My life as an RPG. Review

Joe Dodson
Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura Info


  • RPG


  • N/A


  • Sierra


  • N/A

Release Date

  • 12/31/1969
  • Out Now


  • PC


My life as an RPG.

My mother was an aristocrat. She begot several wonderful, golden-haired spawn by her Lord and Master, the Duke of Black Isle. My siblings have funny names, truly – Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale – but their mettle more than makes up for this. Then mom got drunk and hooked up with some lounge singer named Troika. Troika’s claim to fame was a couple big Fallings-out with his noble family, L’Interplay.

While I’m not hideously ugly, my conception was a mistake. At the age of only a few weeks I look like a thirty year old, I’m crawling with irritating little bugs, and I’ve got enough of the features of my other brothers and sisters to really accentuate my failings.

My name is Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. It rolls off the tongue like something a lush would say, doesn’t it? Of Thhteamwurkth… and.. Mathigobthura. It’s too bad I’ve got some annoying faults, though, because deep down I’m really a fairly intelligent game with some interesting ideas.

First and foremost, I give you the gift of customization. You are whoever you want to be within the general confines of classic RPG character generation. While the potential for customization has been somewhat overhyped, it’s actually unique. You can be an orc or elf or even a human, and depending on which you and I choose, we’ll have an entirely different game ahead of ourselves.

And behind ourselves as well, since you can also choose from a selection of pasts for your character. You can be ugly but tough, beautiful but weak, soulless and cunning but nice to animals. This isn’t an original concept – most of the pieces of past you’ll have to choose from have been included in other games, like Tropico and Fallout – but it’s a nice addition. The most useful function of the past is to make your strong points stronger at the lowest cost possible.

This is my main beauty. Depending on the choices you make, you can lead some extremely diverse lives. Maybe you want to be a smooth-talking thief who sold your soul to the devil for extra quick fingers. Or maybe an ugly, halfling mage with an extremely short temper. Whomever you are, the world will treat you accordingly.

As opposed to choosing a specific class, you’re seemingly afforded a greater degree of customization as you’re able to build up any discipline you want, provided you have the character points. Character points are nothing new; all my siblings had them in some form (even the Might and Magics, my retarded step-brothers), but now they can be applied to anything.

So instead of devoting yourself to the profession of thieving, you can grab whatever thieving skills you want while leaving the rest behind. This is nice, as I can become a truly awesome warrior but still be extremely proficient at certain thieving and persuasive skills, as long as I’ve got the points to spend.

However, due to the rivalry between technology and magick, you can never become effective in both disciplines. Make a tinkerer and watch your casting abilities plummet. Want to learn the intricacies of summoning? Better forget about fixing the toaster, because the two worlds just can’t mix – no gun-toting mages here. You can mix fighting, thieving, and finagling into any combo, but ya can’t mix the tech and the magic. While this makes me worth playing twice, it makes the first pass all the more limiting.

Regardless of what race and gender you choose, you wind up being the reincarnation of some long dead elven wizard who must fight some arch-baddy. You find out about this after your zeppelin crashes (the first totally unforeseeable plot-twist in the game).

In any case, you’d have to live at least three or four full lives to experience everything that I offer. I’m a very complicated person, er, game, with many intricate, complex details, hence the name, "Arcanum." If you wish to look past my ugly mug, my similarity to my better brothers and sisters, and my overall mediocrity, you’ll find a universe filled with little, hidden things to do and places to go. The "Obscura" part of my name really fits.

My open (ended) nature should entice some of you, but at the same time if you don’t plan on spending hours and hours with me, you’ll feel like you’re missing out at every juncture of the game.

Fortunately for you, I crash and stall, and do random things all the time, so you’ll probably get the opportunity to play many parts of the game (especially the beginning) over and over and over. Getting to know youuuuu….

Some people say I’m a tough game to get to know, that I’m somewhat inaccessible. It’s just that I never know what people expect from me; I have no intuition. I’ve borrowed a couple heuristics from my siblings, but just enough to make me extremely confusing and misleading. You better consult the instruction manual, because playing with me is anything but straightforward.

While some of my peers like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale bear pixely blemishes, they manage to still convey beauty and grace. Despite my clear skin, I am totally plain. My resolution is as smooth and bright as can be, but when you look closely you’ll see that my features are plain and dull. My backgrounds are drab and repetitive, even though I adorn them with ornamental lighting effects.

Plus, I fight like a pansy. Or a MANIAC. It’s one or the other. If I go real-time, I lose all control. On the other hand, I can fight turn-based style, at which pace I crawl like a radioactive old man.

I’ve got this whole technological-modernism meets romanticism/Lord of the Rings dichotomy, but unfortunately my magic(k) side is my best side by far. Even though many of the spells are shamelessly borrowed, they’re much more useful early on and you don’t have to go around collecting otherwise useless items in order to make one grenade.

Despite finding some friends along the way, you can’t really control any of the NPC alter egos. It’s a shame, as that would give you the opportunity to experience the game as a class other than the one you originally chose. And since tech skills mess up the performance of your spells and vice versa, you don’t get to do nearly as much experimenting between the two disciplines.

I used to think that one of the best things about myself was the lovely violin music that accompanied me wherever I went. Then I lived for more than four hours. Stop the torture! Switch it up, for Christ’s sake!

If you prefer, you and some friends can all play with me together, but I don’t recommend it. I get lethargic and confused when too many folks are running around in my head, and as a result you can only battle in real-time, you can never rest, and you can never use the World Map to travel (which means that every foot has to be walked manually).

Like I said in the beginning, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Hell, I’m not even the sharpest spoon. I’ve got lice, I’m not pretty, and I’ve got a few siblings who kick my ass every chance they get. Having said that, I am new, I’m a lot of game for a little money, and I’m pretty similar to a lot of good old games. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship with a complicated, temperamental (I have nervous breakdowns all the time), frustratingly smart game, then baby, I’m your man. Otherwise, I’m just trouble.


I'm a lot of game!
Amazing customization
Enormous world
Beat by the ugly stick
Straightforward as a used car salesman
Derivative RPG gameplay