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The design of Arx Fatalis was heavily influenced by games from the now-defunct Looking Glass Studios, especially Ultima Underworld. Arkane Studios have stated that Arx Fatalis was intended to be Ultima Underworld III, however they could not obtain a license for the UW name.
Arx Fatalis (lat. "fatal fortress") is set on a world whose sun has failed, forcing the above-ground creatures to take refuge in subterranean caverns. The action in Arx takes place in one of these large caves, where inhabitants from all races such as Trolls, Goblins, Dwarves, Humans, etc. have made their homes on various levels of the cave. The player awakens inside a prison cell and, after making his escape, eventually discovers his mission is to subvert and imprison the God of Destruction, Akbaa, who is trying to manifest itself in Arx.
Arx Fatalis has a somewhat open-ended gameplay style, allowing the player to allocate skill points for the character type such as spellcasting, weapons and armor, stealth, and so on. There are several side quests that can be undertaken, involving keyfinding and puzzle-solving. Simple crafting involves enchanting ammunition and weapons, making a fishing rod (fishing pole + rope), keyrings (key + ring), dough (flour + water), pies (dough + rolling pin + optional apple), powder (bone/plant + pestle and mortar), and potions (powder + empty bottle + still). Some food can be cooked: dough -> round of bread, chicken drumsticks, fish, pies, and ribs (meat). The main plotline is fairly linear with the player collecting the various items to forge a sword required to defeat Akbaa in a final showdown.
One of the innovations in Arx Fatalis is the spellcasting system. Using the mouse and the Ctrl key, runes are drawn in mid-air with mouse gestures, which must be correctly drawn, in order to successfully cast a spell. The player can find or buy different runes as gameplay progresses, combinations of which unlock new spells.
This gestural interface was simplified in the Xbox version to account for the limitations of the joypad. Each direction of the directional pad corresponds to a different mouse direction and different combinations of directions are entered with the directional pad to draw runes and correspondingly cast spells. A queue of up to 3 spells can be cast in advance, ready to be activated at the press of a button. There is also an instant magic mode that allows the player to simply select the desired spell they want to cast from a list of learned spells during gameplay.
In addition, Arx supports a stealth mode that is active when you see the stealth icon on the interface. In stealth mode, usually when a player is in dark or shadowy areas, non-player characters cannot see them.
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