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Troika Games



M (Mature)



Q3 2001



- Interesting era that the game takes place in

- Some may like the nitty-gritty details here



- Very slow battle system

- Poor balance between the magic and technology

- Doesn't sound or look very good



Review: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC)

Review: Icewind Dale II (PC)

Review: Planescape: Torment (PC)



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Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Score: 6.5/10


With the three hit combo that is the Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape series I almost feel ill at ease that somehow I still crave more when it comes to single player role playing on the PC. Not to say more as in better, but to partake in a different spin on how role playing should be, a different formula would be nice. Enter Arcanum, during its development my interest was peaked, it had a strange looking flavor all its own, perhaps it would give me the change of pace I so desperately needed. Alas, it hasn't. Between the somewhat overly complicated nature of the game and the slow, dull battles there just wasn't a lot to get excited about in the game. It just doesn't stand out enough to get me excited, in fact I'm left with an almost indifferent opinion of the game. It's not good, it's not bad, and I really couldn't care whether it existed or not.


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The game takes place in a not so typical fantasy setting where traditional races like dwarves, elves, and such live, but the time frame is around the Victorian era where steam engines are all the rage and everyone wears uncomfortable looking, ultra formal, ultra pretentious clothing and like using big words in their conversations. It's an era we almost never see in games oddly enough, perhaps there are a lot of game developers with an intense fear of all things Jane Austin out there, but whatever the case it's nice to see that we have such a change of pace in terms of the period in which a game takes place. One can only take so much adventures in medieval land, or the far off future.

Creating a character at the start of the game is unbelievable thorough. Besides the usual setting of stats and special abilities, a particularly daunting task in Arcanum, 
one must determine much of their character's appearance as well as his/her family history. All affect how people react to you which may make things easier or more difficult, on top of the expected impact it will have on your combat abilities. On the one hand this is nice to see, what with all of this detail, but it also helps to make things overly complicated when trying to figure out what you want to do with your character. A little bit of additional simplification would have been nice.





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For an RPG there is a lot of combat here. Usually there's more of a balance between the fighting and the thinking and exploring, but in Arcanum there's a lot more clobbering and a lot less of everything else. In other games this would be just fine, but the battles are just not very good so the heavy emphasis on combat is meaningless here. First up the characters are very lopsided in their battle prowess and it goes beyond the differences between character classes. The big problem 


comes in making contact with attacks. Some characters can't hit the broadside of a barn and some are actually pretty competent. Complicating matters is that you get your experience points from hitting the enemies, not defeating them, so the characters who actually show some semblance of possessing decent hand-eye coordination will rack up most of the experience leaving the others out of luck. If that wasn't enough, the game can be toggled between doing battle in real time and in a turn based setting. Real time is a real pain, as it is very sporadic with characters and monsters scrambling around at a pace that is hard to keep up with. Turn based just reminds you how bad most of your party members aim is as it draws out the already slow battles.

There's also the magic system which must be dealt with, or more accurately the magic/technology system. In Arcanum players can become good at either one or the other. The better they are at magic, the worse they are at technology and vice versa. While one would expect some sort of hefty strategy to be necessary when working with this dichotomy it just isn't necessary, as the game gives you a lot more goodies if you work with the magic. The technology side of the equation is actually quite limited. Sure you get guns, but none of them are particularly good, so expect to be let down in the firearms department. Magic on the other hand provides a deluge of goodies to be had and the usual mix of offensive and non-combat spells to make the trip easier. Magic can also do more than drain your magic points, as is usually the case in an RPG. In Arcanum casting spells actually depletes the spell caster's fatigue meter making them increasingly tired after the spell is cast, so don't go overboard or your magic user will be dead on their feet from exhaustion after a hefty spell casting session.


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Traveling along the different maps is also a cumbersome experience. When moving the cursor along the map it will all of a sudden stop because it has hit the limit of what I would presume to be the party's field of view. When you can see what lies beyond, seeing as there is no fog of war here, this comes as a very jarring and unwanted surprise. Making it more blithering is that it can be averted setting up waypoints then commanding your party to follow the path, all begging the question, "What's the point?" Rummaging around the sub-screens and menus while meandering about the countryside can be equally daunting thanks to the small buttons and poorly marked icons that are far from intuitive.

Lastly comes the look and sound of Arcanum, both of which are far from pleasing. The visuals are very dated; they're even worse than that of the original Baldur's Gate and that game came out in 1998. I'd liken the visuals here to being only a mild step up from the old Fallout games. This lack of visual quality makes the different environments look a lot alike, thus more disappointing. Sound is almost non-existent with only the occasional bit of sound effects creeping in every now and again and only the slightest bit of music. Voice acting is all over the place in terms of quality: some of it is very good, the other half is just awful.

I should also note that I came across some bugs while playing the game that were quite annoying. Firstly there was the problem of having my saved games getting 
corrupted every now and again, second there was a graphical glitch where the game screen would go all blurry and fuzzy and all I could do was exit the game and boot it up again in order to correct the problem. Two very distracting bugs bringing with them a good amount of annoyance.  That in mind be sure to check for the patches that have been released.

The only people who may get a kick out of Arcanum are those who really like the nuts and bolts of role playing and are interested in a new and different setting to 
experience. Most, however, will not have the patience for the slow battles, the complicated interface, and the the heavily dated aesthetic of this game.

- Mr. Nash


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