Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Arcanum cover copy.jpg
Developer(s)Troika Games
Publisher(s)Sierra On-Line
Designer(s)Jason D. Anderson
Leonard Boyarsky
Timothy Cain[1]
Writer(s)Edward R. G. Mortimer
Composer(s)Ben Houge
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows
Release
  • NA: August 21, 2001
  • EU: August 24, 2001
Genre(s)Role-playing
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is a 2001 role-playing video game developed by Troika Games and published by Sierra On-Line. It was released in North America and Europe in August 2001 for Microsoft Windows. Debuting at fourth position on NPD Intelect's best-seller list,[2] it was Troika's first game and also their best-selling title with over 234,000 copies sold and with revenues of US$8.8 million.

The story takes place on the continent of Arcanum, which is a fantasy setting that is in the process of an industrial revolution.[3] The story begins with the crash of the zeppelin IFS Zephyr, of which the protagonist is the only survivor, which leads them throughout the land in search of answers. The game employs an isometric perspective and features an open game world where the protagonist can travel unhindered.

Gameplay

Gameplay in Arcanum consists of traveling through the game world, visiting locations and interacting with the local inhabitants, typically in real-time. Occasionally, inhabitants will require the player's assistance in various tasks, which the player may choose to solve in order to acquire special items, experience points, or new followers. Many quests offer multiple solutions for the player, depending on their playing style, which may consist of combat, persuasion, thievery, or bribery. Ultimately, players will encounter hostile opponents (if such encounters are not avoided using stealth or diplomacy), in which case they and the player will engage in combat, which can be real-time or turn-based.

Combat

The player (dwarf, center) in combat with the character Virgil against an Ailing Wolf.

Three combat modes were included in the final release of the game: real-time, turn-based, and a faster version of turn-based. Arcanum's combat design has received some levels of criticism, with reviews usually stating that it is poorly balanced and frantic.[4] The player's combat capabilities are in large part governed by the character's combat skills and weapons. Attacking is performed automatically by clicking on a hostile NPC provided that they are in range of the attack.

Combat skills that the player character can choose from include melee weapons (with an optional back stabbing skill for stealth-oriented players), thrown weapons, archery, firearms, and a large variety of certain damage-inflicting spells from some schools of magic. Deciding whether or not to use violence in some parts of the game sometimes carries consequences for the player's party and its followers. Some AI-controlled followers the player has in the party will find their character's conduct morally objectionable, causing the player to lose reputation with some of the followers who may leave or even attack the player.[5]

Character creation

Arcanum begins with the player creating their character, choosing from a large and unique variety of races, attributes, technological skills, magical aptitudes, and background traits, or the player may choose a predefined character. Over the course of the game, the character may improve their skills by gaining experience through completing quests or defeating opponents in combat.[6] Every time the player gains a level, they can spend one character point to improve any attribute, weapon skill, technological discipline, school of magic, thievery skill, or social skill. Every fifth level, one additional character point is awarded for a total of 64 character points.[7] The player can only control one character directly but may recruit additional followers during the game depending on their aptitudes and alignment.

Player characters have the choice of specializing in a technological path which emphasizes constructing weapons, ammunition, and items from various components; a magical path which emphasizes spellcasting; or a neutral path, learning both magic and technology skills, which allows the most flexibility. The game uses a meter to show how biased towards magic or technology the player is; any character points spent on a technological discipline or skill move the aptitude meter towards the technology side and any points spent on spells move it towards the magical side. Character points spent on attributes or any other skills do not alter the aptitude meter.[8][9] A high aptitude toward technology renders the character resistant or immune to magic (both harmful and beneficial) and also greatly decreases the character's ability to use magic effectively and limits the effectiveness of magical items. A high magical aptitude increases the effects of the character's magic and the power of magical items they equip, but technological items they equip will be subject to malfunctions, reflected in an increasingly higher chance of the character critically failing in combat, which can have devastating effects.

Modules

The game, like its successors in the Neverwinter Nights series, features "modules"; the ability to create custom maps and missions using an editor included with the game. Already included with the game is Vormantown,[10] and a number of official modules are also available.

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