Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

a game by Sierra
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 6/10, based on 1 review, 2 reviews are shown
User Rating: 6.0/10 - 1 vote
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After Fallout and Fallout 2, ambitious designers Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Jason Anderson quit Interplay to start up Troika Games. Its first offering, Arcanum, is due out towards the end of this year, and yes - it's an isometric RPG - and yes - it does look very similar to the Fallouts, but since when did aesthetics tell the full story?

Troika has veered off rather wildly from its usual post-apocalyptic synopsis and delved instead into the realms of pure fantasy, replete with gnomes, elves, ogres and halflings. There are magic items galore, subplots, and a multitude of skills such as gambling, healing and lock picking. Oh, it's all very AD&D indeed, except for one thing: among the spells and magic lurk industrial weapons and machines. What we have in Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura (the game's catchy full title) is Jules Veme meets JRR Tolkien in a stylish potpourri of fantasy, technology, magic and machinery. In other words it's cyberpunk for the 1800s.

Divided We Stand

The crux of the game is deciding where your character stands on the whole magic versus technology debate. Regardless of which race you choose to be (human, dwarf, halfling, elf, half-elf, gnome or half-ogre), Arcanum will monitor your decisions with a balance meter. Success in either spell casting or technology is determined by how committed you are to a particular path.

The game's interface is extremely deep, providing huge incentives and rewards regardless of which route you decide to go down. Learning magic means you'll have to deal with 16 colleges, with five spells in each. Technological teachings are split into eight schools, with seven degrees parsec. The more degrees you learn, the easier it becomes to understand the complex schematic diagrams which allow you to create highly destructive inventions like mini-guns and giant mechanical spiders.

While experience is gained in the usual ways (killing monsters, casting spells, etc), you don't just go up a level. In Arcanum you can choose which statistic or skill you wish to increase. Mental attributes include intelligence, willpower, perception and charisma, while strength, constitution, dexterity and beauty make up the physical assets. Additional 'background' attributes are also available. For example, you can be raised by lions (thus increasing your bravery) or nurtured by snake-handlers (immunity to poison).

There's even an option to create your own background stories: we found that Stumpy the dwarfs exhausting days among nymphomaniac Amazons did wonders for his constitution.

But when it comes to brains - well, the poor guy's an emotional wreck. Another benefit of having such diverse and interesting character attributes is the variation it brings to the multiplayer game. Up to eight people will be able to play specially designed ongoing quests, which can be played over the Internet or LAN.

Ultimately, Arcanum should be one of the most open-ended RPGs ever devised. Multiple endings are already guaranteed due to the fact that either magic or technology can be the victor. Here in the office tiny-bearded folk are already polishing their funny-shaped dice in anticipation. Meanwhile, those who don't usually give a monkey's arse about that sort of thing have raised an eyebrow. Could it be that the RPG is about to find a new audience? Let's hope so - it's about time.

Download Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Overview

At first, they were just words -- rumors of things barely understood. Words without any connection to the magical world you know, but heavy with mystery. Electricity. Science. Engineering. And many others. All seemed centered on the capital city, the place called Tarant. It has been months since you completed your training as a healer, with an arsenal of healing spells and even a bit of forbidden herb lore, and the call of Tarant has become overwhelming. You must see for yourself what this great city has to offer. So pack your bags, gentle reader, and prepare yourself for adventure!

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is the latest RPG offering from Sierra Games. It is a fascinating blend of fantasy and technology, magic and science. Think Dungeons & Dragons in the Industrial Age and that’s a pretty close match. Arcanum is a completely original world, filled with exotic creatures, powerful spells and the best scientific devices of its age.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Arcanum is in many ways a typical RPG, but it also has many components that are completely original. The balance between things magical and things scientific is very real, both in the world and especially for your character. You may choose to outfit yourself in magical weapons and armor, or become a technical student and arm yourself with handguns and such, or you can take a? middle of the road approach concerning magic and technology. You will quickly discover that magic and technology don’t mix well, though. The more magical you become, the more chance you have of failing when you use or go up against high-level technology and, conversely, high level technologists will discover the supposedly immutable laws of science change when magic is thrown into the mix.

Player development is reminiscent of Diablo, in that your character starts with base statistics that can be built upon. However, the similarity ends there. Arcanum’s player development model is a testament to the gaming industry, allowing an extreme amount of freedom in deciding how to develop the character. When you start, you have the opportunity to either create your own character or use one of the excellent pre-generated ones included with the game. Whatever you decide to use, you will quickly see how much thought and detail has gone into this game. Basic character attributes are divided into eight categories and these in turn affect where you can put skill points. The main player creation screen also has several monitors, one of which shows whether your character leans toward the technical or the magical. Remember, the farther towards one discipline you go, the more effective you become at it. After setting your attributes and purchasing your equipment, you’re ready to begin.

You control the player by a modified isometric, or "top-down" display, reminiscent of Diablo or Baldur’s Gate. However, movement is much more sluggish than either of those two games. Instead of centering on your character as he/she travels (as in Diablo) or giving you an extensive map to explore from a "bird’s eye" view (as in Baldur’s Gate), in order to follow your character around you must use the mouse to scroll across the screen, then click on the spot you want them to move to. Bear in mind, the cities, towns and areas you explore in Arcanum are massive, so this type of scrolling around can quickly become a chore.

The "bird’s eye" view is also available in Arcanum, but follows a different set of rules than other games of this type. For example, in order to access the world map section, you need to be at the outskirts of town or the edges of larger sites. With areas that are roughly the size of a building this is not a problem, but when you’re maneuvering in a large town or extensive site and need to move to the far edge, this may become rather tedious. Other than that, control of players and such is very simple: merely point-and-click.

While not exceptionally violent, Arcanum does contain some graphic images and, in at least one location, dialogue which may be deemed inappropriate for younger children.

Multiplayer

At the time of this review, Arcanum’s online servers were not yet available. However, the multiplayer aspects of this game look excellent and are very well documented in the player’s manual. Connections as slow as 28.8K are supported, but I would guess that anything less than 56K would be laggy.

Originality / Cool Features

Some quick notes of items that need to me mentioned, but not expounded upon:

  • In character creation, be sure to enjoy the background feature. Characters can enjoy bonuses and experience that fit the background you have chosen, along with some interesting scenarios. I enjoyed the "Nietzsche Poster Child" background.

  • Arcanum can be played in real-time or turn-based as you wish. If going into a combat situation, try turn-based combat, to see which you prefer.

  • While your character can spend points on increasing skills, in order to really enjoy their benefits you will need to apprentice yourself to other NPCs in the game.

  • A word of warning: If you go into attack mode, you can attack anyone or anything, even shopkeepers and your teammates. Be sure to click the "Shield" icon to go back into regular movement.

  • Potions and healing work differently in Arcanum. Your Heal skill affects the potions and spells, and they aren’t automatically applied during combat. So don’t depend on your potion supply, like you would in Darkstone or Diablo.

Graphics

The development team went above and beyond on this one. All graphics and models are well rendered and clear, artwork is superb with a definite nineteenth-century industrial feel. Character animation is very fluid and the sheer amount of detail is staggering. For example, when a character puts on a new piece of armor or weapon, it is reflected in the character exactly. Your character will look dapper in a tuxedo, militant in an officer’s dress uniform, or geared up in studded leather armor. Make sure to enjoy the cut-scene animation, which has a grainy, film-reel feel in many places. Extremely well done.

Audio

The sound is very well executed in this game. The soundtrack is muted, with violin and other period instruments providing a nice nineteenth-century feel. Sounds are very well used, with grunts, squeals, armor and weapon clashing, firearm reports, and many others faithfully executed. The soundtrack, while somewhat repetitive, is by no means abrasive or annoying.

System Requirements

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

Documentation

The almost 200 page manual is excellent and a must read for anyone beginning Arcanum for the first time. It explains many facets of the game in detail and, while written much like a 19th century school textbook in mannerism and syntax, is nonetheless a very entertaining read.

Bottom Line

An excellent, excellent game! Somewhat marred by a bulky interface, Arcanum is nevertheless a breath of fresh air in the RPG genre, with highly rendered graphics, huge playing fields, and an excellent experience system allowing unprecedented freedom of development, not to mention the interesting storyline. All die-hard RPG addicts will need to add this one to their collection, and other fantasy enthusiasts as well. The interface brings the rating down to a low 90’s score, but it’s still well worth checking out.

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