Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura Review

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura Review

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(Goosebumps) Arcanum is an RPG that I like to play in the fall if I can. It is  a fantasy game, but made by Troika whose founders   were instrumental in making the original Fallout  games. So as you'd expect this setting already has   some bite to it, but if you really take the time  to explore the game there are some dark dealings   underneath it all. This all comes packaged  inside of an incredibly unique game. It has   lots of other merits it can stand on and plenty  of flaws - like the game engine being an absolute   nightmare. Playing it is one thing and recording  it nicely is another. Luckily there's a good   one-stop solution; this is The Unofficial Arcanum  Patch by Drog Black Tooth. He's a Ukrainian modder  

who's one of the few people on the planet who can  actually wrangle the engine. It has tons of fixes,   enhancements, and a few options. I'll be playing  without those, but keep in mind you can completely   change the XP system or even play some races that  you couldn't previously, so there's a lot to dig   through. For the vanilla player some assets have  been made high quality including the music and   you can play the game in proper widescreen. So  no more of the awkward stretching. That said you   can set the resolution high (like absurdly high).  That won't scale well and can lead to weirdness   so stick with the Holy 1366x768. This will give  you more screen space without making the UI the  

size of bacteria. It also keeps a range of view in  line with what the developers intended. It does fix   a ton of different bugs, but there are also plenty  that remain. This was one of the buggiest CRPGs   on release and even with the big fan patch it's  still a contender, and this could be as good as   it gets. Even before the Russian [ __ ] show had  gone into full swing Drog Black Tooth had been  

offline for about a year. At the time of recording  he's still missing and I hope he's okay. So that's   where we're at as far as stability goes. With that  out of the way let's talk about the setting of   Arcanum. It's a fascinating world and the fact that  only this single game explores it really is a crime.   So the simplest way to put it is that this is D&D  during an industrial revolution. You have orcs, you   have steam engine trains, you have magic, you have  factories, you have orcs forming unions at the   steam engine factories. Science is moving at a pace  far faster than ethics can catch up. You see the  

effects of it all over the game and can dig deep  into the implications of it and how it affects   everyone. Of course you might be wondering if  technology is that far ahead how the hell do you   mix that with magic? You know, if you can snap your  fingers and make fire then who invents a Zippo?   Well for one technology is far more accessible. You  could spend years training some wedgiemancer to   master throwing a lightning bolt (assuming they're  even magically inclined) or you could spend a week   or two training a bunch of farmhands how to use a  gun. In-universe this idea was put to the test in a  

war between two kingdoms with disastrous results,  though there is another layer in how technology   and magic interact. It's explained in game in  a few points, but the manual has some of the   best examples and it's just an awesome manual in  general. See, technology works within the confines   of physical, natural law. A steam engine works  within rules that don't change like energy and  

gravity. Better technology accounts for more rules  and more variations but the law itself doesn't   change. An object's weight may change at a higher  elevation, but the concept of weight doesn't break.   Magic is nonsense that does whatever it wants.  For magic to even exist it must break and warp  

every physical wall you know of. Casting a reading  light might change how friction works in a small   radius around you. Now this doesn't matter a lot  if you're in some medieval village or a field,   but say you're near objects or devices that highly  rely on these laws. So what if friction changes   for a moment when you're in some room? However  this becomes less Fun and whimsical when you're,   say, riding on a train. You just want to magic  away a little problem so what if things change

Oh right, trains like rules like that working.  That's why you get to go through the enchanted   TSA before being allowed to board, where carrying  a wand and an owl might as well brand you as a   member of ISIS. More magic can mean needing  to ride in the back of the train where there's no   chance of messing up the steam engine. Too much  magic means you're not allowed to ride and no  

fast travel for you. Though you might be able to  teleport around, so who cares. Still, in a world   where common people can enjoy more benefits this  means magic users are more innately disruptive.   Magic adds randomization to how an inclined  plane works, let's try electricity now.  

You're powerful if you can use magic, but also becoming  a kind of social outcast in a changing world.    It's interesting because it explores magic as being  real as "what if magic was real". It's not something   like a shoved in racism allegory, since they just  talk about racism. I mean there's a series of books   called the Orcish Question they're just [ __ ]  going for it. Well, come to think of it some races  

are more innately magical, so what happens to them  when the world changes too far? There's a different   book that explores that. It's just neat to explore  these ideas - as these ideas. If there's a social   issue they want to explore - they just explore it. So  it gives you unique memorable situations instead   of an allegorical nightmare casserole . . . you know,  like whatever the [ __ ] is going on in Dragon Age.

BATES: "I believe that I am fortunate to have been  spared a lot of the problems others have been   experiencing with their workers. I do believe  it is because I treat my workers better than   most. Why, their working conditions are almost human." There's also no dark magic, or "Ooooh, evil forbidden magic." It's all context sensitive. How you use magic  will affect how people respond to you, it's just   another tool. Though if something like raising  the dead is something that would take a mage   years to learn and figure out all the dangers  of, what happens when any Joe Shmoe can raise   the dead? Should they be able to? Should anyone  do this? I feel like I'm already getting ahead   of myself, but Arcanum just does that. I'll get  into where the plot kicks off before I go too far.

You're taking a ride aboard the first blimp in  Arcanum's maiden voyage - the IFS Zephyr.    Things take a turn for the worst when it's attacked by  ogre raiders in airplanes. If you've read the   manual or a fairy tale, you'll know that ogres  aren't too bright and definitely didn't build these. The very first blimp is being attacked by  the first planes. The blimp eventually does go   down and one bandit is scratched for the trouble.  The only two survivors are you and an elderly   gnome. He says he's come to warn about a great  evil, giving you a ring and telling you to "find  

the boy" and he'll know what to do from there. Then  he dies. The second you crawl out of the wreckage   you're ambushed by Virgil. He's a new acolyte of  something called the Panarii religion and believes   you to be extremely important. You surviving the  blimp crash aligns with the Panarii prophecy in   a Book of Revelations kind of way. Virgil believes  you are the Living One - the reincarnation of some   kind of elf Jesus who will strike down the evil  one who will soon rise. Christ was also called   Jesus of Nazareth and in our setting our elf  savior is called Nasrudin. That could make it  

easier to remember. Not only have you crashed in  the mountains directly next to an altar for this   prophecy, but there are a group of assassins out  to kill any survivor of the wreck. So you can go   with Virgil's plan as you try to find where the  ring goes or just ditch him from the get-go.    You don't have to be Dante just because he showed  up, and that's about all you need for now.   Let's look at the visuals. VIRGIL: "What is this?" For a 90's CRPG it looks okay, except that it came out in 2001.  

All the movement and animation has this kind of  clunky jerkiness to it. It's to a point where   I genuinely can't tell if the original Fallout  did it better or not, and Fallout came out four   years before this. Speaking of which the world  itself usually has a very similar color palette   to Fallout. No it's not as brown because a nuke  didn't go off in most of the map, but even when   it's more green it's generally a washed out and  muddy place unless you're in the most enchanted   of forests. There are still some striking  buildings and places to see in the game   but it's overall washed out and muted. Now this  does fit the tone way better than having it be   a Skittles fantasy wonderland, but there were  points where I think it could have broken from   mold a bit more without hurting it. It's frequently  dark and gloomy, even when the game says you should  

be in the height of comfort. It makes it even  harder for my brain to escape Fallout when I   play it, even when areas are really prettied up  the ghost of it is always there. This is one of   the main reasons I like to play it more in the  fall if I can. The dark griminess is perfect for   what you're uncovering, even if the game can  just look downright ugly at points. Also the   gore. Getting punched by an elemental and your head  flying off is very Fallout. The kills can be damn  

brutal, and it's something nice to say about  Arcanum's combat. There won't be a whole lot   of that. So it's not a great looking game, but there  are some neat flashes here and there. As for audio   it's a mix of higher highs and lower lows. A lot  of the interface sounds are good but the game's   soundscape when it comes to the environment in  combat is pretty generic. At worst there can be   a lot of annoyances like looping sound effects  from spell buffs. Drog's patch actually has an   option to straight up remove annoying sound  effects because there are so many to find.

(Familiar wings flapping intensely in distance) Oh, that's why I never summon the familiar. (high pitched screaming) See that's pretty funny until you have an army of them. (screaming intensifies) Let me switch to real time.

(arrows firing at machine gun speed, screaming, grunts) These moments aren't too often, but it does help  combat feel like more of a mess. There are two   audio standouts, and the first is the voice  acting. There aren't a ton of voiced characters   in the game and those who do speak might only  have a few lines. Only Virgil and the most plot   significant characters will have a lot to say.  

LOGHAIRE: "My crime, it seems, is even more heinous than I thought.  I deserve much worse than this mere isolation."  BATES: "Why do you ask? You're not a labor sympathizer  are you? A unionizer perhaps? I can assure you, my  workers are happy to have the jobs I give them."   There's something like two dozen followers you can  recruit in the game, but only a handful of those   have a voice. Those that do usually have precious  few lines too, there are plenty I wish I could have  

heard more input from but they were stretched  thin already. Like Gar the World's Smartest Orc.   GAR: "Yes Gar like tea. Gar civilized. Gar say Earl Grey  best. Made from blend of black teas and oil from the   Bergamot plant. Excellent, Gar say." (Gar becomes aggressively English) GAR: "Oh come now, that is rubbish! Green tea is for the foreign constitution   not for consumption by those with discerning . . . I mean -   GRR! AUUGH! Gar no like green tea."

This is reflective of the whole game really. Arcanum spends a lot more time  flushing out the setting than it does going too   deep into any of the characters. It gives you  a few to kind of unpack, but focuses more on   giving you more options for replay. That brings  us to our second standout which is the music. (Arcanum Theme) (Towns - Arcanum OST) (Villages - Arcanum OST) (Tarant Sewers - Arcanum OST) The game is set in an otherworldly 1800's  and the music reflects it. Instead of big  

epic Baldur's Gate orchestra it's  string quartet. Not to say a big   symphony is bad for an RPG, but there was  a different idea behind Arcanum. You're not   necessarily playing a heroic character so  you don't have a heroic theme. This is why   the main theme is a whole mix of different  emotions and tone - they're all possibilities. (mix of rising tones, melancholic falls going back and forth from each other) I feel like [ __ ] having to interrupt the  Arcanum theme, but if I don't I'll get stuck here. The combat music is more percussion heavy  and still very fitting and welcome. The combat  

tracks in particular do have that age-old RPG  problem where there just isn't enough variety   for the amount of time you're playing it. The game  could have gotten a ton more mileage out of a few   more combat tracks, especially when the one you  hear the most is reused for the Dwarven areas. (Wheel Clan - Arcanum OST) It's nice clanking but it keeps coming back.  Anyway properly getting started your first  

step is character creation. There are some presets  too and the ones you don't pick can be found dead   around the Zephyr crash site. It's still well  worth the time going custom, especially with   how many rich backgrounds there are. You can be  raised by snake handlers, be an escaped lunatic   with combat bonuses or be a "special person" who  has intelligence loss from brain damage but this   makes people like you more if you're good because  they're just so charmed by that. Backgrounds are   never brought up directly in conversation, but they  add a lot of fun variation. On the other hand your   gender and especially your race will be incredibly  significant. People who were nice to you when you  

played as a human or an elf can completely become  different people if you play as a half orc or an ogre.   You might lose some quests while new ones open up  and you might pay more for a worse room at an inn.   You might have to overcome so much more just to  reach a simple interaction that another character   might not even think about. Though people looking  down on you is something you can use to your  

advantage too. Because they underestimate your  capabilities you can get the drop on them in   many situations. So this is one of your biggest  decisions. It's not a throwaway "Ah, a half orc" line.   It's "get the [ __ ] out of my bar" or cops eyeing you  up and you'll never be invited to the Phrenology   Department party. Race can be a complicated thing  and Arcanum is no different. Actually it might be  

way more complicated here. After this is where  you choose your initial stats, skills, spells, and   schematics. Your stats have all kinds of effects.  They also determine how many points you get   put into a skill and each skill has five levels.  There are 16 skills across four categories: combat,   stealth, social, and technology. Though separate from  tech skills there are eight different technology   disciplines. These can range from mechanical  engineering, electrical, chemistry, gunsmithing . . . Knowledge in a field grants you schematics and  lets you understand more advanced schematics.   

You can find or buy these in the world and once you  do you can craft all kinds of useful objects.    If you're playing something like a gunslinger, being  able to craft your own bullets can be essential   or maybe you want to be a smart boy who doesn't  do the fighting and that's what the robots are for.  Though a lot of this depends on you actually  being able to hunt down the parts and even then   there are ways to get around actually having  points in the field . . . and technology is a bit of   a mess in Arcanum. It's still doable but clunky  for a first time build and there are some other  

reasons for that too, which I'll get into soon. Then  you have 16 schools of magic with 5 spells each.   Everything you've seen so far whether it's a stat  or a spell or a skill or a technology field, it'll   cost the same point. You've got a huge amount of  options, and yes, if it seems too complicated you   can pick an auto level up scheme based on some  classes. What's important is that Arcanum isn't   very good as a jack of all trades game. There are  some things restricted to Good and Evil alignments   and how you actually get up to the ending of the  game can vastly change based on that, but remember   our laws of magic? Well that carries on into the  gameplay. Your aptitude towards tech or magic is  

also measured. You can play the entire game with  this at zero but when you start putting points   in technology disciplines or magic schools then  it'll start to skew over. This gives boons to what   you're leaning towards and disadvantages for  the other side. If you're too magic, tech shops  

don't even want you close to their inventory  but your spells scale better. As a necromancer   the exact same summon undead spell will give you  tougher monsters. At the same time tech becomes   much more unstable to use. You might just miss  attacks more or atomize yourself with your own rifle.

These principles work in reverse too. Like tech  characters can't use magic scrolls. Also technology   reinforces the laws of natural law around it or  some [ __ ] like that, so more advanced technology   acts as a magic dampening field. This means  a follower like Virgil who's an incredibly   effective magic healer becomes more and more  useless to a tech character. So they'll need to  

seek out more potions or healing skills or other  more pain in the ass methods. Unless you build the   mechanical healing spider. Skills themselves can  be trained more outside of points which gives all   kinds of bonus effects, and then master levels  can have special missions attached to them so   every replay is even more different and . . . man there  are so many ways to play. I should go over some.   My first character is Windsor McScamington, the  protégé of a charlatan. He's all about persuasion  

and making deals and has high charisma. Having  high charisma in Arcanum lets you recruit more   followers, which starts easy enough in the first  town by convincing a drunk half ogre to tag along,   but as he grows in power he assembles a certified  hit squad. Training at persuasion lets him recruit   followers he might not be able to otherwise based  on alignment. They're also more forgiving of who   he murders, which is good because Scammington  is also a necromancer. You can kill everyone in   the game and still beat it, but conjure spirit  still means I could pull information from dead   key characters. Several whodunit quests can be  made way easier by just raising the victim's  

spirit and asking what happened. If a follower  dies they can be made undead until receiving   proper resurrection treatment. You can summon  the undead out of thin air, resurrect the dead,   resurrect the undead. It's one of the best RPGs  you can play a necromancer, in there are just so  

many options. Not many games have ice gorillas  you can fight and then turn into your thralls.   (gorilla screeching) Most spirits appear to be in horrible pain and  not happy to be back in the material world, but   the game accounts for them. You can just say "I'm  a necromancer and I talk to them". Not interested   in doing some shitty quests for information? Well  dead men do tell tales when they really want to go   back to the afterlife. My other character is an  ogre named Klug Slabbrain. He has borderline   starfish IQ but he's strong, and wants to do the  right thing. Where Virgil had to make an appeal  

to a smarter character like Scammington the dynamic  is completely different here. Now he's in caretaker   mode, constantly on the verge of a mental breakdown  finding out that elf Jesus is back in the body of an idiot.  VIRGIL: "Why did the gods return your spirit in  this defective shell?"   Klug is fast too, and even in the first area Virgil can barely keep up. To  make matters worse Dr. Steve Brule can't mangle   a name like Klug can. KLUG: "What do we do now Voratio?" VIRGIL: "Virgil . . . my name . . . is VIRGIL!" KLUG: "What do we do now Voghhkloorh?" VIRGIL: "I . . . don't even know what you just called me."

He's too dumb to know spells, too dumb to spell words,   even some racist characters are more offended by  how stupid he is over anything else. Ouugh.   I'm honestly angry he's able to read the newspapers.  But he's still a good boy and some people find   it endearing when he introduces himself as dumb.  Sure he might lose followers and understanding   most of the plot, but boy can he go through those  dungeons fast. This is the most entertaining game  

to play a dumbass in, more so than any of the  Fallouts. Sometimes you are too dumb for quests   but if you really don't want to miss out there are  some temporary intellect potions around so Klug   can just snort up some Flowers for Algernon before  the big test. The sudden shift can make people   uncomfortable but they'll deal with him then.  Afterwards he could get back to calling the wizard   Jongle Dunne - Jingle or Jungle Jim and just get back  to doing regular Klugisms. It's a simple example  

but shows just how different two playthroughs  can be. All these dignified self-important 19th   century characters and they have to deal with a  Living Rock.    BATES: "You go to island where bad people are." There's a lot that's cool about Arcanum's thought  out systems, there are also plenty of skills and   aspects that could be easily replaced. Scammington  is a persuasive character and how persuasion   works in this game is great. He can come up with  better arguments or better lies but only based  

on things he knows. For example the first small  town you get to has a gang of bandits guarding   the bridge they want a protection fee to pass and  their leader thinks he's an educated genius. Except   he doesn't know what any words actually mean and  calls himself Lukan the Witless. He calls himself a   "thief extraordinary" and if you're too wordy with  him he calls your words "flatulent". The dude just   flat out doesn't know what the [ __ ] he's saying.  If you get on his case about it, it'll lead to a   fight but naturally you can convince him to let  you pass. He's a [ __ ] but he's not Klug, you can  

pretend you're from a guild of thieves and that  he's muscled in on your territory. The thing is if   you try to lie with something he knows beyond  doubt is a lie, the jig is up. He knows you're   trying to fleece him and any further persuasion  attempts aren't going to work. It's like this with  

every character. When you're attempting persuasion  no matter how good and tear-jerking your story is   about how good friends you are with a guy you're  trying to get to and his mom, the story isn't going   going to work if the guard knows he's an orphan.  Persuasion is still incredibly powerful but it's   not a magic spell and you benefit more from it  the more you actually know about the world and   the setting. On top of just having the skill you  still have to carefully think and choose your  

options. Now you could put a point in persuasion  or a different skill like gambling. You can win   money playing dice with dock workers and if you do  train it up you can win some pretty powerful items   with it. It's not nearly as overpowered as Fallout  1's gambling, but it's okay I guess. Okay, how about   the beauty stat? This will affect people's initial  perceptions towards you but that'll change rapidly   once you two get talking. Something like lock  picking and pickpocketing could also be useful  

skills, but there's ways around that too. For one  Arcanum has something called Fate Points which   you get by achieving things in the story. You can  spend one for a critical success at all kinds   of skills, so an item that maybe only a master  thief should be able to get you can just fate   point away. Something like lock picking doesn't  matter much either when you can break open most   doors and chests. If you save and recruit Dogmeat  aka the destroyer of worlds, not only do you get a   powerful melee companion but he doesn't have  weapons to lose durability with. He's great  

at killing golems and he's a universal guest  key. No barrier or lock no matter how ancient   or arcane can stop the power of the dog. Honestly  your party can still do this too, you don't lose a   whole ton of durability by bashing. There are trap  disarming skills, but not a whole lot of traps in   the game after the hell gauntlet. (Marv) It's fun there are so many options, it's more that this game is   extremely easy to break on every level. At the same  time they did have interesting clever ideas on how  

they could balance it. Going back to the bridge  bandits Klug walks up and gurgles at them.  Lukan takes pity on him noticing that he is clearly  "mentally retardant". "Oh the tribulraties that this man-" Ugh. Klug massacres the entire gang. He gets XP  for doing this, not distributed on kills, but   on hits. Here's the idea with that. Scammington's  persuasive ways means he'll be offered all kinds   of quests and can even skip out entire dungeons  through dialogue. He has a squad of followers too   so if they're all leveling up together he would be  absurd. So at the big party they handle the combat  

that the necromancer spells and the zombies can't  get. The gang as a whole is a lower level than   average, but they're an effective fighting force.  Klug is getting some quests and murdering most   things nearly single-handedly. Him being better  at combat and getting more hits in should make   up for the loss of XP from getting less quests  right? Well it does at first, for a while.   You don't need to be max level to beat the game but  the balancing feels weird throughout all of it.   There can be weird difficulty spikes inside the  same dungeon. I've thought for a while about how  

to put into words what's wrong with the combat. You  can switch between real time and pause by pressing   space bar, but it's going to be the same level of  pain. Do you want vibrating out of the material   plane fast or a DMV on a holiday slow? Combat  is either laughably trivial or a molasses wave   of frustration. I don't think I've ever thought  "that was a neat fight" while playing this game.  

Sure it's funny when Klug wipes out the three bears in  three seconds, but that's it. At its best Arcanum's   combat is extremely funny. Another reason I don't  often use firearms is because bows exist. (machine gun bow) You can cast spells or shoot as fast as you can click. The NPCs click fast, and this also goes for your enemies. (bushes begin speaking Dark Elf) It seems like the general rule is if you're  just playing the game leave it on real time.  

If you start to melt in 5 seconds then switch  on turn based. I don't mind when an RPG has a   harder encounter that you're supposed to come  back to later, but Arcanum can switch things up   in 10 meters. Even with a Klug build it moves  so fast that it's disorienting, otherwise it   will go extremely slow, even with the fast  turn based option. There's no sense with what the   normal combat speed should be, none of this is  normal. So pick your poison. I mean you do have   a crazy amount of options for what you can do  in combat. There is merit in all those options,   but even the encounters themselves aren't  great either. Most of the combat dungeons you  

go through are so tedious and dull, like some  of the largest ones are different sewers.   The maps have such convoluted flow to them too  and there's rarely anything interesting to   find. There can be exceptions to the rule like  finding a potential follower inside an ancient   temple or looking for dwarves when you stumble  upon the lair of Kerghan the first Necromancer.    He was a bad enough dude that Nasrudin and the  ancient council banished him into the Void.   These are neat additions, but again they're neat  additions for the story and the Intrigue, not the . . . combat.  (bow machine guns) Now luckily after the first third or  so of the game there, aren't any more required   big dungeons. In fact the gauntlet leading up to  the end is mercifully small and straightforward.  

If the combat was better this would feel like  a letdown, but instead it's a feature. A lot of   these are tied to optional stuff around the map  and there is a ton of this. You can travel around   the map at a faster speed only being stopped for  a random encounter, but you can travel the map   completely manually if you want. It'll just take  something like 30 hours to cross it. That means   if you find a dungeon you can just leave. I think  that alone seals it, but what about Klug?  Combat meat heads like him are going to need more fights  to keep up. Sure he's slow, but deserves an arc too.   You might have to do more dungeon diving to see it  but that's what you signed up for.

VIRGIL: "We need to . . . hey . . . you called me Virgil! Good show! Perhaps you're wising up a bit after all."   So combat is bizarre, all kinds of systems are a mess - like alignment.  For example if you want to cheese it you could   just shower a beggar with money until you ascend  to heaven or yell at them to get a job until you   become Satan. If it's that rough why would anyone  play this? Beyond it being fun to break are the  

world and interactions really that good? Yes. It  is that good. Beyond the main quest there's tons   of stuff to do and so many ways to resolve many  of the situations. The Unified Kingdom capital of   Tarant is one of the most content dense cities I've  played in an RPG. There are obvious places to pick   up missions sure, but even random NPCs might have  something to offer. There are mysteries to solve,  

dark grand conspiracies, and just weird fun little  side stories. That Thieves Guild I mentioned before   has over a dozen break-in and heist quests to pick  up. There are exorcisms to perform in all kinds of   missions that cross cities and kingdoms. That war I  mentioned before between gunpowder users and sword   conservatives is something you can really delve  into. The Kingdom of Cumbria lost the war with   Tarant and the rest of the Unified Kingdom.  Their land is run down and rotting both physically  

and politically. The current King's right to rule  is dubious at best and the trauma from the war   has caused them to outlaw virtually all technology,  which isn't practical in this changing world, but   it's not all black and white either. Cumbria had  honorable virtues before, it's just the current   system is the worst most destructive parts of  staying traditional at all costs. You can contribute  

to restoring this kingdom and finding its place  in a new world without destroying its identity.   The Unified Kingdom has issues too. Tarant used  to be a monarchy but technology destabilized the   power there too. When the royal family was all  found dead or missing the Gnomish Merchant's   Guild took control. Profits and technological  progress now eclipse all else even as a ton   of people suffer. The fate of the country can be  decided by how you handle a side quest about an  

orc worker strike. This is all some side [ __ ] you  can do. There are 36 ending slides, a lot of what   you do is take it into account, though yeah, when  the main quest takes you to new areas the amount   of quests you get do taper off, but it's still a  hell of a lot more than most and plenty of random   locations and things to discover all the way up  until the end. Speaking of, from here I'm going to   talk about the main quest and that quest in more  detail, so if you don't want spoilers go to here: 48:42. Right, "find the boy and deliver the ring". Assassins  are desperately searching for you and the ring. The  

only clue it offers are the initials GB. However  a local shopkeeper recognizes it as being from   a store in Tarant. There's a dwarf outside the  store named Magnus who's also irritated he can't   get answers from the store owners, apparently  they're reclusive and even the doorman doesn't   want to talk about what goes on downstairs.  Magnus thinks they might have answers into  

what Dwarven Clan he hails from and tags along for  the ride . . . maybe. This turns out to be like finding a   Diablo level beneath a JC Penny and it becomes  worse when you find that the lowest level is   full of undead dwarves. The owners are a family of  necromancers who found the dwarf tomb long ago and   built a shop over it. Magnus is horrified because  he thinks this might be his lost clan but there's   something strange about these dwarves. If you don't  immediately murder the owners they'll explain the   situation. What they're doing is perfectly legal  but they're keeping it secret because it is  

unsavory. It becomes obvious that these aren't  Magnus's ancestors but they go farther to say   that he shouldn't be offended. Noble dwarf clans  always reside in the mountains and this is out in   the flatlands. They have sloped foreheads and extra  fingers and toes, the necromancers doubt they were  

even literate, so they're already dead and even in  life were likely freaks and outcasts which makes   what they're doing perfectly okay. This can end  in violence or nice and politely. This is a minor   event in the grand scheme of things but it does  establish how far things can go in the setting   for those deemed lesser. One way or another you  find out the ring belongs to Bill Gates, I mean   Gilbert Bates. He's the inventor of the steam  engine and the Rival to Cedric APPLEby. Heh.   Anyways Bates is very interested in this ring. He's  baffled to learn a gnome gave it to you and when  

you describe him, it turns out it wasn't a gnome  at all, but a dwarf named Stennar Rock Cutter.  This is near unthinkable as dwarves have a saying  that "they'd rather cut their own throat than   their beard" so Stennar had done that and starved  himself and withered away to disguise himself as   a gnome. Bates is getting a sinking feeling about  this. When Bates was a teenager he was a bit of   a dwarf weeb, and still is really, but he hoped  to be welcomed into the Black Mountain Clan by   showing how well he understood their technology.  They laughed at him and humored him and Stennar   was his only real friend. It's revealed that  Bates saw a steam engine in the corner of the  

Black Mountain hold, he saw the potential in it  and tried to tell them but they all just laughed   him off again, so he sold an application of it to  a human company and it took off around the world.   When Bates returned to the clan to show proof  of his success they were all gone. He was then   threatened by hooded figures who said he could  never reveal the origins of the steam engine and   so became known as its inventor. Stennar still  called him "the boy" because dwarves live a lot   longer than humans and probably got mixed up. It's  possible there are still some clues in their old  

home and you find plenty of monsters and plenty  of dead assassins who also picked up on this   trail. This is the golem cave dedicated to breaking  your weapons and it sucks! After crossing a Korean   DMZ level of landmines, you do find a single Black  Mountain Clan survivor. He's gone crazy from being   alone for decades but says another dwarf clan, the  Wheel Clan, banished them. He carved the full story   out in a rock behind him when he was less crazy.  The crime was sharing technology with humans and   to make it even stranger, elves carried out the  actual banishment. They sent the Black Mountain  

Clan to a lovely retreat called the Isle of  Despair. Their disappearance appears to be   entirely Bates's fault. He takes it well all things  considered and arranges your passage to the Isle   of Despair, which is a prison island. And guess  what? There's no Black Mountain Clan here either. ABYSS GOD: DWARVES! Every time you think you have a lead it just  opens up a new mystery. all of Virgil's Panarii   spiel saying you're the Living One and Nasrudin reincarnated, it seems completely unrelated.   You do learn that the evil one is Arronax, who's  just an ancient elf supremacist. It would be like  

saying Christ will soon return to destroy the  founder of the KKK, like Panarii is a strange religion. There's some interesting stuff on the  Isle of Despair. You can find an ancient crashed   submarine which likely belonged to the Vendigroth civilization. They were very technologically  

advanced but disappeared about 2000 years ago.  There's also a well-educated half ogre prisoner   who is a pretty rare find. He talks about books and  his childhood memories of living in an orphanage,   an all half ogre orphanage which even he thinks is  strange. Humans and ogres hooking up willingly is   pretty rare but that must have been the fad of the  time, otherwise the crime would be so widespread   and often that ogres would be hunted down and  killed by now. So he's an interesting dude.    There's also a prisoner who has a part for an ancient Vendigroth gun. Back on track the prison's leader is   a dwarf, but he's a Wheel Clan dwarf. He tells you  the Black Mountain Clan never showed up there, so  

you should go check in with the Wheel Clan. This  is really emphasizing this setting over character   aspect I mentioned earlier. Bates is probably the  most developed so far but it's not a whole ton.   There is some irony in that as much as he loves  the dwarves he has a lot of underlying anger for   them not accepting him. As a short-lived human he  didn't have their aged wisdom and they thought he   had nothing to contribute. He felt so strongly  against this that it significantly shaped his  

life and then he'll turn around to do the same  thing to the races working in his factories.    So it's something. If Magnus is still around you'll  learn he's a city dwarf trying to figure out what   being a dwarf actually means and his "how to be  a dwarf" culture manual was written by a human.   Virgil has an uncanny amount of street knowledge  and implies things were very different before   joining the Panarii, but he's still not opening up  a lot. So it's all about the mystery. When you get   to the Wheel Clan they're still kicking along, but  have seen better days. Their leader is the prince   currently ruling over with the title of King-In-Waiting. The real king, Loghaire Thunderstone, has  

been gone for decades after overseeing the  Black Mountain Clan being hauled off by the   elves. He was so overcome with grief that he  banished himself to The Dredge. It's a terrible   mud labyrinth inside the mountain and we can skip  over that with persuasion. The prince talks to dad   just about daily, in fact he's right behind this door. LOGHAIRE: "Quiet! This is insolence is unforgivable. The violation   of my ancient right for solitude in exile is not  broken so easily." I can listen to Logan talk for hours and while he doesn't go on that long he is  enlightening. The other races consider technology  

in the hands of humans dangerous because of their  short lives. In his view everything humans do is   fueled by the fear of death and their relative  instant gratification. Humans are fascinated by   the effects a new thing can bring now and not  thinking about the long-term consequences, which   you have been seeing throughout the entire game.  Bates did screw up, but his line of thinking wasn't special.  LOGHAIRE: "His first thought was what can I use  this for? When it should have been what is the   cost of its use? Technology exploded in their hands  because they are not burdened with our longevity.   Humans rarely live long enough to see the  consequences of their mistakes."

As for what specifically happened - humans began cutting down trees. Their logging was so efficient that they   were wiping out huge areas of elven forests and we  know how elves always feel about trees. They were   so angry that they personally wanted to carry out  the punishment and if the Wheel Clan wouldn't let   them they would declare war on all dwarves. Loghaire let them, felt ashamed for letting them, and   exiled himself. If you know Dwarven philosophy you  can convince him to return to the throne, the Wheel  

Clan will be ecstatic about this if you do, but now  regardless you have to find the elves. Finding them   can involve hunting down Arcanum's Bigfoot but  I don't want to get into that. The elves are in   the glimmering forest, but where in the forest?  In the trees. In what trees? In the glimmering  

forest, okay then. GAR: "Please we must cease an attack on such a good soul!" He's not Gar, he's an elf! Sorry sir you're dead, where are the elves. Where's Qintarra? In the forest. Trees . . .  Oh god damn i- Look at that it's the elves! And get this.

They've never heard of any of this happening.  When you speak to their ruler she only speaks in   riddles. They've been living in their collection  of fancy trees and have nothing to do with the   dwarves. Instead it may have been Dark Elves     RAVEN: "Well I believe that may have been so because M'in Gor'ad is a DARK name."

Of course they did. So now you've got to find out where the- ???: "Greetings, traveler. It seems to me that you're looking for answers. Don't you know?" And you then get a random encounter  with Arronax. He confirms that whether or not you're   the Living One, the reincarnation of Nasrudin, he  will be coming back soon and he will face you   down. And so far this still seems like it has  nothing to do with the main quest. Finding the   dark elves will mean locating a book with their  location. Back in the capital you stumble across   a guy looking for another guy and this leads to  a lot of intrigue around a set of skulls. They're  

from a set of conjoined Siamese twins and the man  who sent you to find them says they're proof of a   massive breeding experiment. He wants you to find  his partner, who is missing where he tells you to   look, but you happen to find again in the same  town we are seeking out the dark elf book. The   strange amount of half ogres in the kingdom can be  explained by visiting an island offshore this is   where things take a turn for the [ __ ] gruesome.  It's not a breeding experiment, it's a breeding   factory. Powerful members of The Gnome Council  have been kidnapping women and forcing them to  

birth half ogres. At first this would always kill  the host but after developing some new surgical   techniques they could get a few more out of them.  The only items you can find on half ogre Island   are pretty grim. This is when you realize whenever  you see powerful gnomes they're always flanked by   a half ogre bodyguard. They're generally dumb  but loyal and controllable. The dissolving of  

the royal family makes more sense now. When you go  back to report it your contact is gone and a gnome   is there. He says he's part of the investigators  but it's clear he isn't. He explained that gnomes   gained more wealth from investing in technology  but the other races didn't like that and would   physically overpower them to beat and rob them, so  members with influence begin trying to breed the   perfect bodyguards. They first kidnapped people  no one would miss and then moved up to grabbing  

political rivals and their families. The royalty was  overthrown and worked into this plan at the same   time. The queen birthed three before dying. This  continued on for years but they don't need to do   it anymore as there are now farms of female half  ogres that will constantly create new bodyguards.   Then he goes "ahhh maybe it's real who knows". If you  kill this creep it says his alignment is good so   maybe he didn't participate in it directly or  something? I don't know. If you take evidence to  

the press the journalist is horrified, promising  to write a story and when you come back he's   gone. Replaced with someone who doesn't know what  you're talking about. If you return to the island   all the evidence is gone and that is the end of  the quest. It was a side quest. It's a sickening   thing to stumble onto the first time you play  the game and completely changes how you see the   world now. It also makes Klug more tragic though  thankfully he's too stupid to even start the  

questline. It's a bizarre dark inclusion with no  direct way to resolve it. You can't really undo it   either, only expose it. You could obliterate every  gnome on site but you'll never get the text prompt   saying the situation is fixed. You can resolve it  indirectly by completely destabilizing the country   in the ending slides. That would mean the  council would lose its power and maybe the Fantasy   Eugenics Program would end, but I guess a whole  nation of people would suffer for the crimes of   their creepy elite, but nothing is new there. What  was happening in the main quest again? Something  

about Dark Elves and a prophecy? The big issue  with this is that it's a side quest with very   direct consequences. You immediately know how it's  a problem and how huge it is and you're likely   getting it in a period of having no idea where  things are going and it immediately grabs your   attention away from it. There are interesting ideas  happening in the main story but this immediately   upstages it. It's one of the most mind-melting  horrible reveals in an RPG and it's just a side   thing. It's hard to recover from that one. I'll try.  To get back to it you gain an audience with the  

dark elves by claiming to be one of the assassins  who did you in. Honestly they're similar to regular   elves just with a lot more racism. Elves think  they're the master race even though they won't say   it, dark elves know they are and scream it. So this  trip to the literal Eagles Nest reveals a lot.    The Black Mountain Clan dwarves were banished to the  Void this is where Nasrudin and the council threw   the most evil people in back in the day including  Arronax. Arcanum has magical wards that are keeping   him trapped in the Void and the dwarves were  supposed to build a machine inside the void   to bust em out. Arronax is extremely magical so  the wards have a heavy effect on him. Stennar is the   opposite so is able to escape from the Void using  the machine even though it's not ready for Arronax yet.

The wards don't affect him as strongly so he  got out to warn people. Bates wasn't the cause he   was an excuse. The dark elves want Arronax back. If  you're evil you could join with them from here to   get to the ending, but you miss out on some reveals  so I'll stick with the path of good for now.   If Virgil is still with you he takes off now the  stakes were high enough that he has something to   take care of in case the world ends. Returning to  the elves their leader will cryptically tell you   that "the answer lies with Nasrudin". Which if you  are him meaning you are the answer or something  

like that, but Nasrudin does have a physical form.  The main Panarii Temple holds the body of Nasrudin beneath it. The story is really starting  to come together now, it's all lining up and   maybe as a necromancer I could just bring the dude  back and ask him what's going on. Sadly a bunch of  

early church records are destroyed, but it is known  you're not supposed to mess with Nasrudin's body.   From here you get into some shenanigans unpacking  their religion. Virgil is also in town murdered by   gangsters. With a resurrect scroll you can bring  him back and he'll explain how he was trying to   atone for his past life. He lost someone because of  his actions and couldn't live with it anymore but   when Virgil died he saw him in the afterlife and  felt at peace. The afterlife is a quiet tranquil   place in Arcanum, and Virgil carries that with him  now. You celebrate his new Oneness by breaking into  

the Panarii temple and digging up their Christ  figure. It's not Nasrudin, it's not even an elf.   It's an old Panarii Saint. This has disturbing  implications and after further research you   find out the Panarii faith has been interfered  with for hundreds of years. I can't get into why  

yet, but it's clear Nasrudin's real remains are in  the Island of Thanatos. Also known as evil Tabasco   gorilla Island. After a trek of that monkey madness  you find an old man who might know where to go.   After only a bit of talking it becomes clear that  this is Nasrudin. He used his powerful abilities  

to extend his life and not much else and Arronax  is his son. Arronax single-handedly wiped out the   ancient Vendigroth civilization out of fear of  their technology. His crime was great enough to be   boinked to the Void sentence. Except that he was  so magic and it took so much energy it weakened   the barrier between the worlds. So the wards were  created to help maintain that barrier and Nasrudin

exiled himself. And the last council member put  a plan in place. Knowledge of how to maintain the   wards can be lost over time so he founded the  Panarii religion primarily to include rites to   maintain the wards. They'll keep doing the rituals  even if they don't know why. At a later point the   dark elves made sneaky adjustments to the religion.  The wards would no longer be maintained well and   Arronax will be hyped up as a mythological Satan  figure instead of a very real elf supremacist   who wants to break out. That way the threat of him  won't be taken seriously. Having a religion formed   and then manipulated over the power struggles of  very mortal beings is an insane reveal. You're not   the chosen one it's all [ __ ] and Jesus is  right there. He's deeply unhappy about being  

worshiped, but realistically understands he can't  do much about it. Fortunately there is a way to   Turbo Mega kill Arronax. Before Vendigroth got  cataclysmically own zoned they invented a device   that would wipe out even the most powerful mage. If  you go get that Nasrudin will banish you into the   Void and you can take down Arronax. So you go . . . ugh. So you get it. Kiss your mortal coil goodbye and welcome   to the Void. The Void is strange, in their eternal  wisdom Nasrudin and the council didn't actually know  

if anything was over here. There are the remains  of some kind of civilization, whether they dwelled   here and blew themselves up or colonized this area  or what is never explained. There are theories that   cycles of tech and magic have gone on forever and  without a doubt magic used to have eight spells   in a school instead of five. The Void could be one  of those sides taken to an extreme end. There's a  

lot of combat with void creatures and in the first  structure, shockingly quickly, there's Arronax.    ARRONAX: "Many thanks for releasing me from my horribly lengthy incarceration sir!"   Uh, no, I'm here to murder you.  ARRONAX: "Now why would you want to do that?" Aren't you out to conquer the world an- ARRONAX: "I have no such fantasies of revenge. I have been imprisoned here for nearly 2000 years which is more than enough time to regret the mistakes of one's youth." Arronax had nothing to do with any of this. It was all Kerghan. You remember Kerghan, right? The first Necromancer who's barely  mentioned throughout the entire game, or maybe his   influence has been more noticeable but you weren't  looking for it. This is bold. You only know Arronax 

on a very surface level and only because you're  paying attention and trying to look out for more   information about him. As a villain he's been kept  so vague that he's not very interesting, now it's   revealed the big bad evil guy is a puppet master  who we know even less about. Most evil genius   puppet master villains will show their hand more  for dramatic effect. Only sharply looking for it   on replay can you see the tiny hints of Kerghan's  manipulation. The dark elves thought they had their   hand over a major religion and a large part of  civilization - in the end they were being played too.  

The Arronax they want to come back can never come  back. He's had time to reflect and grow past what   he was on the other side. Kerghan has been in the  void longer. He was the only human on the ancient   council. For all we know they chucked him into a  new civilization and he broke it and twisted it to   his will. Whatever he's up to it clearly was wasn't  for ego he's been masquerading as someone else and  

promising a dark savior who will never show up.  Said savior who was a living holocaust has been   there two thousand years and still barely knows  what Kerghan's up to. This dude is deadly. Arronax can join your party. You can even wander the Void  recruiting history's literal greatest monsters   to join you in the fight. They've all been banished  here too for a similar unspeakable crimes.   Entering Kerghan''s Castle most of the Black Mountain Clan  is slaughtered, though there are a few survivors.   The device is ready and Kerghan awaits. 

KERGHAN: "Greetings, long have I waited for your arrival and finally this moment has come. I am Kerghan, first of the  necromancers, voyager in the lands of the dead." His delivery will change a bit based on whether or  not Arronax is present. No matter the case you're   still gonna have lots of questions and he's happy  to talk. In his mortal life he was obsessed with   necromancy and death and here in the void that's  only gone farther. He's gained some new insight   into the matter after thousands of years.   

KERGHAN: "Yes look at me. What do you see? A monster? An abomination? You've no idea what I've discovered you see with  eyes tainted by life, and all which that accursed  state embodies. My vision is clear because of  those magics you hold and disdain and the council . . .  It is they have to thank for it." you don't age in the  void and it's hard to measure the passage of   You don't age in the Void and it's hard to measure the passage of time.

This explains why Stennar actually called  Gates "the boy". While Kerghan kept in the shadows   until now, it's clear that he actually does have a  gigantic ego. The dark elves had no clue.    KERGHAN: "Yes I know. Ironic isn't it? it was on my ears that  their feeble and pathetic cries had fallen.  To me, Kerghan, who had defeated their master  and thrown him in chains. Kerghan, who had   manipulated them into subverting  the Panarii and weakening the wards.   Kerghan, who used them to send me the dwarves of the Black  Mountain Clan who have now finished the bridge   back to Arcanum."

His plan is to obliterate all life. On its own this is nothing new. We've seen   edgelords in media do this all the time, what  makes it interesting is that Arcanum's setting   has established a lot more here. There is without  a doubt an afterlife. Playing as a necromancer   you're even more hyper aware of that. You talk to  spirits unhappy to be back all the time. Kerghan   sees life as being pointless and painful. If  there's a serene and peaceful afterlife then   why bother with the torment of living? we've  seen the horrors this world can unleash on its   people and he wants to end all of it. No more  struggle, no more suffering, just peace.   

Virgil who has died and come back thinks he has a point  though he doesn't agree everyone should instantly   succumb to dying. VIRGIL: "Of course not, I made my choice  a long time ago and I choose to stand with you.   Yes there is pain in life. Pain and loss and  sorrow, but there is also joy and the pleasures   of growing and learning. Can't have one without  the other. I wouldn't want to sacrifice either,   but in the end I stand with you whatever your  choice. KERGHAN: "I can no longer tolerate the atrocities that this thing, this life it has brought about. There  will be peace, there will be quiet. Life will no longer be  

and so I go to Arcanum to be an end to  it, and then I will join the souls of the dead when it is done." You have a few options. From here you can join  Kerghan, join him then betray him to try and become   a new god, fight him in an awkward bad boss fight  or convince him out of his plan and to let you   kill him with the Vendigroth device. To persuade him  you have to convince him that his perspective is   flawed. Not every soul is in pain when it comes  back, not to mention our perspective of reality   is incredibly limited. Our very views of life in  existence can be flawed and skewed not everyone  

is miserable to be alive and the dead don't  all wish they never were. It does seem silly   to convince him with this after so long but even  he seems to be embarrassed by it being pointed out.   His own ego is growing to a point where he thought  he had the best answer for everyone and not just   himself. It's still his ultimate conclusion but  he accepts it won't be the same for everyone   and they should make their own choice. I can  also forgive it because he drops one of the   hardest hitting lines I've heard from a villain.  KERGHA

2022-10-15 17:44

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