Highly recommended for those that have played and liked games like Ultima Underworld or Dungeon Master (Legend of Grimrock).
The developers wanted to created Ultima Underworld 3 but were unable to get the license from you know who, which is a shame. With stronger resources this game could have been very special indeed. For an old game (2002), the graphics are pretty good and sound in some instances quite amazing, the game engine has aged well. I played the game of Steam and in Windows 7 and it was more or less playable apart from some memory crashes - I learned to save often using all the save slots - you need to do this too, especially when you move between levels. It is best to play the game without any background noise such as the TV/ music or radio - believe that. Not only will you get immersed in the game world, beautifully crafted by the designers, you won't miss key information said aloud by your character and then never repeated!
It's a first person RPG/adventure set in a world where the sun has died so all races of the world live in a huge underground complex - the city is called Arx.
Arx Fatalis = fatal fortress (Latin)
The game does involve combat, magic and sneaking options. But most of the game requires exploring, adventuring, some puzzles (simple and fiendish) to solve, a lot of traversing to and fro.
You begin the game in a prison cell and yep, you guessed right, no memory of who you are! Wow, not seen that in a video game before. There follows an escape from prison and a gradual understanding of where you are and of your destiny. You escape the prison and then move onwards to different levels of the underground world, such as mining caves, spooky crypts, ice cavern (dragon) and a strange snake level! It takes a while to learn the mechanics of the game but you give it a chance as the rewards will be many! Above all read and print off the manual so you have it with you. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this game was produced in the days where manuals actually were required reading and gave hints on how to traverse the game. Believe me it will answer about 75% of your questions.
Your character has the normal ST,INT,DEX etc stats as well as skills to develop such as magic, technical skill, intuition. Every time you level up these can be increased. Combat is similar to that found in Morrowind where I often found myself moving in and out of combat and swinging whatever weapon I was using at the time. Not great but ok. The magic system is something else, it is rune based and you need to draw patterns on screen with your mouse. This is pretty amazing and at the beginning you learn a new PC gaming skill - let's face it - that is pretty unique. Runes can be found or purchased and your journal will update to show the new spells you can cast. Oh - you reckon it would be pretty damn impossible to cast a fireball as a giant evil looking spider is looking to bite your head off? READ IMPORTANT - you can pre-save three magic spells! Read the manual properly for goodness sake - just do it.
Your journal shows your character stats, armour, inventory, magic book of spells and runes, map and some key information about the game interface and quests you need to complete. I stress "some". As an assistant in following the game story - the journal is next to useless. Exploration is encouraged and the game engine allows you to do some innovative stuff. The map is pretty useless too. Use a fishing rod to catch raw fish and then cook them next to a flame. Combine water with flour to create dough and then bake to create bread. I think you can combine it with apple to make apple pie. Oh - you need to eat and your character will moan when he is hungry. Apparently hunger was pretty common in earlier versions of this game but I think the latter patches made this less acute. Saying that, I did go through a stage where I was baking and cooking stuff a lot! Later in the game I stopped hoarding food and just munched down anything I found.
Your inventory is grid based and cannot be sorted, despite what some have said. You can stack some items and expand the size later in the game. This could be better as you spend too much time on inventory management. On the first play through you end up hoarding. As you learn all the tricks and want to do another play through, it will be less problematic.
The storyline is quite interesting, you have no say on what needs to be done and there are no dialogue options. At certain points in the story a cut scene will update you. There a lot of hidden items and locations in the game and exploration is encouraged. The world is beautifully put together and there are some real unique places and characters to interact with. It is quite complex and therefore some things are not explained properly and you will need to do some internet research to help you progress. Some tips:
Buy the key ring and combine all found keys with it.
Learn how to pre cast spells - especially fireball.
Read the manual and print it off.
Learn how to make potions - especially heal. Learn it. The castle in the human city has an alchemist which allows you to distil potions.
Don't worry about cash - I ended up with about £35k.
Some magic rings will disappear from your inventory after a while, these have a 12/20 or something. Ring of Regeneration.
Read the 'Races of Arx' book before going to find the dragon.
Find the activate portal spell in game or online and write it down in the manual - for some reason this spell does not show in your spell book.
Your character needs decent magic to progress end game due to very difficult melee warriors that will polish you off in two whacks.
Don't worry about hoarding food - just eat stuff as and when you find it.
Shops are not always open, progress the story line and come back.
Check the keyboard control options to ensure you don't waste all your healing potions when trying to crawl or sneak!
There are some negatives. If you don't READ THE MANUAL, expect some frustrations with the game engine. The great magic system is limited as not all the spells are equally useful and I tended to play the whole game with fireball. However, you need to have decent magic to complete the game, do not go all out as a fighter or thief. Not everything is spoon fed to you, ultimately you can get where you need to go just by adventuring but sometimes a specific "go there" would be appreciated. There are only about 10 levels which you seem to traverse back and forward a lot, learn how to use the portals or this can be frustrating. The game world is complex and many things can be interacted with - this is also a downfall as often you need to make assumptions about how things work together.
Summary - really is a great and unique game if you like RPG or first person dungeon adventure. World is quite amazing. Some difficulty with the game engine which most can be sorted by READING THE MANUAL. 40 hours+ on first play through and a few side quests not completed. Repetitive towards the end as it suffers from lack of additional quests and locations which would allow greater use of spells and your character.
Highly recommended to those looking for Ultima Underworld 3