Troika Games was started by three members whom were also behind the post-apocalyptic, tongue in cheek, Fallout, (one of the best RPGs of all time), so it's no surprise then that the RPG community has been eagerly awaiting their first project -- Arcanum. It's been a long time in the making, but Troika's Arcanum is finally out, and I for one don't think any RPG fan is going to be disappointed with the end culmination of over three years work.

Two of the mainstays of RPGs have always been plot atmosphere -- and Arcanum isn't lacking in either of these; the story is rich and complex, and the stylish steampunk ambiance is one that's only been used in a handful of games prior. While this is the land of the fantasy-standard Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings, it's set against a fictional 19th century backdrop, complete with the Victorian vogue architecture, and fashion that you would expect from that time period. As you hopefully already know from our extensive preview, the struggle between technology and "magick" play out quite often in Arcanum, and it's this dichotomy that's the crux of the game.

Jumping into the game can be daunting at first. Arcanum is a huge game, and from the get-go you're presented with a bevy of options as you create your first character that will affect the entire course of the game. With that said, the character creation system is my favorite of any RPG I've ever played. You have an assortment of character attributes, skills, and of course your different schools of technology and magick to choose from. The character creation system is pretty limiting in the beginning as you're only given five points to distribute among dozens of options, but these limitations force you to be more focused at the onset of the game. You can also pick a background trait -- such as "beat with an ugly stick" or "Nietzsche poster child" -- which are kind of similar to the Pipboy-represented quirks in Fallout, usually offering up something beneficial to your character at the cost of something else. For example, you might be an ugly cuss, but the constant teasing and beatings has made you stronger over time.

While your character develops during the course of the game, the game also develops around your character. Not only will your choices between magick and technology affect what items you can use, but the game plays entirely different for different characters. For example, the inhabitants of Arcanum will react to you differently based on not only your attributes, but also your race, so a well-adjusted Elf may get more information out of an aristocrat than a surly Half-Ogre, and the conversations you have will be entirely different. Also, many of the puzzles and quests in the game can be solved multiple ways using a variety of different skills. These pronounced gameplay variations offer up a markedly different game if you go back and play it again, and it's neat to see the differences when you go through the game with a different character.

While creating your first character may take some time, learning the game's interface is even more overwhelming. The game's interface isn't very intuitive, bordering on being downright clunky, and it will take a bit of time before you're proficient with everything. It also takes up over a third of the screen, leaving you with little room to see the actual game. Locked in such a tight view around your characters, you'll have to use the arrow keys or scroll around with your mouse to see more of the screen, which can be rather annoying as you're waiting for your characters to catch up so you can see the area you're approaching. This tight view was also responsible for my party stumbling into a particularly nasty fight on more than one occasion.

As with every RPG, combat is central to the game. Arcanum offers you three ways to engage in battle: real-time, turn-based, or fast turn-based, which is a combination of the two. I found the real-time combat hectic, frustrating, and fairly useless unless I was fighting something so meager that there was no chance of me or my party getting hurt, and the pure turn-based was a bit slow for my tastes. It's great for micro-managing every aspect of a battle and comes in useful during particularly risky fights, but since you don't directly control the actions of the NPCs in your party (you can give them suggestions such as "stay close" or "attack"), I found the fast turn-based combat a good balance of rapidity while still giving you enough time to make important decisions mid-battle.

The balance between magick and technology in combat is fairly even, although with 80 spells and only 56 technological degrees, it did seem that magick characters had more variety in what they could accomplish. Technologists are also forced to make most of their own items rather than finding them like so many magick artifacts; however, there's no denying that those grenades, bear traps, and healing jackets came in handy on more than one occasion, and I didn't notice a big disparity between technology and magick-based characters -- it all depends on how you prefer to play.

Visually, the game is a bit behind the times. While the still character portraits and interface look pretty good, the game itself is flat, dated, and washed-out. The top down view worked well, but I often felt like my characters were floating on the backgrounds instead of being part of the scene. The fact that character models have no faces also detracted from the immersive realism of the game. While the cities were usually pretty and well laid-out with impressive architecture, the natural landscapes were dull, sparse and repeated the same rock or tree clusters much like an old Warner Bros. cartoon. Oddly enough, I also occasionally experienced some chunky movement and animation while the game read from my hard drive, and my system is rated well above even the recommended requirements.

While the graphics may not be up to modern standards, Arcanum more than makes up for it by way of character development and storyline. The story unfolds throughout the game as you meet and greet the denizens of Arcanum, and is accompanied by the occasional well-acted voice-over and a fitting, albeit repetitive, stringed soundtrack that fits the mode of the game perfectly. You have so many options as how you want to progress through the game that you'll never be at a loss as what you want to specialize in next. Actually, since you only get one point to distribute among your skills and attributes each level, it's often a tough decision as to what you want to focus on next -- especially since there are eight stats, 16 skills, 80 spells, and 56 technological degrees to choose from.

That vastness flows through the game as well. Arcanum is one of the most open-ended RPGs I've ever played. While there is a central plot line that you can follow fairly directly if you wish, there are also hundreds upon hundreds of sub-quests in the game that will keep you occupied if you wish to pursue them. Quests and other important information are easily retrieved via your logbook, which keeps a running record of your goals and exploits in the world of Arcanum.

With as many quests and options, I never found myself with nothing to do, rather, I usually had several tasks on my palette at once to choose from. This certainly keeps the game from getting boring, and although you can finish the game in 30 or so hours if you go straight through, the game is actually good for nearly a hundred hours if you want to go through everything.

The world is enormous, and so is the install. The fact that the game requires 1.2GB of hard drive space may turn some people off, but it's well worth the large install if you're into RPGs.

Adding even more to the replayability of the game is the included scenario editor, which promises unlimited gameplay for those of you willing to put the time into creating your own worlds. The editor itself is fairly easy to use, especially considering how powerful the tools are, but you're going to have to dedicate some time populating the world with characters, triggers, dialogue, and the like if you want to make a meaningful gameplay experience. After playing through the game, it's no surprise to me why we've been waiting so long for Arcanum -- there's so much here that I imagine most of the game development process was creating content and story.

While the single-player game will keep you going for a long, long time, the game also supports up to four players in multiplay, but you can't play through the single-player game. However, the included scenario -- Vormantown -- can be played as a single-player mission. Multiplay is small compared to the single-player game, and laggy to boot, so I don't see much appeal here if you're looking to play Arcanum with your buddies, but the single-player game is more than enough to keep you pleasantly occupied.

As generally pleased with the game as I was, there were a few annoying bugs and quirks. Things such as occasional crash bugs, intra-party fighting cased by NPCs who inadvertently hit one another, and the fact that sometimes your NPC followers will get stuck on a wall or a corner forcing you to go back and retrieve them prove to be frustrating at times. Also, random encounters later in the game can get rather annoying as you're taken out of your leisurely stroll across the world map only to fight some measly wolf pups that were easy to overwhelm twenty levels previously.

Arcanum isn't perfect by any means, but is more than the average of its parts, and even with a few problematic bugs, visual shortcomings, and occasional choppy performance, Arcanum is a delightful RPG with plenty to offer to those of you looking for a detailed storyline, rich atmosphere, and one of the best character development systems ever. It's good to see that the RPG tradition is still alive. I only hope that Arcanum sells well so we can continue to see RPGs like this in the future.

-- Tal Blevinsp>

Copyright by IGN
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