass used to bang on about it.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Among other things, he narrated the intro, which I honestly did not notice until fairly recently.

  19. H-Alien says:

    Absolutely, I currently playing it as a matter of fact. Brilliant game! It’s a great example how awesome sound in a game can be…Thief quality sound that is.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Not thief 4 I guess or else all sounds would center on the player character. ;)

  20. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I liked the game very much. It was like Ultima Underworld with better graphics and I miss RPGs like that – inside setting, hand-crafted large explorable levels.
    Even the magic system was somewhat cool, the difficulty to pull it off felt like real magic when it worked, lol.

  21. Frank says:

    “one of the best magic casting systems ever, where you drew runes in the air with your mouse”

    You’re joking, right? I’ve restarted this game half a dozen times and always quit thanks to rune-drawing frustration.

    • TheH says:

      You don’t necessarily need to draw them while in combat, unless you want some extra immerson and difficulty.

      Up three spells can be pre-cast to hotkeys at any time. Therefore pressing a single button can envoke the most complicated rune structures.

  22. Blake Casimir says:

    Yes!! Free-look, free-movement, first person immersive simulations with hand-crafted indoor environments and melee combat just don’t exist any more. And there were many in the 90s up to about 2004. :( This is pretty much my favourite gaming experience though many people probably think it’s backwards and these days should be third-person, open world (lots of empty space in these so-called open world games) and dumbed down for mainstream casual tastes.

    What I would give for King’s Field 5… :/

    • WJonathan says:

      Well, I’m sure From Software would argue they gave you that with Demon’s Souls.

  23. WJonathan says:

    I was never able to get Arx (on the original disc) to run properly in Windows. There was a bizarre framerate issue that allowed the game to run too fast at moments of low CPU load. I tried all the official patches and unofficial fixes, and just couldn’t get it right. Having the game speed suddenly accelerate and slow down depending on what direction I looked made it too disorienting to be playable.

  24. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Eh… Them becoming superstars was never meant to be. The bigger public doesn’t care about the Immersive Sim; Even the dumbed down Dishonored didn’t get THAT big, I think.

  25. Fredrik Sellevold says:

    I wanted to like this game, I tried it when it came out, but the loading times were so bad they put me off the whole thing. And since those were in my pirate days (arr!) I didn’t have any investment that pushed me to stick with it, so…

  26. malkav11 says:

    I have started it a couple of times and never gotten much farther. It looks amazing (maybe not graphically anymore, but you know, gamewise) but I’ve never gotten hooked. Maybe one of these days.

  27. bill says:

    I’ve almost bought this in steam/gog sales so many times… the recent steam sale was no exception.

    But I just can’t work out if I’m going to like it. What I really want to do is play Ultima Underworld 1&2, but they are just too old. So this is a kind of substitute..

    • bill says:

      Though I do now notice that it has a demo on steam…

      What I really want is for nightdive to update UU1&2 though…