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SummaryGnomes with guns and bits with bugs
The GoodArcanum's setting is great. The blend of steampunk and fantasy is a welcome change from the Forgotten Realms or uninspired clones thereof that are all too often found in computer role-playing games. The setting goes far beyond just having gnomes with guns. It manages to capture a Victorian atmosphere and fuse it believably to its Tolkienesque world with a lot of attention to detail, from exploited orcish factory workers and a certain degree of racism towards orcs and half-orcs, including player characters, in general to mages not being allowed near locomotives out of fear of malfunctions, because the conflicting nature of magic and technology.
This conflict is also present in character generation, with a character that is strong in both magic and technology being just about the only thing you can't generate. Other than that you're pretty much free to do what you want. Like in Fallout, which was made by many of the same people, your character can be anything you want and the game is playable as almost everything as well. From stupid thieves to pacifistic chemists and from homicidal gunslingers to goody two shoes necromancers, anything goes. Many quests, including the main one, have more than one way to solve them, so the choice is really up to you, giving the game a lot of replay value.
The storyline is good, although it starts a bit slowly and even though is mainly linear, there are different paths and different endings depending on your choices along the way. The story will take you across the whole continent of Arcanum, from jungle islands to desert wastelands and from elven cities to dwarven caverns. All of these places are filled with side quests which range from simple delivery boy and assassination quests to elaborate conspiracies and political machinations. Still, there are entire villages that are completely optional, leaving much room for exploration. An interesting feature in this regard is that the whole world is like a huge canvas. If you keep on walking to the north east from Shrouded Hills, without going to the world map, you will eventually arrive at Tarant, just as if you'd traveled there via the world map. While doing this would be tedious and pointless, I appreciate that there's the possibility as it gives, to me at least, the whole world a sense of coherence as it doesn't just consist of isolated locations but also of the wilderness between them.
I also enjoyed how characters react to you differently, depending on your race, gender, reputation and technological or magical aptitude, even on some your equipment, like barbarian armor or a smoking jacket and that a character's equipment is reflected in both his graphics and his inventory. If you kill a servant, you'll be able to take and wear their uniform and if somebody attacks you wearing plate mail and wielding a broadsword, you will be able to take and use them as well after you defeat him. Assuming, of course, that the armor is your size, because small armor will only fit half-lings, dwarves and gnomes and elven chainmail is too small for half-ogres.
The BadHowever, just as most of Fallout's good aspects are present in this game, so are some of its not so good ones, unfortunately. First of all, there's the issue of bugs. The release version had lots of them and even after the final patch a couple of them remain. Mostly minor stuff, but annoying nonetheless and distracting from the game's otherwise great atmosphere. Also, the tile-based graphics are best described as functional. Streets are always at right angles and most buildings look exactly the same. There's little variety in the way dungeons look and most animations are wooden. Even special effects like spell animations aren't really spectacular. The graphics weren't state of the art when the game came out and certainly aren't now, but they get their job done.
Finally, there's one aspect that wasn't handled quite as well as in previous games and that's the combat. The game offers both a trendy real-time mode and a turn-based alternative. Unfortunately, neither works as well as those in other games. The real-time mode is not pausable and very hectic whereas the turn-based mode doesn't give you clear information how many action points each action is going to take. Additionally, real-time combat seems to favor ranged fighters whereas melee specialists seem to have the edge in the turn-based mode. Combat is arguably neither the focus of the game nor is it very hard as characters can get very powerful very quickly, but it's a pity it wasn't executed better.