Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001)

Arcanum_cover_copy arcanum

Arcanum is a fantasy world where the Industrial Revolution has set in. Magic and technology are at odds; and old powers like the elves or monarchies begin to weaken while those who use steam engines or guns are on the rise. Like the big dragon skeleton you’ll find in the game the atmosphere is a little filled with melancholy about the past. Once magic things roamed the lands, once kingdoms were in full bloom, but all that has changed. But like often it’s a question of viewpoint. For some the Golden Age has gone by and the future only looks bleak, but for others the Golden Age is yet to come and technology is one of its harbingers.

Arcanum sports a highly modifiable character with seemingly endless options on how to develop him. Along the way to save the world of Arcanum from some evildoer (yes, it’s the classic save-the-world-plot, but with some nice twists added) you can recruit a diverse lot of other characters, ranging from pure good to bloody evil. If you like RPGs that don’t allow you much to stray from a well defined path, you’ll probably get lost easily, but if you want something along the line of classic RPGs like Fallout or Ultima, this one will do nicely. One of the best RPGs I played in recent years. Great style, excellent plot, and most of all the gameplay (after fully patched) makes this one very enjoyable. Glued me to the screen for some time.

So, after completing Arcanum, I wanted more. Seeing that there’s an editor for creating modules with the game engine, I looked for some mods and tried those made by Troika itself (and the one that was already included with the main game). Most are short and not really something that I would recommend, but Vormantown (the one already included) is really good and Time is nice too. Mods can be found on Terra Arcanum, a neat site dedicated to the Troika games.

Buried Secrets
An extremely small mod that makes you search for a mystical book. There’s a small temple, a mini dungeon and that’s it. The smallness of it makes it hard to give much of an opinion at all, since it feels like it’s over before it even started. Ten minutes or so, not much more.

I thought Buried Secrets was short, but Deathmatch proved you can be even more sparse. There’s a pit, people standing around, and you can go and fight in it to the death. If you actually survive all fights, you can’t leave, but if you die get back outside. After that you can’t do anything anymore, or at least I didn’t found anything to do anymore. Rather pointless.

Dusty Dunes
You have to save a guy who got himself lost in a small swamp that is full of monsters. You get in there, save him and go back (alternatively you can also go forward and enter a camp full of monsters that guard a dragon skull with some crystals as eyes). Then get back. Similar small as Buried Secrets, takes only some minutes to complete.

Like Woodmir Race this mod was a bit bigger than the others. You have to reach a town to find the person who is responsible for opening a hellgate and allowing demons to decimate the townspeople. Nice idea, but I never found out who was supposed to be behind it and got stuck, and hadn’t the motivation to finish it.

Together with Vormantown the biggest mod for Arcanum made by Troika members. You find a “de-peopled town”, go into nearby ruins to find out what happened and travel to the past to fight the evil that has risen there. It has some nice, long dungeons (but it’s annoying to go through twice) and is overall a good diversion. It even has a nice ending screen, like the main Arcanum game.

Probably overseen by most people who played Arcanum, this mod is actually quite neat. Unlike all the other mods it’s the one that references the main themes of Arcanum the most. The atmosphere and the style of this little piece is very well done. You appear in Vormantown, an utopian experiment in society design. Sadly this aspect never amounts to much, but the two side quest for the elves and the dwarves turned out to be fun and actually gave you important plot pieces for finding our what had happened to the creator of Vormantown.

Woodmir Race
Woodmire Race is slightly bigger than Dusty Dunes or Buried Secrets. You have to find a mystic sapphire in a building, that has a dungeon full of undead creatures. Woodmire Race has a bit of Diablo feeling, running around, killing everything without much plot or other gameplay elements than killing monsters. It’s fun for the short time it lasts.