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Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura (Windows)

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Written by  :  MasterMegid (897)
Written on  :  Dec 19, 2006
Rating  :  4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars

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Summary

It's Kinda Like A Turn Of The Century Shadowrun

The Good

In missed Arcanum, when it was first released in 2001. Some years later, I stumbled onto the game while searching the ‘net for new RPGS to play. I was almost immediately drawn to the game. It was from Troika, a developer made up of former Fallout designers. Since I loved Fallout, I became even more interested in the game. How had this gem of RPGS escaped my attention?(Maybe I’m slipping in my game prowess;) The setting of the game intrigued me as well, I downloaded the demo, to ensure that Arcanum would run on my new PC. And to see if the game was a cool as it sounded in the reviews I had read. To find that the answer to both questions was a resounding, yes!

Got Magick? Or Perhaps A Bit Of Technology?

In Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura, you begin by either picking a pre-made character to play, each with their own back-story. Or as in most PC RPGS you can create your avatar. The character creation system is deep and similar to Fallout, if anything it is even deeper. You have control over gender, race, skills, and even back round. The races run the gamut from human, elf, dwarf, to Half-Orcs, and everything in-between. Some races, I.e. dwarfs do not allow you to play as a female, and while some may see this as a draw back it is a small one at the most. Skills are what you are proficient at. From magick, to tech, every thing is at your fingertips. You can be a mage dwarf, a tech Half-elf, or anything else you can imagine. Attributes correspond to skills and vice versa. For example gamers that prefer using guns, will need a high perception. Back rounds are optional, but can enhance the gameplay, if used. You can choose from tons such as, “Child Of A Hero”, “Inheritance” , etc. These often add something extra to your avatar, but act as a double edged sword as they often also take something away. As the “Inheritance” back round, will allow you to start with more cash. As well as penalize your willpower attribute.

What about classes Mr. Megid? You ask. Well allow me to educate you, no pun intended. In Arcanum, classes, such as fighter, mage, thief, etc. Do NOT exist. At least not in the traditional since. Arcanum never tells you what your class is. In a gameplay sense, it more depends of how you play the game. If you are proficient with magick, you will gain spells as you continue leveling up. As there are many magick “colleges”, I will not go into it. But you can master one such group, or mix and match, it is your choice.

More fun is the technology “classes”. Like with magick you can choose what if any tech stuff you wish to learn. You can be a gunslinger, a gunsmith, or both. You use mechanized armor, as well as create items, like some kind of mad scientist. So you could be a gun slinging thief. Or a sword-wielding inventor. Or just about another eclectic combination you can conceive.

“There Can Be Only One Living One!”

Arcanum, begins with an attack on the Zephyr. A newfangled Airship. It goes down half-way to it’s intended destination. Upon waking up in the wreckage of ground zero, you desperately search for other survivors. And discover a gnome, he implores of you to “…find the boy”. He hands over a signet ring, and dies, with his cryptic message ringing in your ears. Near the wreckage you meet Virgil, a human cleric. Among his ramblings he revels that you may be the chosen one. “He Will Be Born Upon Wings Of Fire…”. That could be you, after all you were sort of born of wings of fire. From here you are directed to find Virgil’s mentor as he could explain the prophecy in more detail. The plot thickens as you learn of assassins, known as the “Molecan Hand” are out for your blood. The dwarfs of the “Black Mountain Clan” have gone missing. And dark elves are trying to see the return of Arronox, a villain from Arcanum’s colorful past.

The plot is one of the game’s strongest points. Every time you think you have an answer you inevitably end up with more questions. It is very mysterious, and paced superbly. I always found myself wondering how everything fit together. I was practically glued to my monitor from start to finish. Now mean feat considering Arcanum has a lot to offer, with a 30-40 hour campaign, plus tons of side quests, and optional areas to explore, they game can easily take up to 60 hours to complete.

The side quests are very fun to do. Unlike a lot of other RPGS that shall remain nameless. But in the end the main quest steals the show. And the plot twists are is a word genius. I won’t divulge them here, but rest assured you will never see them coming.

There Ain’t No Party, Like An Arcanum Party, Cause An Arcanum Party Don’t Stop!

In Arcanum, as in many other RPGS you can amass a party of followers. However the party or follower system works a little differently than what you may have seen in other RPGS. The number of followers that can join in your significant quest, is based on your charisma. The higher it is the more people will follow you to the ends of Arcanum.

Building a diverse party is as per usual in RPGS is the key to success in Arcanum. Having a mix is more fun as well as help make the game easier. My party consisted of a cleric, Half-Ogre ass kicker, a loyal dog.(A.K.A. Worthless Mutt, somewhat a misnomer as he is far from “worthless”) A tech-inclined dwarf, and last but not least, a smoking hot elf babe with a penchant for the mystical arts.

Certain characters will not join you if you are either too good or too evil, too magick or too tech. Giving the game replay value. Some are more talkative than others as well. Virgil for example will always have something to add in verbally. He greatly enhances the plot, and gives a better understanding of the world of Arcanum. Raven, the aforementioned smoking hot elf babe, will often provide you with good info as well. And if you are playing as a male human, elf, or half-elf, she may fall in love with you, if you treat her right.

I Want To Live In Arcanum!

Another of the games greatest strengths, is the unique fantasy world that is Arcanum. As I mentioned earlier, the world is in a turn of the 19th century fashion. With the once magick only world of Arcanum, now going through a technological revolution. Magick is aversely affected by technology, and technology by magick. At the same time there are ancient ruins, as well as high tech “Metropolis” inspired cities. Elven forests and vast railroad networks. And unlike the setting of some RPGS, Arcanum never stumbles and makes this eclectic mix seem believable. And always interesting. Very few other RPGS every manage such a unique world. For some reason many RPGS neglect to make the fantasy world believable, despite the fact that it is a very important in not the MOST important role of fantasy is to make the world seem real. A few other RPGS that also pulled it off include, Planescape: Torment, Jade Empire, and Shadow Run.

“Vae Victus!”

The combat in Arcanum comes in various flavors. There is the traditional turn-based, fast turn-based, and real time. The real-time combat is probably the worst as you have no control over the fights. Fast turn-based, is just that, a faster turn-based combat.

I found that the tried and true, turn-based works the best. It is very similar to Fallout. As in you have meter that is color coded. Green dots are your action points, with these you move, attack, use items, and magick, if you have any. When you deplete points the dots turn red, and yellow, as the enemies attack and your follower perform actions.

You have no direct control over your party unlike many such games. However they often do what is expected of them, so you do not need to worry about shitty A.I. Doing stupid things, They will attack, or heal, or whatever is most needed.

Outside of battles, you can have your party members trade items, heal you, or discuss various things.

Beyond Good And Evil

As with your class, your reputation, is based on what you do, not what you pick as in games like Baldur’s Gate. If you act like an evil prick, people will treat you like one. If you are good and act heroic, people will treat you like a hero. Or perhaps you shall be born with a heart full of neutrality, once again it is up to you.

Followers will also react to your choices. Some may be coerced in to doing evil, others will not, and will let you know it. Some do not care either way. And of course evil followers do not like “little goody two shoes”.

There are also “fate points”. They can be earned by doing heroic acts as well as evil acts. A fate point is used to automatically help you pick locks or persuade someone, despite your skill in the said area.

Reputations can also be gained. For instance if you report to the newspaper printer, that you are the sole survivor of the Zephyr, citizens of Tarant, will be nicer to you. You can also gain negative reps, such as Tarant Pervert, if you run through the streets naked.

The visuals and audio in Arcanum, are pretty good as well. Firstly the graphics, you likely have noticed that for a game from 2001 Arcanum looks a little dated. After all, this was the same year that gave us the amazing visuals of Morrowind, as well as Neverwinter Nights.

This is likely due to the fact that Arcanum is based of the graphics engine of Fallout and Fallout 2. And was in development for quite a while. Do not misunderstand me, the graphics are good, but not mind-blowing. Besides I like the look of 2D RPGS, a rarity these days.

The sound and music are overall better than that of the visual department. One could easily say that the sound is excellent.

The score is can be epic, and also quaint. It also fit’s the game very well. And sounds proper, for a game set in a world similar to the late 1800’s of American history. The sound effects all sound excellent, and work very well in the game. In this area Troika’s Legacy really shines. From the slash of blades, the arcane whirl of magick, and the boom of a shotgun, it all sound amazingly realistic. They even have the ambiance covered. When near the ocean, you can hear the waves crash on the shore. In dense forests the various animal sounds let you know you are not alone, in the wilderness.

The Bad

There are often graphical glitches. And the game tends to become unbalanced. As in the first 10 hours or so, the game can be very challenging. Yet the mid and later portions of the game are WAY to easy

Other quibbles include: sometimes party members do not understand, and action. For example in one side quest, about halfway through the game. You must kill a elf that is possed by a demon, thereby freeing his soul. The problem here is that your good party member often do not understand, that you are killing a man, but to save his soul. And therefore they will bitch. And may leave the party.

Also sometime a follower will not listen to you, and ignore your request to healed. And as you get stronger healing spells often fail.

And finally the ending may disappoint some. My beef with it however is this: to achieve a perfect good ending, you have to solve most of Arcanum’s main problems if, you should fail one, you will get a worse ending. And as some of the events you must fix are early on in the game, you likely will miss at least a few. But then again the multiple ending possibilities as well as gameplay problems will provide many reasons to replay the otherwise amazing game.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day Arcanum is one of those ever so rare games. The ones that are flawed, but for every flaw there is also something that overrides it. And makes you forgot all the flaws.

This combined with the vastly original setting and enthralling plot, help make Arcanum, one of the most fun and most complete RPG experiences that I have every had the pleasure of playing. Trust me I have played hundreds of games.

And since the sequel was cancelled, this is as good, as it gets. The sequel was going to be a first person RPG in the vein of Deus Ex. Too bad, it would have been cool to see the world of Arcanum is glorious polygons. As well as would have given us another P.O.V. of one of gaming's most unique RPGS.