(This is part of my journey playing through Arcanum. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lanes page.)
I think it’s come time for me and Arcanum to part ways, at least for now. As I said a while back, in these playthrough series, I’m committing to at least two weeks of examining a title with the option to keep on going if it’s gripping me. Well, while there’s a lot of good in Arcanum, it’s become more of a labor than a love to play it for me, so I’m going to step away.
Before I do that, I want to give a few final thoughts. I’m finding that going back to these older games (or in some cases, trying them out for the first time) is kind of like going to garage sales: You might strike gold with forgotten relics or it might be a waste of time. Some of these games hold up well over the years, but I don’t feel that Arcanum does. And that puzzles me.
You see, on paper and often in practice, Arcanum is an amazing RPG. A lot of props has to be given to its setting, showing a world where magic is being replaced — and is in conflict with — technology. The Industrial Revolution-meets-Lord of the Rings is a great twist on tired tropes.
And the game is absolutely great when it comes to choice. You have loads of choices when it comes to your character’s background, your character’s build, and the way you play. That you can approach the same quest in three or four different ways is applause-worthy, especially when most MMOs these days have just one (“stab it in the eye and take its gold”). I’ve heard lots of testimony about how replayable Arcanum is, especially when you take a different route. Want to be a dumb Orc brawler? A sly Gnome thief? A Dwarf gunslinger? An agoraphobic lunatic? All are possible.
But here’s where we come to the drawbacks, and for me they were enough to eventually put me off of the game. For starters, Arcanum is just ugly. I mean, I know it’s over a decade old, but it was ugly even back in 2001. I think I spoiled myself with the incredible variety of locations and structures in Planescape a few months ago, because the blocky brown houses and brown fields and muted green grass and grey caves just got to me. It’s not a world that looks or feels alive.
I’m also less-than-fond of its combat. Arcanum can be stupid hard in spots and has a weird difficulty curve, and each battle I faced could vary from a pushover to insta-death. Even setting aside difficulty, the fighting itself was… dull. Just click on an enemy. Click on him again. Move a little. Click more. Maybe fighting as a spellcaster would’ve been more interesting, but I just did not enjoy fighting one bit.
I guess my last criticism is that the game started to drag. The storytelling, while adequate, wasn’t that engrossing to make me want to play on, the initial companion I got was as fun as a strip of flypaper, and so much of the space in these towns are wasted — just empty buildings and people who say the same thing over and over again.
It pains me to end like this. I think there’s a great game here and I know some people absolutely love Arcanum. But I’ve given it over two weeks and I’m ready to move on. Perhaps one day I’ll come back and roll that lowbrow half-orc pugilist that I’ve always dreamed of roleplaying.