Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Ah Arcanum… :P (I wonder how the game would have been named, if it would have been released after Valve’s Steam was started) Just (a few days ago actually) finished Arcanum. It’s one of those famous & legendary (to me) Troika games. I didn’t get to play this one when it came out originally. Which is really good, because (knowing myself) I never would have had this much fun with the original game. Now there’s the unofficial patch, the high-res patch, high quality town maps, high quality music and lots of other stuff. And the fact that the graphics are old now, has little effect on me. The game mechanics are complex and there’s lots of text/story. Makes more than up for it.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed this game very much before the unofficial patch, considering there are still a few bugs in it even now. To be honest I found only one really big bug in the game, but this one was so annoying, that I almost would have stopped playing. I’m very glad I that I didn’t allow it to turn me off too much though. In Arcanum every NPC has a reaction value towards the PC, that determines how he will react in several nuances ranging from immediate attack to very polite conversation. Basically a very good idea and very ambitious too, most (role-playing) games only have a binary good/bad reaction implemented, if at all. In addition, the PC has a reaction modifier that influences the normal reaction value, which is based on several character attributes like beauty or charisma – also, certain clothing/equipment can have a positive or negative effect. Sadly several NPCs throughout the games are bugged, in a way that I can only describe as some sort of “buffer overflow”. These characters don’t seem to reach a maximum value, if they already like the PC and then a huge modifier is added, instead they apparently bounce over a barrier and then have a negative value – which makes them attack right away. This is especially frustrating, when this person is a quest giver. Madam Lil in Tarant and her half-orc bartender are prominent examples. The orc (Ogdin, I think) on the isle of despair is another. An early workaround I used, was to wear an armor that would make people like the character less, thus preventing the overflow. Crazy, right? At one point it got so bad, that this didn’t work anymore (by having solved some quests for these people, their initial reaction value was raised and the armor no longer lowered the modifier enough to still compensate for that – a positive reputation was also toxic) and I could only play certain quests, by editing my save. In one city (could have been Caladon, but I forgot) was a dwarf, who attacked me on sight, so I never did his quest, because I was too annoyed at this point.
Apart from that I didn’t encounter any bugs, which would be worth mentioning. It also didn’t crash once. Especially noteworthy, considering the hours it took to complete this epic tale.
I don’t know the story behind Arcanum, so all of this is nothing but pure speculation, but the ending felt a little rushed. Combining this with the amount of bugs the original release had, it probably didn’t receive a lot of polishing and had to be released. The ending features one of these concrete epilogues, which are based on the player’s decisions throughout the whole adventure (very similar to the Fallout 1+2 games, for example). These epilogues however, featured info that I never would have expected to see there and left out many more I would have liked some closure for. Some half-orc, who only appeared in a short/minor side-quest is mentioned very prominently, while all the huge characters the player could have in his party for the majority of the game, weren’t mentioned at all (including the player character!). Today they would probably consider a Director’s Cut Edition or a DLC to “fix” this (given the company still existed), if the game would have sold well enough (Arcanum was Troika’s biggest financial success AFAIK). Alas, now certain questions will never be answered, at least it doesn’t diminish the core experience significantly. In the end, the Rumors & Notes section in my log book had 84 pages alone, plus 23 more for the quests I did. That’s still a lot of content, even for an RPG.
Unnecessary to mention it’s quite good, otherwise I never would have finished this big game, compared to this type of game, the main storylines of modern RPGs like Skyrim are just short.


  1. 1 Rage « adrift

    […] wingsticks were a good addition to the player’s arsenal! I already thought the boomerang in Arcanum was quite rare and I liked it to see something similar in such a first person game. :) Is it too […]


  2. 2 Icewind Dale II « adrift

    […] connections to Torment thrown into the series. :) I very much would have liked an epilog here, like Arcanum or Dungeon Siege III had, to reflect the outcome of some of the more interesting optional side […]


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