Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura

An industrial Revolution in a World of Magick.

Imagine a place of wonder, where magick and technology coexist in an uneasy balance, and an adventurer might just as easily wield a flintlock pistol as a flaming sword. A place where great industrial cities house castle keeps and factories, home to Dwarves, Humans, Orcs and Elves alike. A place of ancient runes and steamworks, of magick and machines, of sorcery and science. Welcome to the land of Arcanum.

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Arcanum's story revolves around you getting onto a large blimp, that is then shot down by Ogres who are flying planes, bare with me it gets a little more coherent, so once you get our of the burned wreckage you meet up with a Priest named, Virgil, he informs you that you are Living One and that you will save the world, at this point you can tell Virgil that he has lost the plot and attack him, or go along with his story just so you can get out of there. Just before meeting Virgil you are given a ring by a dieing Gnome who was also a passenger on the Blimp.

Upon leaving the area you will run into a mysterious figure, who for no reason more than you been there attacks you, upon death and you looting his body you will find a strange amulet, which the Plane Flying Ogres wore, so the game establishes that the Ogres and the Mysterious men were in league, and that the Gnome may or may not be involved, and you may or maybe not be the Living One, and Virgil may or may not be helpful in any way shape or form.

From there the story is fed to you through quests and towards the end of the game a few FMV's. I know my small story introduction was a little off but its because of the way the game is played (more on that later) so it is a bit hard to say what will and will not happen because most of the time it is down to you how to get from point A to point B, although there is no way around point B, that make sense? Good, because if it didn't you wont understand.

The games' themes are very mature, the games largest city even has a brothel where you can sleep with multiple woman, you gain nothing from this apart from a laugh, there is even a sheep to rustle with if your character doesn't like his partners to be of humanoid variety, so don't say I didn't warn you, although a brothel may seem immature it is handled very well, the game also has quite a lot of political innuendo present and occult doings.

I'll start with character development, Arcanum has one of the most complete and intuitive Character creation systems I have seen. Firstly you pick your race, your sex, your name, and background, and what you look like. Choosing your race will influence which is a better class for you or which sex and background you can select.

For instance if you pick a dwarf you are not going to be able to play as a female, only male dwarfs are selectable. Choosing the right background is a mediocre importance and you will more than likely keep the default one, the default setting gives you no bonus but also no negatives. Some backgrounds will give you +6 Will, but to balance it will take away 4 Constitution and 1 Strength. So depending on how courageous you are you are usually best suited to sticking with the default background for the race.

The player can also import their own avatar into the game, the game provides the information via a Read Me as to how to go about this, this is a great way for the player to import the face of a favoured character or themselves, and also gets around the sometimes stupid looking avatars the game provides.

Now the nitty gritty, this is Arcanum's selling point, the character system, unlike other RPG's there is no classes, instead there is aptitudes and a large amount of skills and everything else in between.Present are the classic statistics of, Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Beauty, Intelligence, Willpower, Perception, and Charisma.

Next are the Skills, which are Combat, Thieving, Social, and Technological, each of these have 4 skills that lie under them and influence your ability to hurt or interact with the NPC's and Enemy's of the game. The skills are also based off your stats so if you have only 8 Intelligence you will not be able to fully use the Firearms skills. You can also be trained in the skills to the levels of, Apprentice, Expert and Master, to be trained you must have so much already learned of the skill, also you must hunt out a person and pay them to train you in the certain skill. There are many Apprentice teachers in the world, usually two Experts and one Master trainer, also usually the Master will ask you to do them a quest for them before they teach you, to become the Master Thief first you will become branded a Pervert of a certain town and all the people there will then look at you funny, some may not even speak to you.

Then are the spells, they fall into the categories of Conveyance, Divination, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Force, Mental, Metaphysical, Morphological, Natural, Black Necromantic, White Necromantic, Phantasmagorical, Summoning, and Temporal. Each College of Magik contains 5 spells, ability to learn spell is based off the amount of Willpower, to learn a level 5 spell your character must posses 18 Willpower.

Also are the Technological disciplines, they are, Smithy, Mechanical, Gun Smithy, Electrical, Herbology, Therapeutics, Chemistry, and Explosives. The amount of Technological disciplines is significantly less than that of the magicks, but within each Discipline is 7 schematics, and the Player can also acquire special schematics during the course of the game, which allow them to build special items that are not normally listed.

Confused yet? The amount of spells and skills maybe overwhelming when written down but once you begin playing it is less whelming and easy to come to grips with, and if you are especially lazy or cannot come to grips there is the automatic character builders, which all you have to do is select a scheme at the beginning of the game and every time you level the game will automatically distribute the points you spend for you, this could also be considered the games classes.

There is also the magical or technological aptitude, this effects the game greatly, as a Gun toting dwarf is not going to be able to be healed via spells from Virgil or another Magick using NPC, at the same time a magick user will not be able to wield a gun and will be stuck to more medieval weaponry.
The game plays a lot like almost every other top down RPG on the market, a simple point and click, then point on monster repeat. Fighting is basic and easy to get into, there is a strange turn-based combat model which is confusing to use and may hinder play, also you will rarely find yourself swamped with enemy's so even in a heated battle you will not find yourself scrambling to dispatch the enemy.

Through the course of the game there are multiple NPC's you can pick up, as soon as the game starts you can pick up one, Virgil, who can stay with you for the entire game if he doesn't die or you just tell him to leave. The amount of NPC's you can have is based off your Charisma, so a very Charismatic character can get a troop of NPC's to join them and also couple that will summons you may very well have up to 12 characters in your party at anyone time.

In Combat you have the health bar and Fatigue, Fatigue is used when you use a spell, and also when you run if you are encumbered or for various other reasons. The companions that come with you are completely computer controlled with the player having no bearing on them, they will attack as soon as a hostile is in view with or without you, they will also use their spells quite eagerly if they can, this works well and there is little problems with the AI of the game, although sometimes you may want to bring in some attack strategy but cannot because you cannot control the companions movements.

The games puzzles are limited if present, most comprise of going from point A to point B, collecting item C and inserting it into lock D. It works well for the most part but the nature of the game you will not find yourself wanting puzzles. The game features hundreds of side-quests, these can or cannot be taken, most quests have a prerequisite, be it your characters alignment or their ability Persuade. But there is a problem that with all these side-quests you may just find yourself forgetting what you were supposed to be doing with the main-quest. It also leads to your characters level topping before the game is finished given the level cap is 30.

Another strange feature is that you will get little to no exp if you do not kill something, usually exp is divided between yourself and your companions, in this you gets the most exp for dispatching an enemy, but if your character is weak in hand to hand combat you will find yourself struggling to level up as your companions will be slaying the enemies inturn leaving you with little to no exp. Yet on the other hand, if you are killing things with extreme speed you will level up like nobody's business, it was a bold move that Troika Games have taken with the exp system but I am unsure if it works in favour of the game or against.

As I was saying with the quests, they are all a bit of a muddled bunch, they range from getting a wedding ring out of the sewer to filing a casket request from a grieving husband. If you feel quest is below your status of the Living One then you can easily turn on the unsuspecting person and slay them where they stand, although it may lead to an entire town turning on you and hunting you down. One quest can end up having two major cities out for your blood after you help Orcs get some rights, so as far as Quests go Arcanum has some of the cream of the crop.

The games graphics are a bit muddled, some times the games areas look very poor and sometimes they look very beautiful, but overall the game is decent looking.Character models are decent but nothing exciting, they have the bare minimum of detail, all Ogres use the same model but different clothing gives them a different look, the same goes for all the races in the game, although it would have been nice to see fat humans it would have had the developer kicking themselves because of the size of the game.

Spell effects are beautiful most of the time, there is nothing absolutely stunning but they are all well crafted, when calling a person spirit back from the dead a pink ghost hovers above the body, which looks quite nice. The games FMV's of which there are around 4 during the course of the game are very lacklustre, you can tell that the developers field isn't in graphics but in story telling and game play, which are the games more important features.

The audio, what can I say, its amazing. Troika games have outdone themselves with this score.The background music is very well done and at one stage my father was working in the room I was playing and actually asked me to turn the sound up so that he could listen to the music. So the music even spans generations.

As far as voice acting goes it's all wonderful, only main characters have voices, or people of a certain importance. All the voices fit the characters perfectly from an old man in a mansion to an Ogre in a bar the voices are all very well done. Sounds effects are also outstanding, with guns that hiss in its joints with a shot is misfired, or a spell crackles, as it doesn't work on a technological adept target. All the spells are wonderfully done as are the sound effects all round.

The replay ability of the game is a bit strange, depending you may find yourself with multiple play throughs or just the one. The games main replay ability is the way the levelling is handled which have very large possibility's and will find you returning to see how much damage a gun wielding ogre can do. Although the main story doesn't change over the course of the game, the ending will always be the same, getting to the ending can. So if you didn't particularly enjoy a certain person or quest the first time through the second time they may find themselves on the end of your sword.

The replay ability is there, but because the game is lacking that certain X factor you may find yourself just moving onto another title.

System Requirements -64MB RAM, Pentium II 300, DirectX compatible 8MB video card, 4X CD-ROM, Windows 95-98-2000-ME, 1.2GB Free disk space, Windows compatible sound card.

"Great atmosphere and a great story. Bonuses include a well-written manual that will answer just about any question you'll have"
- Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 45 Min


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