(This is part of my journey playing through Arcanum. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lanes page.)
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura just about drove me mad when I originally played it in 2001. The game was so glitchy and buggy that I couldn’t get it to work on my computer for weeks, and even after that, it wasn’t that reliable. Despite the steampunk-meets-fantasy premise and the impressive pedigree of Troika developers, it was destined to go down as a “good try, but I guess I’ll move on.”
Still, it remains a popular title, and like Planescape Torment, it almost seems to hold a unique claim on its setting. There isn’t *quite* a game like this out there, although perhaps the recent City of Steam is close. The concept is that you have this fantasy world that’s finally developed into the industrial age, and the newfound technology is clashing with old school magic.
Arcanum easily won the vote to be the classic RPG that I go through over the new few weeks, and I’m totally fine with that. (Geeks freaking *love* steampunk, I find.) I never got very far into it and would love to see if it grabs me now that I have a computer capable of handling it.
Starting it up, the opening cutscene — a knight in armor who takes out a pistol — takes me back, but perhaps not as much as the somber soundtrack. Some people love it, and while it is quite atmospheric, I’ve always found it depressing and funeral-like in tone.
I remember loving the character creator way back when, especially because it allows you to choose a background that not only gives some flavor to your character, but certain advantages as well. You can roll a human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, gnome, halfling, half-ogre, or half-orc, as well, with each race boasting pluses and minuses. Interestingly enough, there are differences between males and females (which the politically correct devs these days tend to never do unless they want to court controversy) — guys get more strength and girls get more constitution. There are also fewer races that have female options, alas.
Some of the background options are quite interesting and amusing, including snake handler, child of a hero, special person (you have brain damage), extreme personality, bully, troll offspring, ran away with the circus, sold your soul, agoraphobic, and my favorite, beat with an ugly stick.
Here’s what I picked:
I’d go female dwarf if they had it, but oh well. I’m looking to make a gunslinger-type character, so dwarf is my pick for the edge to technology. Nietzsche Poster Child sounds like it’ll be pretty funny and possibly beneficial, so why the heck not?
I forgot how overwhelming this game can be when it comes to your character growth and choices. Here’s the character screen, with meters for alignment of good/evil and magic/technology. I only get a handful of points to start with to spread out over a huge range of options including main stats, combat/social skills, magical abilities, and crafting. I play it safe and just give myself a two-point bump to both perception and charisma.
Interestingly enough — and a great example of how I love the old school RPG character creation — the final step is to let you shop for gear for your character before you begin. Your wealth is modified by some of the backgrounds, but mine is standard and so I buy a new coat, a pistol, and 76 bullets. I know that going the tech route is more difficult, at least at first, because spells and swords don’t cost you every time you use one, while guns do. But how can you resist shooting orcs with a pistol? I know I can’t.
The game then transitions to a delightful old-timey movie reel showing your zeppelin being shot down and a gnome giving you a ring to deliver to “the boy.” Gee, thanks for being all sorts of specific there, pal. Can I sell the ring then? Finders keepers?
A local who witnesses the crash freaks out:
Yes. Let that sink in, gentle Bio Break readers. Syp ain’t an elf, either in this life or in any previous ones.
Anyway, Virgil calls me the Living One because, y’know, prophecy. He says we should go check out an altar and talk to some elder dude, but I’m going to explore around first, see what I can loot. Oh hey! Dead body at my feet, what do you have for me? Hm, passport. And a matchbook for the Roseborough Inn, which I guess I’ll need to check out at some point.
But it’s the end of this session, so all of that fancy RPG stuff will have to wait until tomorrow!