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Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura (PC)

Reviewed by: soundtech Gold Global Trader (11) Has Written 91 Reviews
Reviewed on: 27-Apr-2005


Arcanum is a very unique RPG that effectively combines the world of magic and technology. It is one of the few games that I have ever played in which one character could be using a pistol, and the other could be using a traditional sword or axe.

The game opens with a cinematic movie in which you are aboard a zeppelin and it is suddenly attacked by two small planes piloted by ogres. The dirigible crashes, and your character is the sole survivor. You find a dieing gnome who gives you a ring, and instructs you to give it to "the boy".

This area is known as the Crash Site, and this is were the adventure begins. The first person to approach you is a human priest by the name of Virgil who claims you are the "Living One", and believes that you are the incarnation of a prophet from his religion. He is the first of many NPC's that will accompany you on this journey. At first, the main plot of the game revolves around you finding out as much as you can about the ring that was given to you, and what its origins are. As you adventure more through Arcanum, you uncover a grave threat to world. Ultimately, you will have to make a choice for good or evil.

Before you can begin playing Arcanum, you must first create your character. In Arcanum, you must carefully decide if you will be concentrating as a magic user or a technologist. You can choose to build your character in both areas during the game, but this approach tends to complicate the game. I recommend you concentrate on magic or technology.

If you wish to just jump into the game and avoid this section, there is a wide variety of pre-made characters to choose from that will allow you to skip character creation and start playing immediately. If you prefer to create your own character, these are the things you will be deciding upon for yourself:
Choose a portrait (a wide variety of male and female options)
Choose a gender (advantages and disadvantages for each are displayed)
Choose race (typical options like human, dwarf, or half-elf)
Choose background (this is optional, all the backgrounds will have pros and cons).

After you are done with this, the next step is to spend your beginning character points on the character editor screen. You are given 5. They can be spent on anything that is on this screen (statistics, skills, spells, technology, or bumping up your health or fatigue meter). Once you are done with all of this, you can begin your adventure, and the fascinating world of Arcanum awaits you.

The graphics in this game were good -- not the greatest I have ever seen -- but still decent enough to be able to make you feel like you were really in the woods or exploring a city.
I considered the sound to be a little better than the graphics, and that is because there was a good amount of weapon sounds, ambient sound effects, and unique character voices.
Gameplay was good, with excellent monsters to fight, and plenty of quests to keep your attention.

The interface was very easy to use, with everything being a mouse click away, and easy access to helpful screens like the character editor, and logbook. I think the only problem I encountered with gameplay was slow character movement in some cities, but that was really a small thing.

Replay value of this game is extremely high, due to the fact that there are many different ways to play the game (tech-head, magician, melee expert, thief, and so on). There are so many quests available that I find it hard to believe that you will get them all the first time playing. You have an alignment meter. You can alter the outcome of some game plots and quests by being more evil, or more good.

The learning curve is almost non-existent for this game. All your tools and needed screens are easily accessible, movement and combat was easy, so it took very little time to learn how to access everything. There was also a brief walkthrough of the crash site area at the back of the manual.

The following sections outline basic statistics, skills, technological disciplines, and the spell index.

Anytime you level up in the game, you will get points to put into any of these areas. Most of the experience points in the game come from completing quests and combat. Arcanum will give you (XP) points for each hit that you inflict upon a creature or foe. Another feature that is very unique and helpful in Arcanum is the fate point system. There are certain quests and other circumstances during the game that will grant you a fate point, and the drop down menu for this is located at the top of the game screen. You do not have to spend the points immediately, you can collect points and spend them whenever you need to. Fate points allow you to be successful at some action that you would otherwise not have the skill or training for. Here are some examples of what a fate point can do for you: unlock a door that you could not unlock before, or get a critical hit on the next combat strike.

There are 8 basic statistics that can be improved upon during the game: (ST) Strength (which will determine how much you can carry), (DX) Dexterity (effects ranged weapons), (CN) Constitution (resistance to poison, fatigue rate), (BE) Beauty (effects reaction from NPC's), (IN) Intelligence (allows you to learn more spells and technologies), (PE) Perception (effects alertness and ranged weapon use), (WP) Willpower (can effect haggling, spells, and other skills), and (CH) Charisma (the higher this number is, the more NPC's you are allowed).

There are four different skill areas that you will have a chance to improve upon. They are the following: combat (bow, dodge, melee, throwing), thieving (back-stab, pick pocket, prowling, spot trap), social (gambling, haggle, heal, persuasion), and technological (repair, firearms, pick lock, disarm trap). You begin each of these skills at the untrained level, but as the game progresses, you will run into instructors in every city that will be able to train you further. Each instructor will want some gold for their troubles, but it is well worth it if you can afford it. Each advancement in a skill will grant you bonuses when using that skill, and the three different levels of advancement are apprentice, expert, and master.

There are 8 different technological disciplines that you can experiment with. They are: smithy (constructing armor), mechanical (gadgets), gun smithy (making guns), electrical (electrically charged items), herbology (making healing and fatigue restorers), Therapeutics (potions that effect the body), chemistry (substances that can affect the mind), and explosives (bombs and other thrown weapons). There is a list of items under each of these that you can make once you reach a certain level in that discipline, and there is a button that will bring up the schematic for that item, which will tell you what equipment you need to make that item.

The component pieces needed to make items can be found anywhere within the game world, and they can also be purchased from shops. Some examples of items you can make in Arcanum include charged staff, mechanized arachnid, or a revolver. This had to be my favorite feature of Arcanum, I really enjoyed the tech-head type of character, and being able to make so many different types of weapons, armor, and other items. I think it gave the game a hands-on type of feel that is unfortunately not too common in games. As you might guess, every time I played this game, I played as a tech expert, but that is not to say that the magic user character would not be just as fun, and maybe someday I will play again as a magic user.

There are sixteen colleges of magic that are available in Arcanum. They are the following: conveyance (motion and transportation), divination (information or knowledge), air (control air and wind), earth (control earth and stone), fire (control fire and heat), water (control water and ice), force (control cosmic energies), mental (control the mind of characters), metaphysical (affects other spells), morphological (transforming into other creatures), natural (controls plants, animals, and natural forces), black necromantic (negatively affect the life force of a creature), white necromantic (positively affect the life force of a creature), phantasmagorical (controls light and illusory images), summoning (creatures to aid the caster), temporal (control the flow of time). Experience points can be used on any of these spells, and just like the technological disciplines, you must advance from one level to the next to have access to higher spells.

The logbook is another convenient and helpful feature that Arcanum offers. You can access it by pressing the logbook button on the game screen or the L-key on the keyboard. The following useful information can be found in your logbook: rumors, notes, quests, keyring, reputation, blessings and curses, kills and injuries, and background if you choose any.

In Arcanum, when you bring up your inventory screen, you of course will see everything you are carrying, and it also has what you have equipped on the left hand side. The following items can be equipped and used in Arcanum: a helmet or hat, gloves or gauntlets, body armor, weapon, shield or torch, boots or shoes, amulet, and two ring slots. There are two-handed weapons available in this game, and when you use one of these, the shield slot is blacked out and you cannot place anything in it.

Combat in Arcanum is automatically initiated when a hostile creature approaches your party, the movement cursor will turn into a sword icon, and combat will commence. If you go into the options menu, you will have the ability to choose which type of combat style you want to use, the turn-based style or continuous turn-based. If you need a detailed description of how these work, than you might want to check out my Fallout reviews, they go into further detail about them.

The gaming screen was set-up very nicely in Arcanum, for the most part it is a full screen playing area. Dialog options are displayed directly on the screen, and at the bottom of the screen are many useful areas. There is a big box that describes many things you will come across in Arcanum, from doors to weapons. Placed above that box are the hot keys, which are 10 slots in which you can place anything from healing salves to fatigue restorers. They correspond to the number keys on the keyboard (1-0), so you can quickly use items by just pressing the corresponding number key. The health and fatigue meters are also on the bottom of the screen, and all the buttons for the logbook, game options, and character editor screen. On the upper left hand side of the screen is the character portraits of yourself and the NPC's in your party, and on the very top of the screen are other features like the fate point drop-down menu, and the drop-down menu for sleeping, which can be a fast and easy way to totally heal yourself. Do keep in mind that the sleep feature only works in outdoor and cave areas, when you are in a town, you must rent a room at a local Inn. There is also a world map button than can be accessed. Arcanum is a very large area, and there are many towns and dungeons to explore. There are many different ways to travel through Arcanum: by foot, ship, and even train. Some of the cities have tram like devices that will take you from one side of the town to the other.

There is a special "God's Quest" that you can do in this game, and without giving too much of it away, I will just say that it is an optional quest that you can find more information about in the city called Tarant. There are many altars you can find within the Arcanum world. If you make the correct offering to them, some of your stats will be upgraded. If you do this in a certain order, a large and powerful change will take place with your stats. But as I said, talk to the locals in Tarant, and they will fill you in on what this quest is about.

There is a multi-player option available in Arcanum, and I am sure it is quite fun. Arcanum provides additional modules that are available in the single player campaign as well, and I have tried some of them, and they are very challenging.

As you can see, there is a lot to this game, and you will spend many hours exploring the world that is Arcanum. I believe you will have a great time doing it. I don't think there was anything that I really disliked about this game, I have read other reviews, and one of the biggest complaints they had was that there was not enough balance between a melee character and any others. They said that because of the way experience points are distributed in this game, that a melee fighter will gain levels quicker. I admit that I have never played this game as a melee character. I always kept my charisma score high, and therefore was allowed more NPC's to accompany me. I have found that combat in any RPG will be easier if you have as many NPC's in your party as you can. I am sure that this game could have done better with the balance between different types of characters, but I don't think it was a big enough problem to give the game a bad rating.

This was a great game, very entertaining, great story, and always fun to be able to create items.
I would highly recommend it, and hope that someday they decide to make a sequel.

Your fellow gamer,