Anthony's Film Review
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
(Video Game, 2001)
Arcanum is an exciting fantasy adventure in a new kind of setting...
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, developed by Troika Games and Sierra, would easily be a typical and standard computer role-playing game if it weren't for one thing: the type of world the player enters. It's not the classic fantasy world with mostly natural locales, wizards, and magic. It's a variation of it, with natural and artificial locales, wizards, magic, scientists, and technology. Basically, Arcanum is a continent that has always been influenced by magic, until an industrial revolution introduces steam technology into that world. Now the forces of magic and technology coexist, not necessarily in harmony. This, of course, could make the world, the story, and the gameplay a lot more interesting.
Let me first discuss a few of the game's flaws. First off, the game does have a few bugs, not so much that one cannot possibly complete the game, but enough to cause just a few errors along the way so that the player may have to restore to an earlier saved game just to get around the error. Also, the graphics aren't the best for their time, which was 2001. It's definitely noticeable when wandering any wilderness. Everything in the landscape appears stationery. Even bodies of water look completely still, instead of having waves animated in the water. Finally, not every character in the game has an actor to provide a voice. It's true that there are so many non-player characters to interact with, but having at least a few generic voices saying a few things for those characters could help. I don't want to spend time reading dialogue for so many characters and listening to audio dialogue only with important characters who do have voice actors behind them.
As for the gameplay, it's what you expect with any RPG. You select a character to play, either from a list of predefined characters or customizing one yourself, then take the character through various locations, meet other characters, perform side quests when they request favors, fight enemies, collect items, buy new items after selling off unwanted items, and advance the game's main story. Also, your character has a profile with ratings for various characteristics that determine outcomes in different situations, such as hand-to-hand combat. Altogether, Arcanum, like any RPG, lets the player go on an adventure in which he or she faces a series of challenges and grows along the way in preparation for greater obstacles. Adding to the fun is the fact that there are often multiple solutions to the situational puzzles in the game.
With that said, I would now like to focus a little more on the story and setting of Arcanum, which are the reasons why I like this game.
You play a character who, as the story opens, is riding a blimp that is soon attacked by machine gun fire from ogres on flying machines. After the blimp crashes along with the ogres and flying machines, you see a gnome who, shortly before dying, gives you a ring to return to its owner. As the sole survivor of the crash, you have many questions that demand answers. Almost immediately, a man named Virgil, a follower of the Panarii religion, finds you among the wreckage. The two of you form an alliance and begin a quest to find the owner of the ring and to meet up with Elder Joachim, who might have more information related to this tragic event. Virgil even believes that you are the reincarnation of an elf named Nasrudin, which makes the situation even more strange.
The adventure uncovers a very intriguing situation stemming from the magic-technology conflict. The owner of the ring, a man named Gilbert Bates, was involved in the development of the steam engine and the introduction of technology to the dwarven Black Mountain Clan, which later disappeared. It turns out that those dwarves had been banished by dark elves who felt distraught and angry over the spread of technology that was destroying nature, including the forests that they called home. Adding to this crisis is an old Panarii legend, about the elf Nasrudin abnd the dark elf Arronax. Nasrudin had ruled over the elves but respected other races. Arronax, who believed in elven rule over all races, was banished to the Void by Nasrudin. Now, with the present situation at hand, a big question arises. Could Arronax be brought back to Arcanum to wield supreme power over all beings?
Much of the game is spent doing side quests rather than the main quest related to the story, though they can be fun and reward the player with new items and higher experience levels. They also make the world of Arcanum much more interesting to explore. There are lost and stolen items to recover, notes to deliver to specific individuals, magical mysteries to solve, and even items to steal (if you follow the path of thievery). This helps the player appreciate the numerous characters of Arcanum, which include humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, and various human hybrid races like half-ogres and half-orcs, as well as the locations, such as the capital industrial city of Tarant, the impoverished town of Dernholm that outlawed technology at the cost of economic prosperity, and the peaceful elven village of Qintarra.
When you finally beat the game, you see an ending that consists of a series of still pictures accompanied by voiceovers of a narrator. The contents of the pictures and voiceovers are determined by certain actions you perform or do not perform in the game. I mention this because Arcanum, like any good RPG, does not provide the exact same gaming experience when played more than once. The freshness of playing Arcanum each time also comes from being able to have a variety of player characters to choose from, representing males and females of the races I mentioned above, all with varying skill sets and attributes to start with. Oh, and with the existence of both magic and technology, you can choose to wield any combination of medieval weapons, magical spells, guns, and explosives during combat.
All of this is enough for me to give Arcanum a good rating. From beginning to end, I had a fun time exploring new places, taking on new side quests, fighting monsters and other baddies, seeing my character get stronger and stronger, and, most importantly, following a well-written story. I had so much fun that I practically ignored the bugs and graphical flaws. This is an RPG I will certainly remember and keep in my collection of computer games. The creative minds behind Arcanum did a fantastic job with creating a world that captures our imagination. I would certainly play it again when I'm feeling nostalgic about it.
For more information about Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.