Impression: Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Arcanum: A view of the character attributes and magic skills
As in real life ‘you can be anything you want’ isn’t true for everybody.

Oh Arcanum, I really wanted this to be a proper review, not just a mere impression after a (good) couple of hours. I put in the work to make you run. I installed patches and mods. I ran you in the proper compatibility mode and as administrator. I did some weird command line shit to make playing you as smooth and painless as possible – from a technical stand point. Come to think of it – that probably should have been GOG’s job, where I bought you for real money. What I want to say is: I really tried.

Arcanum: the inventory screen
Yes, I have a loaded gun in my backpack and I still chose to carry this.

Arcanum is an isometric roleplaying game developed by the short lived studio Troika Games, who also made Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, another fantastic but buggy and not quiet finished game everybody should play.

After I got all the technical issues out of the way (except for alt-tabbing, Arcanum really doesn’t like alt-tabbing) I was off to a good start. I remembered playing the game when I was younger and even though I never finished it, I only had good memories. A hardcore steampunk RPG in a world torn between technical progress and magic, what’s not to like?

Arcanum: a look at the tiny inventory window in full HD
In truth it your inventory looks like this.

A lot. The game started feeling rushed and imbalanced fast. The interface is clunky. They way finding AI of your party is very limited. There is a crafting system (before it was a bad thing) and a whole skill tree (one of many) dedicated to building firearms, but playing as a gunslinger in Arcanum is like cooking meth without proper instructions – it’s possible, but it’s very difficult and you are more likely to end up dead and badly disfigured than harvesting that precious meth. On the other hand you can grab an odd and boring weapon like a boomerang and you will play as a mighty god of death who laughs at the petty cries of his enemies.

Interestingly the one thing that seems like the most obvious flaw of all, placing the game in a steampunk world – steampunk being the genre usually enjoyed by empty human shells or the clinically insane – is no flaw at all. Arcanum’s world feels fleshed out and ‘real’. The soundtrack is beautiful and fits the game’s atmosphere perfectly. The character creation is massive and offers countless customization options for your (imbalanced) protagonist.

Arcanum: character creation
So many options. You could create yourself in Arcanum!

The story starts out interesting enough and I was looking forward to experiencing all of it, but I ended up at a place with enemies so high in level, that even my powerful Aboriginal murder wood wasn’t able to best them. I had to level up my character to be able to continue playing the main story, which meant finding quest givers, at which point the game lost me. I started to run around towns clicking on every person to find out whether they had some job for me to earn some XP, and I found that I didn’t have the patience to spend so much time on something that modern games solve with a little floating symbol above people’s heads.

Oh Arcanum, I like the way you look. I like your world and it’s atmosphere. It’s just that right now you feel so old and clunky and slow. I will return to you as soon as the same things will be said about me.

Arcanum: player fighting rats
Yes, they make you fight rats, again.

Info: Arcanum was released in 2001 and can be bought at GOG or Steam. Just make sure to get the proper mods and prepare for some tinkering. Fortunately the Internet provides guides and link collections.

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