Reviews

Flashback Friday – Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

In any discussion about the greatest video game RPGs of all time, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is bound to be mentioned, and rightfully so. Arcanum is a steampunk fantasy RPG released by Troika Games in 2001, making it perhaps the best debut for any video game studio. It is the sole occupant of tier 2 on our video game RPG tier list, meaning only one video game RPG has more role-playing than it (that being Fallout 2). Troika Games was formed by ex-Interplay employees, so much of Fallout’s brilliance is on display throughout Arcanum.

Arcanum is an isometric 2.5D game that lets you choose between real-time combat and turn-based combat. Off hand I cannot think of another RPG that gives you such an option. Its superior quality and 190 page manual might make the educated RPG fan think it comes from a pen and paper RPG, but it does not. It is an original video game RPG, one of the best of all time in this regard again not unlike Fallout and most of all Fallout 2.

It is set in the world of Arcanum which consists of a massive continent and several off shore islands. It is almost completely open world with only a few locations not being accessible until you advance to a certain point. The world of Arcanum resembles a parallel 1800s United Kingdom in which magick exists but is being replaced by steam based technology, making for a very unique setting and intriguing conflict. It plays off of its setting well as we will soon discuss, taking advantage of the literary intrigue it presents in the form of story and quests, and also taking advantage of the setting in the form of gameplay diversity.


The massive world of Arcanum has very few loading screens, and only select few small locations require advancing to certain parts in the plot before they can be accessed.

Arcanum is available on both GOG and Steam, and only supports Windows. It needs some work before it can run at widescreen resolutions. See the following guide, especially pages 17-18:

https://www.gog.com/forum/arcanum_of_steamworks_and_magick_obscura/must_have_arcanum_fan_patches_widescreen_and_more

Don’t be intimidated, all that’s needed are a widescreen patch and unofficial patch. In Windows Vista and newer, it is also necessary to run it as administrator and use the following compatibility settings: Disable Display Scaling on High DPI Settings, Disable Desktop Composition, and Disable Visual Themes. After these tweaks it may or may not run with no severe issues… if it doesn’t, then try disabling fullscreen mode which should work, and if not then try lowering the resolution and also try different GPU drivers.

Even with these tweaks it will not be perfect. You may or may not be limited to 1920 x 1080 and below, you may or may not be limited to running it in windowed mode, higher frame rates may or may not stutter. This game really needs a remaster, so be warned.

Gameplay

Reading the 190 page manual, which is included with the GOG version in PDF format, is a good way to get acquainted both with the world of Arcanum and the gameplay mechanics. It goes into everything in perfect detail. No, not all 190 pages must be read, much of that goes over installation and options configuration which you can do yourself.

Let’s review Arcanum’s gameplay in the order the player experiences it, starting with the character creator. Character generation is only done in two parts: part 1 is where you select your race, gender, name, and background, and part 2 is where you adjust your stats and skills. There are dozens of backgrounds which mostly adjust your statistics but can affect dialogue as well, and the following races are available:

  • Human
  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Half-Elf
  • Halfling
  • Gnome
  • Half-Orc
  • Half-Ogre

Race has massive impact on statistics, dialogue, and quest availability. The only game that can compare in this regard is Troika’s own Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. You will encounter racism and also favoritism, and unlike a modern RPG this won’t just affect brief in-the-moment dialogue, it will follow you everywhere you go, completely alter quest availability at times, and much more.

The second part of the character creator lets you allocate points into eight ability scores (aka attributes) and numerous skills. Your value in these eight ability scores can and will completely change dialogue at times, with intelligence being able to alter 100% of the game’s encounters and your dialogue choices, and charisma coming close to that. Yes, that means Arcanum lets you play as a mentally deficient “dumb” character who can barely speak like in Fallout 2, but on the opposite side of the spectrum Arcanum is more responsive to high intelligence than Fallout 2, which is very nice to see in a game like this that lets you become a technological genius or master of the arcane arts.

Intelligence affects not only spoken dialogue, but your journal as well.

All of these skills and also your hit points (health) and fatigue values are affected by your ability scores.

The skills of Arcanum are listed below:

Combat Skills

  • Bow
  • Dodge
  • Melee
  • Throwing

Thieving Skills

  • Backstab
  • Pick Pocket
  • Prowling
  • Spot Trap

Social Skills

  • Gambling
  • Haggle
  • Heal
  • Persuasion

Technological Skills

  • Repair
  • Firearms
  • Pick Locks
  • Disarm Traps

Continuing with the most recent screenshot above, the two buttons next to the skills button will reveal technological disciplines and spells from left to right, and all the way at the right we see the tech/magick gauge. Technology and magick conflict with each other in the world of Arcanum, so players are advised to go one way or the other… or neither. A “do it all” type character will always result in failure.

The technological disciplines each contain seven degrees, each one representing your level of expertise. These degrees are: Novice, Assistant, Associate, Technician, Engineer, Professor, Doctorate. The eight technological disciplines of Arcanum are:

  • Chemistry
  • Electric
  • Explosives
  • Gun Smithy
  • Herbology
  • Mechanical
  • Smithy
  • Therapeutics

What are these disciplines for, you ask? Use common sense, apply real world logic. This is how you have to think about real RPGs like Arcanum and pen and paper RPGs, after all they are essentially life simulations. This thought process is foreign to console gamers and gamers who only play modern RPGs which are highly illogical.

So to answer this question, your skill level in technological disciplines is the most significant factor in determining technological combat abilities and recipes; each degree unlocks a new recipe, so crafting is more important in Arcanum than perhaps any RPG. Much of the best gear must be crafted, but thankfully crafting is not grindey at all and supplies are common in stores. Degrees are also significant on role-playing; specific expertise levels in specific disciplines will open up new quest options and quest availability, they will affect dialogue, and the more you delve into technology the more your tech/magick gauge shifts toward tech.

This tech/magick gauge is one of the most important role-playing attributes, right up there with reputation (which is based on your actions, just like in Fallout), race, intelligence, and charisma. How technologically or magically adept you are has tremendous impact on dialogue, quest availability, trading potential. Magick shops for example will deny you immediately if you are a technological expert, since again you have to keep in mind that technology and magick are in opposition of one another on a fundamental level as tech draws on earthly rules (sciences) while magick disrupts these. NPCs strongly in favor of one or the other will not want to talk or be nice to you, and if you are trying to seek quest-related information from them which you undoubtedly will be doing, it makes for a very interesting and responsive RPG like none we see today, objectively speaking.

All of these role-playing features I describe apply to magick too. Technology has disciplines and degrees, while magick has spell colleges. The spell colleges (or types of magick) in Arcanum are as follows:

  • Conveyence
  • Divination
  • Air
  • Earth
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Force
  • Mental
  • Meta
  • Morph
  • Nature
  • Black Necromantic
  • White Necromantic
  • Phantasm
  • Summoning
  • Temporal

Sixteen types of magick, which blows away most other games, especially modern RPGs which lack important fundamentals like healing (White Necromantic), typical Necromancy (Black Necromantic), Summoning and Morph.

Arcanum has five spells in each of these colleges, for a total of 80 spells. Not an overwhelming amount, so any magick focused player isn’t going to be focusing on only one spell college. You can, but it’d get tiring using only the same five spells the entire game. This is something that separates Arcanum from later released D&D games, namely The Temple of Elemental Evil by the same studio and also the Neverwinter Nights series which provide enough spells in each of their magic schools to focus on just one the entire game if you choose to.

The same applies to Arcanum’s technological disciplines; with 7 degrees in each, chances are you will focus on more than one. On the bright side, this means you’re going to see superior diversity either way, but on the downside it means specialist type playthroughs are less exciting.

You are able to unlock both technological degrees and spells as you level up, but they each have prerequisites including a level prerequisite, as well as requiring the degree or spell beneath them, as expected—it wouldn’t make much sense to achieve a doctorate without first getting an associate and all the others.

As with many classic RPGs, Arcanum has more diverse spells and more powerful high tier spells compared to today’s RPGs which are afraid to be ambitious, exciting, they’re simply afraid to be good, as they limit themselves to the same generic dumbed down content in all categories. That isn’t to say balance is worse in Arcanum than today’s RPGs, it is much better usually, as it adheres strongly to logic (so a sword/shield fighter is going to be a lot more limited at higher levels than a tech expert wielding explosives and guns and crazy gadgets and also weaker than an elite mage) and there are significant benefits and downsides to both tech experts and elite mages, depending on the enemies you are fighting. There is no clear cut best play style in Arcanum, beyond doctorate level tech and top tier mage both being the most powerful builds, and considering there are eight technological disciplines and sixteen spell colleges, that leaves room for tons of variety.

High level technological degrees let you make some amazing gadgets, from weapons to protection and useful tools. From chemical weapons that paralyze or cause hallucinations or work as anesthetics, to healing jackets (yes this is technological, not magical) and shocking staves and tesla rods, to devices that detect traps easily, to stun grenades and dynamite (explosives can destroy doors and other physics objects, letting you bypass locked doors and such to finish quests before you’d expect to), to powerful drugs of all kinds, incredible guns like the Hand Cannon and Elephant Gun, to making auto skeleton keys and mechanical decoys and mechanized arachnids, and much more, Arcanum has incredible recipes leading to mind blowing devices to be used in gameplay, both in and out of combat. Some of the most creative inventions and equipment you will ever see in any game! Modern tamed RPGs don’t come close with their limitations to generic elemental spells and common bladed (and blunt, if lucky) weaponry.

And let’s not forget that Arcanum can be played both in real-time or turn-based, by selecting one of these in the options menu. Name another game with this option, I’m waiting. Turn-based is easier since real-time is… fast, and combined with the isometric 2.5D perspective it is not recommended. Hardcore players like it for the challenge, but the truth of the matter is real-time is meant for 3D third person and first person RPGs. Still, the option is nice and hurts nobody.

Arcanum thankfully has a fast travel, which lets you travel anywhere you want unless it would require crossing a bridge or taking a ship. For travelling to areas that require crossing a bridge, you need to locate the bridge first and travel over it yourself, before you can fast travel across these areas. Such limitations are rare in the game world. By default, hardly any locations are marked, so you can easily fast travel blindly, something most modern games don’t let you do.

Fast travel is necessary not only due to the vast scale of Arcanum, but also because there is quite a bit of empty and uninteresting space, like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

So with all of this, we have provided a ten thousand foot view of the gameplay of Arcanum, so to speak. There is no need to rest, eat, or hydrate yourself in this game. Arcanum’s gameplay strengths are its volume of content, diversity of content from equipment to spells to creatures, and also its incredibly creative gadgets which usually have to be crafted from recipes you unlock by leveling up. Then there is the role-playing, which defeats all but one video game (at least when considering single player only), and the quest design which we will go over more on the next page. The core rule/stat system of Arcanum is excellent; very logical and robust, one of the very best free form leveling systems there is. It is so good that it seems as if it originated from a pen and paper RPG, but it didn’t.

Arcanum’s weaknesses are small oversights in the functionality of some of the spells (coding oversights or errors), and the AI could use better tactics. Though it is nice that AI will turn tail and flee when losing badly, something more games need.

 

Story

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is one of few RPGs that excels in both gameplay and writing. Fallout and Fallout 2 are only excellent in role-playing and writing, Planescape: Torment has much better writing than gameplay, by 2000s standards (which are far higher than 2010s standards) Baldur’s Gate isn’t great in either area (like Icewind Dale) and Baldur’s Gate II is very good but not elite in either, Icewind Dale II only excels in gameplay, The Temple of Elemental Evil only excels in gameplay, Neverwinter Nights only excels in gameplay and mostly multiplayer at that, Dragon Age: Origins is similar to Baldur’s Gate II but weaker in gameplay, Dragon Age: Inquisition is weak in both especially gameplay, you get the idea.

Arcanum objectively has significantly more depth and originality than every post-2010 RPG in the following areas: world building (more world elements and lore while modern games leave out so many important elements whether it’s religion or explaining their governments and city/town histories and technology and magic, more exposition, actual writing style), themes, and dialogue. It does not stand strong in character development, but it doesn’t have failed efforts here like Fallout 4 and some BioWare games do, instead it just doesn’t have a ton of effort in character development.

Also, Arcanum really does have a weak ending. Troika Games built up such an epic universe and story along the way, but then the game was rushed to completion (as were their other two games) and they failed to find an adequate conclusion to it as a result. To this day, I will always wonder what a good ending would be like. It is a difficult story to conclude.

As with many games from this time period, players are encouraged to read the manual (which is an astounding 190 pages long). It contains lots of world building and lore in its own right. The world of Arcanum is a sort of parallel fantasy version of 1800s United Kingdom, so the industrial revolution in the game is not unlike the one we actually saw, though more advanced as the intro demonstrates.

The only question/problem is, why didn’t the gnome tell us the name of this boy?

You play as someone either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or in the right place at the right time. That will forever be up to debate. The lone survivor in an airship crash, which conveniently puts you in the position to being dubbed the Living One—a prophet in the Panarii religion, the reincarnation of an ancient great elf. This may seem trite on paper, but the game approaches it in a way that isn’t. At first, it is rather comical about it: immediately after the crash, after the intro above, a character new to the Panarii religion approaches you, panics, and babbles in what can easily turn into a hilarious conversation.

So Arcanum will play with your expectations about whether or not your character is some typical RPG chosen hero. It is immediately apparent how many elements Arcanum has to write and deal with; a huge open world with many noteworthy locations, all of them need to be written. Governing bodies need writing, religions need writing, all of the races and conflicts between them, all of the technology and magick, and then the main story itself and the role-playing and characters. With a modern day RPG of a similar scale, like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda, its lack of literary influence would lead to it not focusing heavily on any of these elements. But the more common trend would be to put a little bit more effort into character melodrama (this is NOT necessarily good character writing, and usually isn’t), as BioWare does. But Arcanum? It is clearly written by much more talented writers who must have a background in writing, while most other games (including those from BioWare) are quite clearly written by people without any writing background and don’t even read as a hobby. As a result, Arcanum manages to succeed writing all of those elements. It doesn’t have strong focus on characters, but at least they aren’t irrational, unbelievable morons or cut-outs of the same character templates like most games and movies and TV shows. And more importantly, Arcanum does a much better job humanizing typical NPCs; they are actual people, often with distinct dialogue, rather than just useless bodies asking for help like in Dragon Age: Origins.

Large scale games today simply have no effort put into most or all of those areas of writing, but Arcanum brings it all into the discussion in a thoughtful and professional manner. It’s just so rare to see this, making Arcanum a real treat even more so today than back in 2001 when video game writing (and overall quality) held higher standards.

[quote=”GND-Tech Ten Best Stories in Video Game History article”]
As expected, its story is one about industrial revolution and it explores the benefits and consequences of it from various perspectives, like the nature loving elves, the stout dwarves, and the short lived humans. This much it does as well as anyone could hope from a video game. The same goes for its world building; it is a massive open world game, and every civilized location is uniquely written with its own lore and stories, a world where religion actually has a presence along with its controversies. Multiple religions of course, all explored either through optional character interaction, optional exploration, optional reading of religious texts, and quests.

NPCs are also written with greater attention to detail than most other games, and combined with its amount of role-playing (which is only surpassed by Fallout 2), and dialogue quality and authenticity, it makes for a plausible, believable, living world. It becomes so much more immersive than hollow RPGs from today for example.

So many of its quests (including optional side quests) serve to further expand upon the world as well as thematic elements of the story, delivering additional perspective and interesting characters to think about. The quests are also written far better than most other RPGs, especially modern ones which are ripe with fetch quests or “goose chase” type quests (e.g. find this person, then find that person, and each time said person is marked on your map, like in the disappointing Torment: Tides of Numenera).

For example, Arcanum literally incorporates an authentic Lovecraftian short story as a quest. This quest involves carrying out a detailed investigation into paranormal, creepy events. The investigation is an authentic one; it starts off by reading a nonfiction book written by someone who was investigating the matter at hand. Then it involves following up on leads mentioned in the book, which entails visiting a city’s public archives and inquiring about persons mentioned in said book, and more detective work along those lines. It is logical, diverse, and suspense continually elevates as you progress through the quest.

This is typical Troika Games greatness, evident in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines as well. Quests are unique stories in their own right, still connected to the main story of course, but they include their own unique themes, styles, tropes, cultural references, social commentary, and more. Dozens of quests like this appear in both games, it is a level of writing depth that you will not find outside of late 1990s and early 2000s RPGs (not at this scale that is).

Arcanum also suffers the same primary flaw of Bloodlines, and that is a rushed, unsatisfactory ending. It is a twist in Arcanum, no doubt about it. I found no foreshadowing for it. But it does not do the game justice and even worse, it completely abandons the industrial revolution themes and others that it previously focused on. It seems unrelated and perhaps rushed, a worse conclusion than Bloodlines no doubt. Furthermore, unlike Bloodlines, not every quest in Arcanum (save for the last 1-2 hours given what we just stated) is brilliant; several side quests include excessively stupid, helpless NPCs, like a typical TV show or movie. Luckily these are few and far between.[/quote]

We have written about Arcanum’s writing before; it is an honorable mention in our Ten Best Stories in Video Game History article. Note what we’ve said about characters so far; Arcanum doesn’t try to write amazing characters, but generic NPCs around the world are actual distinct individuals often times, which is totally unlike open world games today. Its industrial revolution, tech vs magick, class based society, religious themes, and race themes and others are thoughtfully incorporated into most of its quests, and these quests almost always consist of actual distinct tasks rather than just killing things. It is a real RPG, very dialogue heavy and role-playing heavy as one would hope.


Reading this study of a short story that may reveal needed information to pursue a lead. After this, I went on to try and find a copy of the short story in question.

Some of its quests involve reading, something too many people today are afraid of. We make note of one particularly amazing quest that entails reading a well written short story and a nonfiction study of it pictured above. This is by far the most authentic Lovecraftian writing of any game, and you don’t just read Lovecraftian stories in this quest, but you get to play the part of a Lovecraft protagonist! As a huge fan of Lovecraft, this quest was particularly amazing to me, and typically I am insulted by video game attempts at capturing Lovecraft’s magic as they usually tarnish it.

Unique quests like this can be found all over the game world, opposed to the monotone repetitive generic quests of a modern day RPG, both mainstream and indie. The superior quality of Arcanum versus the RPGs of today in all of the most important elements (writing, role-playing, quest design, gameplay design and diversity) cannot be understated.

The world of Arcanum is ripe with attention to detail. From legible street signs and building numbers by necessity, as you will be exploring the game world the way you would actually explore the real world before GPS (so yes, the in-game map is not a GPS), to keeping up with the world via newspapers, to quest design that involves all of these things and carrying out investigations without having your hand held (talking to people, visiting public archives, no objective markers), it is a wonder how game design has mostly gone backwards from this, and it is so refreshing to be able to take on quests from all the possible angles this game lets you approach them, complete them in all the ways this game lets you complete them, all while performing mostly realistic, involving, and less repetitive tasks than just killing things.


Reading newspapers to understand the world around you and possibly discover useful information that can aid with a quest, and the game never stoops so low as to ever tell you to read them.

 

Audio and Visuals

Arcanum’s 2.5D engine, comprised mostly of 2D visuals, is actually worse than Infinity Engine which precedes it, but it is better than the engine that powers Fallout and Fallout 2. It also doesn’t support more than two sound channels (so stereo/2.1 is the most you’re going to get out of it). So while it was technologically outdated at launch (ironically), thankfully it is artistically adept. The diversity of its open world environment crushes most other open world games from all eras, both indoors and outdoors. The variety of structures, from human to elven to dwarven, diversity in vegetation, environmental diversity is usually better in 2D/2.5D games since it is easier and cheaper to accomplish and Arcanum puts it on full display. Every settlement is unique as well.

Advanced human architecture, admittedly stemming from dwarf technology.
Inside of dwarven architecture.
Elves live in trees.
Dark Elves also live in trees, and seek to conquer and control nature opposed to coexisting with it like regular elves.

Not many objects are 3D, only characters/creatures really. A dynamic day/night cycle is present.

Most dialogue is unvoiced, which allows for greater levels of role-playing and use of imagination, drawing on the power of literature which lets you use your imagination. But some dialogue is voiced; almost all of the dialogue from certain key characters is voiced, and the voice acting is very good and does not falter. The sound track of Arcanum is outstanding, mostly comprised of instruments from the time period and culture it is representing.

This is reminiscent of a type of environment in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.

So while Arcanum was never strong technologically, to this day it remains eye catching due to its environmental diversity and unique environments. Steampunk games, especially RPGs, are few and far between.

By default, Arcanum runs at a capped 30 FPS like most other isometric 2.5D RPGs at the time, but it can be modified to run at a higher frame rate. I have tested it up to 120 FPS, and 120 FPS is a real treat, making the panning movements super smooth especially when used in tandem with 120 Hz ULMB, eliminating all perceivable motion blur. But I cannot run 120 FPS smoothly on my AMD Ryzen 7 1700X which returns massive stutter that was not present with my previous Intel Core i7 6700k. This follows the general trend of AMD Ryzen not running well in older games due to its CCX design.

Conclusion

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura represents a higher class of RPG that is, as a matter of fact, absent from video gaming today. The amount of role-playing possible, which extends to the amount and responsiveness of dialogue present, the number of ways you can approach and complete quests, the amount of ways in which the world responds to various elements of your character build, the amount and variety of character builds available to the player, then other things such as the amount and variety of creatures and equipment/items present in the game world, Arcanum features several times more of all of this than almost all post-2010 RPGs, the only exceptions being number of weapons in Pillars of Eternity and number of spells in both Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin series (but Pillars of Eternity lacks in quality in these areas). This not only shows how excellent Arcanum is, it shows how embarrassing modern RPGs are as the amount of effort put into them is substantially less.

The same notion applies to Arcanum’s writing; from an objective point of view it contains far more elements to its universe, lore and related exposition, thematic depth, and much higher quality dialogue than 99.9% of video games today. The writing is not just deeper, but wider as well, encompassing more themes and ideas than most, raising more questions and more possible discussion on themes such as industrial revolution, questioning our use and obsession with technology and the dangers it presents, class based societies, racism, religion, and more. The depth it provides into any one of these themes is greater than the entirety of the narrative depth present in the vast majority of games especially today, especially cinematic AAA Hollywood inspired games which abandon literary influence.

More intellectual material and more fun is what Arcanum has over most other RPGs, thanks to deeper writing, more role-playing, better gameplay balance, and more gameplay variety leading to more character builds, many times greater variety in enemy encounters, far greater diversity in spells and equipment, and also much more creative gameplay design resulting in more distinct and awesome spells, and some of the coolest technological gadgets (weapons, armor, and other items) you will ever see in a game.

Let’s try out our new scoring system. We are abandoning the use of a numerical scoring system, instead listing its strengths and weaknesses and then a final recommendation based not only on the strengths and weaknesses, but most of all whether or not the game was actually crafted with care and passion, or was it just designed not as a work of art but as a bare minimum product to profit as much as possible while taking advantage of an uneducated gullible consumer base?

 

Strengths

  • Role-playing. It has more of it than all but one other single player video game RPG overall. This game responds more to your race choice than all but one other game, that one other game being Troika’s own Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. This is one of very few elite RPGs that can alter every single encounter/conversation based on your character build—Arcanum only does this based on your intelligence score, but of course other ability scores and factors will change the vast majority of dialogue throughout the game (mostly tech vs magick expertise, race, charisma, and reputation in addition to intelligence).
  • Writing quality and depth. In terms of world building and the story, it is in the elite by video game standards, having far more themes and more depth, and a much more fleshed out and detailed world with better written and more logical lore and dialogue than 99.9% of games.
  • The core rule/stat system. It is very logical and leads to excellent diversity in character build potential; 8 races + gender choice, 16 skills, 8 technological disciplines with 7 degrees in each (each degree unlocks a new recipe leading to a unique item), 16 spell colleges with 5 spells in each for a total of 80 spells with superior diversity, too many creatures and thus possible enemy encounters to count. Significantly greater in all of these aspects than the vast majority of RPGs.
  • Quest design. Arcanum, Fallout, Fallout 2, and Planescape: Torment, are the very best RPGs in this regard. They consistently provide the most ways to approach and complete quests opposed to railroading you into two choices like most of today’s abysmal RPGs do, they are comprised of unique tasks very often, and quest availability will change depending on your character build, unlike most other RPGs. Quests and also shops will often be restricted to characters either pursuing technology or magick, not both, and both reputation and race can be a significant factor here as well.
  • Creativity and diversity of equipment, from weapons to armor and other items. Arcanum embarrasses most other RPGs here, especially in creativity. The things you will craft if you pursue technology will blow your mind.
  • Ability to play either in turn-based or real-time.
  • Lasting appeal and replayability based on all of the above. All of the role-playing and character build choices mean the game can be totally different on many subsequent playthroughs. My playthrough was somewhere in the 100 hour ball park. Then there’s the multiplayer, which is co-op but lacks a game master.

Weaknesses

  • Requires unofficial patch, and also a widescreen patch for widescreen displays, and even then might not run at an ideal resolution or frame rate.
  • The conclusion of the story, the final mission. It was rushed and as a result is a weak and bizarre conclusion, unforeseen and too unrelated to the themes that Arcanum wonderfully explores throughout.
  • Some oversights in the programming of certain spells causing potentially unintended behavior.
  • Wasted space in its vast open world environment, but thankfully fast travel is present.
  • AI is weak when it comes to combat tactics.
  • Could use more NPCs in towns and cities.
  • A very small amount of side quests, while designed to be funny, still make characters unbelievably stupid, so these few quests end up forgettable. Thankfully these quests are rare, while quests of this caliber make up at least 90% of modern RPG quests (and this is not limited to modern AAA RPGs).
  • Without spoiling anything, why doesn’t the gnome in the intro cutscene give you the name of “the boy?”

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was very clearly designed to be a groundbreaking RPG, one of the largest in scale yet richest in writing and gameplay, trying to maintain the highest tier of role-playing while adding never before seen levels of gameplay content and diversity opposed to being limited to typical fantasy, making it one of the most ambitious games ever designed. No game was made with more passion than Arcanum, and this level of passion is nearly extinct from modern AAA game development.


Highly Recommended

...very clearly designed to be a groundbreaking RPG...

9.6
Diamond Award:
9.6

You Might Also Like