There's Plenty That can go wrong in the first few minutes of Arx Fatalis. I know, I've been exhaustively inept in mastering the system.
First of all, it takes a few minutes to get used to swapping between cursor mode, look mode, combat mode, and spellcasting mode. It's the kind of control system that multi-platform development has wiped out, as you just couldn't do this on a gamepad. So there's a nostalgic PC twang to Arx Fatalis, beyond its traditional RPG statistics and low polygon count - it's the kind of game we'll probably never see again. And while I'm glad it's still around, I'm not sure that never seeing its like again would be a bad thing.
First off, gestures. These were done just about right by Black & White two years earlier. But before I even got a chance to try and cast the ignite spell, the system asked me to put the runes in my magic book. Knowing how computer games work, I dragged the rune to my spellbook icon, and it disappeared. It was not in my book, not on the floor, or anywhere to be seen in the dark room. Of course, I might have been able to find it if I had some light - but that was the next part of the tutorial - use the rune to light a torch. Seethe. Restart.
Next time, I followed the instructions, and still found myself unable to cast a spell. That's because I couldn't draw a lidless box to the satisfaction of the game's gesture recognition program. Assuming my barbarian build didn't have the spellcasting ability, I seethed to myself, and restarted. It made no difference, but I got lucky enough times to get me through the next couple of hours.
The Elder Scrolls series has moved the role-playing genre on so far that going back to Arx Fcitcilis was definitely a matter of undoing your expectations.
Arx Fatalis was French developer Arkane's first game, and was a faithful enough homage to Ultima to win them friends in the fantasy world. So, their next game saw them adopted by Might & Magic, with Dark Messiah released a full four years later. This was M&Ms attempt to sex itself up - it was beginning to feel a little old-school, even with Heroes dabbling in the RTS arena.
With levels that were deathtraps for the clumsy, Dark Messiah relied on rather unsubtle environmental weapons to despatch your enemies. It's one of the few games to feature beds of lethal spikes propped up against 50% of the world's walls.
That said, it lent an exciting edge of playful physics and hands-on visceral combat to the world of melee, ranged and spell combat. There was more than one way to play every level, even if you did kick a lot of people into a lot of spikes.
Arkane's next project was The Crossing -an ambitious game that fell foul of financial problems, and the adage I've just invented: If, when you try to describe a game to someone who loves games, and they reply "Eh? How's that work, then?" then you're going to have a bastard of a time selling it to businessmen.
Since then, Arkane have helped out 2K Marin with BioShock 2s level design, which looks good on your CV. With any luck, they'll get a project of their own again soon. However, once you get past the idiosyncracies of its system, it becomes a game that's very easy to warm to.
Yes, the script is translated and awful (a goblin attempting to kill you with a club asks you to "get lost"), and your role as an amnesiac prisoner couldn't be more hackneyed - but the story and the world it plays out in are genuinely interesting.
The underground would you inhabit was built by an unlikely alliance of trolls, goblins, rat people and humans unified by the death of the sun. Forced into underground warrens to use the heat of the planet to survive, the old divisions soon crept back in. Nothing's sacred -even the narrator gets killed, halfway through his introduction. It's also refreshing to go back to character-rolling basics. Creating your character lets you choose four main stats, broadly selecting how strong, magical, precise and hardy your character is, and nine sub-stats, which effect thief-like actions such as stealth, lock-picking and trap-noticing, insights into monsters and objects, and boosts to the complexity of magic you can cast.
All bitches aside, once you've mastered the controls and learned the peculiarities of the game's controls, Arx Fatalis is a bit of a flawed, dusty gem.
A gem that needs a bit of attention, maybe. And a gem that'll piss you off a bit. And certainly, it's a gem with shit dialogue. But for anyone with a history of PC gaming behind them, it's a traipse that'll take you down some half-forgotten mental corridors.
Download Arx Fatalis
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode