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Troika games and Sierra's latest lovechild is called Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. After the love affair with Black Isle which produced a few kids with weird names like: Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, and the extra marital thing with Interplay spawned the Fallout brothers, comes this not very ugly but crawling with bugs little baby.

But looking at it's lineage and the features, dare I say, borrowed from his other brothers and sisters Arcanum manages to sort of hide it's flaws and puts the accent on the things it does right. It's too bad since the game's got some annoying faults, though, because deep down it's really a fairly intelligent game with some interesting ideas. 

The attention to detail in this game is incredible. Troika games - founded by Fallout veterans Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Jason Anderson - has crafted a world as bit as compelling as everyone's favorite post-apocalyptic planet. Pollution has gotten out of control and rusty grime covers nearly every surface on the planet. You won't find elves frolicking in the forest or halflings smocking in the shire. Ever since technology reared it's ugly head people have been abandoning magick for science. Many have set aside sorcerer's tomes for machinists' textbooks, and a sibling rivalry has set in between the two groups.

The game has a highly deep customization system. Although over hyped in it's marketing campaign, the customization is actually very unique. You can choose to be either a human, an elf or an orc and depending on the choices you make the game generates a different game for you.

You can also create your character's  background. You can choose from a selection of pasts, the idea is not very new though. It has been done before in games like Tropico and Fallout. You can be ugly but tough, beautiful but weak, soulless and cunning but nice to animals. The most useful function of the past is to make your strong points stronger at the lowest cost possible.

Players have to choose where they stand on the magick versus technology issue by specializing in Technological Disciplines or Magickal Spells. Of course you can forgo both and spend your character creation points on different physical skills.
You could go through the entire game as a mage, picking up spells from the 16 spell colleges. Or as a riverboat gambler/gunfighter trained in gambling, haggling and firearms.

Character points are nothing new; all this game's siblings had them in some form, but now they can be applied to anything. So instead of devoting yourself to the profession of thieving, you can grab whatever thieving skills you want while leaving the rest behind. This is nice, as I can become a truly awesome warrior but still be extremely proficient at certain thieving and persuasive skills, as long as I've got the points to spend.

This makes the game a very good one, cause depending on the kind of back ground and character attributes you choose for your character, the game treats you accordingly. So your virtual life can be very diverse and as different as you want it to be.

However, due to the rivalry between technology and magick, you can never become effective in both disciplines. Make a tinkerer and watch your casting abilities plummet. Want to learn the intricacies of summoning? Better forget about fixing the toaster, because the two worlds just can't mix - no gun-toting mages here. You can mix fighting, thieving, and finagling into any combo, but ya can't mix the tech and the magic. While this makes me worth playing twice, it makes the first pass all the more limiting.

The reputation system is more robust than in Fallout's as it tracks not only alignment but also faction and race. A half-orc dabbling in chemistry would have a hard time to gather any useful info about in the anti-technology elven city. 

You'd have to play this game three or four times to begin to fathom everything this game has to offer. This is a very complicated game, with many intricate, complex details, hence the name, "Arcanum." If you wish to look past the game's ugly mug, it's similarity to it's better brothers and sisters, and it's overall mediocrity, you'll find a universe filled with little, hidden things to do and places to go. The "Obscura" part of it's name really fits.

The open endedness of the game should attract some players, but if you don't in tend to spend hours upon hours with this game, you'll get the distinct feeling as to you are missing something or the other at every point in the game.

The game has some serious bugs, it crashes and stalls. It does random things (just like my girlfriend) so you have to play parts of the game over and over again. I played the beginning six times. It's a tough game to follow. The game let's just say is pretty inaccessible. Better consult a manual. This game is anything but straightforward.

Unlike Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, which in spite of sometimes appearing pixelated, manage to still convey beauty and grace - Arcanum is not all that atmospheric. It's resolution is as smooth and bright as can be, but when you look closely you'll see that it's features are plain and dull. The backgrounds are drab and repetitive, even though they are adorned with ornamental lighting effects.  

Plus, the game fights like a pansy. Or a MANIAC. It's one or the other. If you go real-time, you lose all control. On the other hand, you can fight turn-based style, at which pace the game crawls like a radioactive old man.

The game's got this whole technological-modernism meets romanticism/Lord of the Rings dichotomy, but unfortunately the magick side is it's best side by far. Even though many of the spells are shamelessly borrowed, they're much more useful early on and you don't have to go around collecting otherwise useless items in order to make one grenade.

Despite finding some friends along the way, you can't really control any of the NPC alter egos. It's a shame, as that would give you the opportunity to experience the game as a class other than the one you originally chose. And since tech skills mess up the performance of your spells and vice versa, you don't get to do nearly as much experimenting between the two disciplines.

By the way multiplayer sux, slowdowns rule the day. You can only battle in real-time, you can never rest, and you can never use the World Map to travel (which means that every foot has to be walked manually).

All in all, Arcanum is a deep frustrating experience. It's cheap, a lot of gameplay for a little money. if you are in the market for a long term relationship with a good but difficult, deep but temperamental, open but confusing game this is it. Otherwise try Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.

Game Info

Game Name: Arcanum
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Sierra
Reviewed by:
"Show-me-the-money" Shaan
Mail him.

Game Score: [Five lightning rating]

Story / Plot:
Reviewer's Tilt :

Game Tested on:

- PIII 800 Mhz
- 128 MB RAM
- Savage 4 16MB
- Windows ME
- Creative Digital iR 54X CD-Rom

The Good: High level of Customization, Enormous world, Depth in gameplay
The Bad: Sometimes derivative. Lots of Bugs.
The Ugly: Trolls with guns???