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Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura review
by Deakon Black

It took me a while before I finally approached to play this game. It's funny, since it was pretty high on my list because it was made by developers of two first Fallout games, which I consider to be one of the best CRPGs ever made. Unfortunately, Arcanum has aged unfavorably. Maybe in early 2000s it could be considered as a pretty good isometric RPG, but by today's standards it can be only considered as average, or even user unfriendly.

Our journey in Arcanum begins with a crash of an airship, which was assaulted for unknown reasons by a group of bandits in air fighters. Being the only one survivor of the crash, we have to find a reason why it happened and who is responsible for it. To solve the mystery, the only thing we have is an advice of a dying man: "find a boy and give him this ring. It's all up to you, my friend". And then, we are moving out for our quest. Main storyline has all what it should have: there's a mystery, there is a secret assassin society, there are wrong and good choices, even few interesting plot twists. As for the main quest - not only I found it properly done, but it also assured me that developers of the game were capable of creating pretty interesting storyline and lore. They also gave us a plenty of possibilities for creating a character: warrior, mage, archer, gunslinger etc. The character creator menu can be overwhelming at the start. The best way to understand it is to just play a game, so better be ready that you might start all over again to upgrade your skills effectively.

This open world has over 80 locations to visit: bigger towns, smaller towns, camps, caves, islands, ruins, castles and many others. Exploring the world won't make them easy to find, since non of them appears on the world map even if our route goes next to them, and that is a huge flaw in my opinion. Original Fallouts had no such problem for example, because locations became visible to us when we moved nearby. In Arcanum, in most cases we will find out the specifics about visiting places through dialogues. Unfortunately, even if someone will tell us about certain locations and we will visit them, not many of them will be interesting. Also, exploring them can be a time consuming quest. Most of the buildings in Arcanum cities and villages look exactly the same, there is no recognition points to find our way around, and because of that at the beginning of the game it's very easy to get lost in large cities. To make exploring easier for us, developers gave names to most of the streets in the game, but it seems more like a design laziness. Architecture in a world of magic and machines (since it's steampunk) should give to the developers a lot of space for artistic expression, but this aspect of the game was not treated with the attention it deserves. World of Arcanum - despite all of its potential - lacks artistic uniqueness and brings no emotions to the player through its visuals.

One of the biggest problems of this game is its illegibility: it lacks of deeper interaction with its world and characters. A simple icon of eyeglass, a possibility of taking a closer look at the environement (terrain, objects, characters) to see its better description would be a great improvement in a game that uses 2D graphics. Yet, it isn't there, neither the situation-log (like Pip Boy 2000 from Fallout games). For this reason, specifics of the world around us are very poor. Of course we can find books throughout our journey that could explain the nature of Arcanum to us, but I am talking about actual options of experiencing its world right here and right now. The fact that areas are big and full of different objects and characters, it's a shame that a player does not get proper tools to explore it and manipulate through it. Illegibility creates a compulsion that pushes us to ask all the questions and speak with as many NPCs as we can. As it seems pretty cool in the beginning - since the dialogues in RPGs are important - the result is not enjoyable at all. "More" not always means "better". Arcanum gives us a liberty to speak with almost every character in the game (you can also kill everyone if you want), but not many of NPCs has something interesting to say. 90% of dialogues in this game concentrates around asking about news in town, trading, looking for a way somewhere or playing dice. There is nothing interesting in such dialogues at all, and at some point in the game we are starting to figuring out which NPCs might have something interesting to say. In most cases there is no way to distinguish which characters are important and which ones are useful only to show us the way; the only option is to talk with all of them, and find out for ourselves. Usually in RPGs you can't speak with everybody, but when you finally meet a NPC that you can talk to, dialogue with him most probably will reward you with information, quest, his story, he might share his personal feelings about the in game world. Unfortunately, dialogues in Arcanum are not interesting at all. If we are patient enough to look through all the NPCs on the screen, someone finally will give us a quest or information about important people's whereabaouts. Until we find them, we can start to feel overwhelmed by size of the world of Arcanum.

Side-quests themselves are mostly fetch-ones: bring me this, bring me that, which should be expected. What bothers me, is that the main story quests are a proof that developers are capable of creating interesting scenarios, yet in a world of this size (I will repeat: there's over 80 locations that we can visit) there is not so many side quests that might be interesting. The ones I remembered the most were the "Ghost of Bessie Toone" and the one with mastering melee combat (there's a sad love story involved).

The last aspect of the game that I will speak of is its combat: it's not balanced properly! We can choose between turn-based or real-time mode - we change it by pressing space. The beginning of the game might be tough (I've played on hard difficulty as half elve) and we can have a really hard time with the bandits, especially when it comes to hand in hand combat, but it's normal: we need more experience, more equipement, good companions. But even if we level up pretty well and we are managing to take care of ourselves and our crew, one of the main quests will take us to the location where we will have to fight with several golems. At this point of the game most of the players should be confused, since not only our weapon breaks on them, but also they can kill us with few hits only, so it should be good to keep them on distance, but if throughout your game you wanted to create a melee-based character: you're in trouble. Watch out, because Black Mountains are one the most annoying parts of the game. There's more: fighting can be pretty messy, since our characters are dropping very often their weapons. It happens mostly in real-time combat mode, that after few moments we realize that one of our characters is fighting using bare hands and we have no idea where he or she lost its weapon - our companions, nor our protagonist have no self preservation instinct to pick it up automatically without our direct order. Basically, a challenge of combat in this game was over for me when I have found a strong companion. And with that much of a force in my team, no enemy, no bandit and no boss was no longer a problem.

To be finished: I can't recommend this game. Of course it can still find its fans, maybe some old-school & hardcore RPG players will find it interesting, but for me it just aged pretty badly. It has its pros, but they are dissapearing in the blackness of dull dialogues, non-balanced combat and uninteresting locations. 5/10.

Other reviews5

this is my best game
«Can’t stop playing»
Translated by
Microsoft from Russian
Eeeeee! Arkanum is back! The best, in my opinion, RPG. Strange, of course, that the razslaves did not guess to shove in IT support of normal permissions, but for this long ago there are patches, so it is no difference. Frankly, even after 15 years I would have bought it and for a lot of money than two hundred. It is a standard, in some way, unique and unique. However, this fact does not prevent still hope for a chic sequel. All fans of the smart RPG definitely recommend-the game is chic in all forms. It is so atmospheric and cozy that, barely running it, it felt like sitting by the fireplace and smoking a pipe, talking about the adventures with Franklin Payne for the new number of "Taranitsa" and looking at his legendary large-caliber rifle.
Translated by
Microsoft from Russian
"We had 2 bundles of dynamite, 75 rounds of cartridges, 5 fragmentation grenades, half cans of fuel and a whole set of gears and capacitors of all sorts and colors, elecsiirs, as well as a flamethrower, a revolver, a box of grenades, a pint of antidepressant and two dozen servings of medicinal ointments. Not that it was a necessary reserve for stripping the Danja, but if began to collect loot, it becomes difficult to stop. The Only thing that caused my apprehension is the tranquilizer. Nothing in the world is more helpless, irresponsible and vicious than a sleepy magician. I knew that sooner or later we would move on to that rubbish. " Classic of the Genre: + Flexible Role-playing system, space for wagering for every taste + Amazing and exciting world + a Peculiar charm of local dialogues + Beautiful and enchanting music "I am not interested in hearing your lies, dog! Prepare to Die! "
Translated by
Microsoft from Russian
Once the game did not for the sake of speculation with the publisher's background and super profits, but because it was, what to tell the world, what to share, what to draw. That is Why the soul is felt in the game: in the style, in the design, in the Laura, in the dialogues, in the intentions. The Soundtrack is still, probably, the brightest of them all games-it is not enough OST will remember in almost 20 years. Now It is fashionable to talk about "fatigue from Hollywood"-which, in general, and understandable-but, given all the sprawling cohort audience gamers (who have already ceased to be marginalized, becoming actually a social norm), it is time to talk about Fatigue from Triple (their mother) Hey publishers, riveting dull GMO strictly in planned mode. The Main thing in the other. No matter How frustrating the graphics in Arcas or in Folsom, but just imagine what it was necessary to invest in the project to close the (schedule) eyes, to give vent to the imagination and again walk the same paths, meeting not characters, and old acquaintances. P.S. Of Course, you can not play without external patches. And Despite the current Karabas in the face of the Aktivizhn to the game has the most indirect attitude, the purchase of this miracle of the controller-a voice against the hateful Stolotovoye Batlfildov, assassins and misunderstandings 76