Monday, June 18, 2012
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is an RPG. Worse, as you can tell, it is a steampunk RPG. There was absolutely no hope that I would be able to avoid buying it when I saw it, but at the very least I hoped that I would be able to finish it quickly and move on.
As all good RPGs do, this one crushed those fragile hopes. Arcanum can be described in one word: deep. I've read epic fantasy novels with less developed frameworks for their society and backstory. It is set in a world of magic and industrial revolution, where the various races of elves, dwarves, orcs and humans all coexist and thrive. Magic in this world is anathema to technology; a magical artifact can cause havoc with even the simplest technological device, while technology can make spells fizzle and fail. You can sense the tension between those two forces everywhere in Arcanum, from the political debates to the backstory for each nation you enter, and Arcanum does a very good job of immersing you in the conflict. As for backgroun, well, the manual comes with its own treatise on how the various races of Arcanum evolved or were magically morphed, along with detailed explanations of everything else in the game. That should give you an idea on how well thought-out this world is.
The balance between those two forces has shaped not only the culture and politics of Arcanum, but effects the gameplay and plot. People will react to you differently if you are a half-elf mage, an experienced dwarf blacksmith or a gun-toting human bandit. Combined with the different backgrounds you can give your character, you can play this game in a hundred different ways and have a new experience each time. The game gives you a freedom that allows you to choose your own story and shape your experience as you play. Plus, you get to make your own Molotov cocktails, repeating rifles, and forge dwarven armor, or just blast the enemy with arcane magical force. What could go wrong with that?
So there you have it! I got this game over on Good Old Games, where it does not cost nearly as much as it is worth. If you are a fan of steampunk, RPGs, and extremely good videogame storytelling, give it a try! See you around.