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Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura Review

publisher: Sierra Studios
developer: Troika Games
genre: RPG

PII-233, 64MB RAM, 700MB HDD, 8MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: Aug 20, 01
» All About Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura on ActionTrip

August 28, 2001
Branislav "Bane" Babovic

Arcanum is one of the greatest surprises this year in spite of all press and on-line announcements it got. Troika Studios is actually comprised of the team that developed the original Fallout -- Jason Anderson, Leonard Boyarsky and Tim Cain, and a group of skilful designers. This would be a sufficient recommendation for any game. Just after you finished Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale expansion packs, Arcanum is there to take a couple of dozen hours of your life and give you some good Role Play to boot.

The slogan makes one thing pretty obvious: Arcanum is a world of magic and fantasy which is slowly entering industrial revolution. Hence, you won't only have to cope with traditional antagonisms between elves and dwarves, gnomes and orcs and ogre and men, but also with the ongoing war between magicians and technologists. The young and thriving technology gradually makes the old art obsolete and threatens the natural forces and ancient beliefs that powered magic. Technology was only meant to be used by dwarves, and when humans started using it, the natural balance was broken and we all know things like that usually lead to several horrific wars followed by a cataclysm that could destroy the entire world. But not all is lost as the old prophecies are fulfilled and the "chosen one" comes from the skies. The "chosen one" is you, and your coming from the skies, means you just survived a zeppelin crash. As the story unravels, it will immerse you into the secrets and intrigues of Arcanum.

The main story and Quest of the game is huge and takes you through the entire world of Arcanum. The game also contains thousands of smaller side-quests you will be getting from various creatures. Side-quests will sometimes interlope with the main plot, and this is what makes Arcanum so special - the scenario that contains a whole lot of twists and surprises. Each quest can be solved in more than one way, and the path you choose will directly form your alignment. If you become too evil, even your party members may turn against you.

Character creation is very interesting, and it allows you to create unique backgrounds, which has not yet been seen in RPGs. I wrote about this in the Arcanum demo first look. You can choose one of the preset profiles (in which case the computer decides how to use the XPs you earned), or you can start a custom character with a background (which gives you several bonuses and minuses). Leveling up will grant you a point which can be used to upgrade either primary characteristics (Strength, Dexterity, Beauty, Charisma...) or magic and technological skills.

You should never forget that Arcanum is a class-less RPG, and that you have absolute control in how you develop your character: if you want a wizard, you will develop magic skills, if you want a technologist, you will develop your technology skills. The best thing is that you will be able to combine the two: you can have a sorcerer armed with machine-gun and phosphorous grenades, or a technologist in steam-work armor casting spells.

The interface and controls are exceedingly simple and all hardened RPG players should feel comfortable with them. On your left and right hand side are located tubes showing your health and fatigue. Fatigue plays both the role of mana and of some general character energy. If the character is too tired or battered, this scale is sure to show it. (And how is a battered and tired mage to cast a spell anyway?) The center of the interface contains information window, quick-item-slots, a button for activating the combat mode and a button which allows you to access spells and technologies. Your character has a diary in which he keeps track of all quests, reputation in all cities, blessings or curses he might have gathered, and the number of slain enemies. This journal is a bit inconvenient, because it always tends to rewind to the beginning, so that you constantly have to browse through it in order to find any current quests. The interface takes a considerable part of the screen, and makes sure you always have all the necessary controls on screen.

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8.9   Very Good

Tech disciplines, quest length, story and atmosphere;

Bugs (tends to get stuck during turn-based combat), graphics could have been better, massive interface.


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