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Have You Played… Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura?

If you don't choose magick you're boring

When a game spells magick with a K, you know it means business. Arcanum was one of my early isometric RPG experiences, and I still boot it up every so often to have a poke around in it. It’s a world where a kind of industrial revolution is in conflict with the old magical ways; magic and machines are opposed to each other, like magnets. Your character has to pick a route to go down. It’s cool and a steampunky, but not in an annoying way. There's a mysterious cult and possibly the end of the world. You get it.

There’s a bit of a fantasy wild west feel to Arcanum. You’ve got elves and orcs and so on, but also cities with newsies on the corners, and ladies in ruffled dresses strolling around. Because it was a lovely detailed RPG when it came out, it has aged well in a lot of respects (though not all; one of the screenshots on Steam is of the player character asking “Can I get two?” in a brothel where you can also ask to fuck a sheep). The character creation, for example, has so many options for backstory and traits and starting bonuses that I, aged approximately 12, was fair dizzied by them all.

I remember one thing, specifically, that really blew me away. There’s a mission where a lady asks you to recover a painting stolen from her house. And I couldn’t do it for ages. There’s also a separate mission where a man asks you to deliver a note to an address, without opening it. I bumbled around for a bit and forgot about it, and accidentally opened the note without knowing what it was. Then I accidentally went to what turned out to be a delivery address, and accidentally found a bunch of lads in there. I said hello and they attacked me for reading their note! The note contained directions to a second address, where, low and behold, I found the lady’s painting! I had no idea games could do that. What further wonders awaited young Alice in Arcanum?

P.S. there is also an unofficial high res patch these days.

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Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.