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Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (PC) artwork

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (PC) review

"Imagination is a very powerful tool we often take for granted. For instance, can you imagine yourself something of a hero in a world where technology and magic mix? Can you picture yourself being the one who decides the fate of the world with every single action you take, be it for evil or for good? Do you ever show interest in discovering a conspiracy involving high ranking politicians running a rape-farm that breeds ogre slaves? If the answer to any of these questions is affirmative, then let ..."

Imagination is a very powerful tool we often take for granted. For instance, can you imagine yourself something of a hero in a world where technology and magic mix? Can you picture yourself being the one who decides the fate of the world with every single action you take, be it for evil or for good? Do you ever show interest in discovering a conspiracy involving high ranking politicians running a rape-farm that breeds ogre slaves? If the answer to any of these questions is affirmative, then let me take you on a journey through Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.

Allow me to get the “typical” things out of the way first. When the game starts up, you’re taken to a screen where you can choose your character portrait, allocate skill points and choose a profession you feel most at home with. Also, you can choose a back-story for your character which will give you certain bonuses, but also some drawbacks. For instance, perhaps you fancy being raised by snake trainers, allowing you immunity to most of the poisons found in the game, but due to the fact that you were bitten in the face so many times, your beauty suffers and with it the way how people react towards you. On the other hand you could have been a Son of a Hero, which will start you off with an enchanted family sword and people will recognize you, but the game will punish you severely for any ill deeds you commit that would put a shame to your heritage. The choice in the end, is yours.

Then the slightly atypical, but fully expected create-a-character introduction ends. From here on, you’ll never think Arcanum is just another RPG again.

You’re greeted with the sight of a zeppelin soaring through the skies, its destination the bustling town of Tarant. A destination it will never reach thanks to the unwanted attentions of aggressive half-breed Ogres.

In fighter mono planes.

It will not be long before you awaken, the sole survivor of the crash, and, by your side, a dying gnome clutching a silver ring in his palm. Uttering words that make no sense, the only thing you’re able to comprehend before the diminutive midget passes is that this ring has to come into the hands of a “boy”. Before you’re even able to get your bearings and decide on what to do next, a robed figure approaches and offers his services. Because, evidently due to your survival, you are the chosen one and thus his services belong to you. However, you can just as well say no to him if you so choose.

Whatever your choice may be, your journey will finally start. What will you do? Will you listen to the gnome's pleas and find the true owner of the ring? You can. Or perhaps you want to explore the vast landscape first? You can do that as well. Why not take the stroll to the nearby village to see what it can offer. You will find that in every village or town you are in, there is something of interest. Perhaps a new party member in the form of a drunken half ogre that knows every tavern in every city of the world? Perhaps you want to buy yourself some new weapon and armour, or wait until night falls so you can sneak into the shop and steal all of the day's profit? Sky’s the limit.

Travelling through the world finds you a whole myriad of side quests, some of which are simple fetch quests, while others lead you through a long series of chains before you finally get it over with and claim your just reward. No matter what,never will there be a dull moment, for you will find that in this world, technology and magic seem like two sides of the same coin. One honours tradition while the other marks progress. Because of that, many political and cultural arguments will arise wherever you may go.

One of the more important aspects of the game is finding yourself, your purpose and what you want to be. You choose between the schools of magic and technology, and while you grow stronger in one, you will ultimately grow resistant to the other which will again have diverse affects. For instance, if you choose to be the mage of the game, you will be able to tap into the very forces of the universe to unleash various horrors upon your enemies, be it a storm of fire, or, perhaps, an army of undead to obey your every command as you lead them into battle. Here you will notice also one of the greatest flaws the game possesses, that being it’s poor graphic engine which makes the game look much more archaic then it should be. There are no pretty light effects, no sense of accomplishment as you cast a high level spell that perhaps your eyes will be rewarded by a detailed explosion of unbridled power, nothing but a simple if not lazy effect is all that you can expect out of Arcanum. If you do ,however, choose the way of the mage, you will find that you’re not permitted to board any trains in cities because your mystical energies cause the machines to malfunction, and since most people treat magic as something mysterious and unknown, they fear and sometimes outright attack you for your choice.

On the other hand if you choose to be a master of technology you will find that you can discover patents and build items, weapons and armour by yourself. Who needs a fire spell when you can build your own fire axe to deal additional damage or chuck a grenade in the middle of your many foes? Armies of skeletons? You can build from scraps and items you find an equally terrifying army of robotic creations to deal with your enemies or perhaps lay traps which make any poor fool pay when they enter your range. Much like the magic tree, you again can suffer for choosing this branch. Healing spells cast from your team mates will fizzle without any effect when cast on you due to your disdain for all things mystical, companions who follow the way of magic will shy away from you. In the end, both sides have distinct pros and cons.

The journey is a fantastic one, one you’ll spend many hours mining away at the core of the game, until it ultimately ends. If you are in the mood for something different, a fantastic story and atmosphere at the expense of outdated graphic and an odd bug here and there then try Arcanum. It is time well invested.

darketernal's avatar
Community review by darketernal (October 01, 2008)

Occasional reviewer of random stuff.

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johnny_cairo posted October 02, 2008:

Man, I've had this game for about three years now and still never really felt I'd scratched the surface, no matter how many hours were sunk into playing it. Never was able to finish the main storyline. My high-intelligence low-charisma dwarf machinist was outmatched most of the time since he was too much of an asshole to recruit useful party members. Grenades and spider droids only get you so far.

Great game. Does it just "end" as anticlimactically as your review indicates?
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darketernal posted October 02, 2008:

It really depends how much time you are willing to sink into it. Like I mentioned, every action has a reaction in the game, and many quests will have lasting implications at the end of the game. For instance, if you failed to save a person in some quest in the game, and it turns out that guy/woman was a potential revolutionary leader for a great cause, you will be very mocked and reminded of said failure at the end and what happened due to your failure.

Honestly, I didn't really want to go into the mechanics of the game in the review of what is overpowered and what is the way to go, since the mage tree is superior to the tech one in the end even though only a few spells are worth a crap.
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sashanan posted October 04, 2008:

I'm normally too proud to let an RPG of all things beat me, but Arcanum did the trick. Despite repeated restarts with different types of characters, I cannot stay alive beyond reaching the first town and running like hell in any sidequest that involves any kind of combat, unless the game mercifully crashes before I die, which is about 50/50.

It's a shame because it's oozing potential and I want to like it, but like in love, sometimes it just doesn't work out.

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