Arcanum Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura


Published by Vivendi UIP
Designed by Troika Games.
Platform: PC CD/ROM
Price £29.99
Released: Out NowSystem requirements
Windows 95/98/98SE/ME/2000
Pentium 2 300 or better
64MB of RAM
DirectX compatible graphics card (8MB)It is perhaps fitting that as the RPG fraternity looks forward to the use of 3D graphical engines in the next wave of games that we herald the arrival of a 2D role playing classic. Arcanum has been bought to us by Troika Games which contains some of the original Fallout development team. In fact if you’ve ever played Fallout or its sequel you will recognise certain aspects that have been carried over from those refreshing games. Just as Fallout made everyone realise that the RPG genre was not dead, Arcanum serves as a reminder that there is plenty of innovation to be had with the RPG other than merely beautifying it with 3D Accelerated graphics.

The game begins on January 1st 1815 in Arcanum. The zeppelin you were on has just crashed and you are the only one who survived it. A dying gnome who was fatally wounded begs you to give a signet ring to a boy whose initials (G.B) are on the ring. He also asks you to relay a message that some terrible evil ‘is almost here’. After his death you are greeted by Virgil who becomes your first companion (you can refuse his help but it isn’t advisable).

The world in which the game is set is a strange mix to say the least. You have fantasy mingling with the technological; Tolkien mixed with the age of steam if you will. This may sound like a curious mix and indeed it is. All through the game the division between the magical and the technological is highlighted and alignment with the one means opposition from the other. It all started long ago when an orphan boy called Bates was cared for by the technologically skilled Dwarves. Eventually the Dwarves invented the steam engine which so impresses the boy Bates that he steals the prototypes and heads off into the world to make his fortune. Soon the world is full of the Dwarves technology and this greatly upsets the magic-using sections of society.

On beginning the game you have to pick or create a character. There are a handful of characters that have been pre-created but should you decide to opt for a ready made character then you’ll miss out on the finest character creation system ever seen in any RPG. After deciding your character’s name, race and background you go to the stats screen. The inclusion of a character background was a masterstroke by Troika as it adds a depth to your character. There are a huge amount of backgrounds to choose from (you can even choose not to have one if you want) and all of them have a positive and negative effect on your character. One of the backgrounds you can choose is Bookworm.

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“You have spent most of your life reading. You gain a bonus
to Intelligence (+1). Unfortunately, myopia has set in, and
you lose a point to Perception (-1).”

Bookworm Background

Moving on to the statistics screen then and it is here that you will be bowled over. As well as you base stats (Intelligence, Constitution, Dexterity etc.) you can also attribute points to Combat Skills, Thieving Skills, Social Skills, Technological Sills, 16 different Spell Colleges (5 different spells each) and 8 different Technological Disciplines (7 skills each). This may all sound like overkill but what you have to bear in mind is that there are no defined classes in Arcanum and you can make your character exactly what you want to. Of course each ability/spell/skill you give you character is dependent on your base stats and level, so you can’t give your character too much power early on. There are also plenty of Auto-level schemes that will automatically distribute the points your character earns and transform him/her into the desired type such as a Gun Technologist or Summoner to name but two. Believe me you’ll be amazed at the sheer depth of the character creation system, it is the best of any RPG.

Some character creating screenshots




Combat within the game is also very versatile. There is real time, turn based and fast turn based. My preference is for turn based but it is brilliant to be able to tailor the combat mode to suit yourself. I found that real time battles were OK to begin with but as I progressed deeper into the game and battles became more difficult it was just too hectic to keep track of things. If you are using the real time combat mode and you find the pace getting too hectic then a tap of the space bar will change the combat mode into turn based which is very useful indeed. In battles you don’t have control over other party members. If you’ve played Fallout or its sequel then you’ll know what I mean but if you’ve only played Baldur’s Gate or other games where you control all your party then it does feel frustrating at times. Early in the game when Virgil just dashes straight at your enemies it comes as a shock and it would have been nice to be able to prevent him from doing this. You can give other party members orders prior to battles and you can give them weapons or armour but you never feel like you’re full in control with them.

Graphically the game is not much better than Fallout which is a little disappointing. The good thing though is that it never ruins the gameplay but nevertheless it would have been great if the graphics had been more upto date.

The game interface is good and seasoned RPG gamers will be right at home with the game. The game also contains some cracking features too. One of these is the waypoint system that allows you to go to an overhead view and place waypoints for you party to move to. The only thing here is that it only allows you to place a handful of waypoints and it would have been great if you could have placed a lot more.


The quality of text in the game is outstanding with the only imperfection being the omission of subtitles from the cutscenes. However, the missed information can be obtained from the Log book. The manual deserves a mention too because of its excellence. It provides you with everything you need to know about the game and even contains a glossary. The quality of the story is superb and the plot has many, many twists that will you keep you coming back for more until the game is complete. Speaking of which, when you have completed the game there is a World Editor and a Script maker. This basically means that custom games can be created and will eventually lead to quality collections being available on the Internet to download. Troika have already included one such custom game named Vormantown and believe me it is very good.

Arcanum, for so many reasons, has to be considered the finest of all RPG games available for the PC. On so many levels it is as good as Baldur’s Gate 2 and Planescape Torment but it is the sheer quality of the character creation system and the inclusion of editing software that effectively enables you to create your own RPG that makes Arcanum the RPG to own at present.


Overall Game Rating: 9.1/10 An Incredible RPG with an outstanding story.

Quality of text: 9.5/10 Only missing subtitles on the cutscenes. There are not many of them though. The manual is wonderful.

Graphics: 8/10 Not state of the art but fine for the game.

Interface:9/10 No problems here.

Gameplay: 10/10 Excellent. Arcanum is an outstanding RPG.