Steampunk D&D The Videogame? Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Rusted Geared Greetings my lovely island guests! Some of you might now I am very into D&D  and often reference it! It is my favourite game to play by far as I do have enough imagination to imagine the worlds we visit and see them unfold in better graphics than any engine based game could! I petted a dragon, I yeeted a huge cyberpunk golem into a black hole and I can distinctly visualise those worlds. Today I review the game that brought me closest to this experience I have been with a video game. That game is Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura!

It’s a D&D  Game

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is a game by Troika Games, you might have heard of them from their game Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. One of my favourite RPG’s and BY FAR ..FAR …FAAAAR my favourite vampire game! I still simp for Jeanette!  I think that is how I used that word right?!  Troika games is pretty well known for deeply complex games built on actual roleplay games mechanics. If Arcanum is an actual roleplaying system I do not know. Yet this game feels the most open world (ish)   D&D like that I have ever played.  Mimicking the playstyle of a Pen and Paper RPG the most of everything. This starts when you  realise that the manual for this game is completely available online from the start up.  There is no tutorial, no hints on how to build your character, limitless possibilities with minimal and vague descriptions.  Descriptions like “Int” You can raise this stat to raise Intelligence, Some crafts scale from this stat and some magic.  Luckily there is the manual…which uses pretty pictures.. a very tiny font.. and has 185 pages.  And that is a single language! (European Manuals often were multi-lingual hence the clarification to  those who might not have grown up with that). I was arrogant enough that I believed I could do this without the Manual so I made Elle.. my OC in my Isekai series and other media as well.

In D&D classes there exists this game, much like Vampire the Masquerade and Aberrant as roleplaying systems offer you the ability to do anything.  Which is amazing! Yet somewhat overwhelming. Choosing between genders races and Portraits gives you about 50 ish choices of what character you want to play as.. of which about 5 have different stats. Based on your race. Then you pick from well over 30 backgrounds that all hugely affect the game. I made Elle an Half-Elf with the background Nitzsche’s  Poster Child. Which doubles her critical fail chances but gives her a permanent 10% experience boost! I wanted to give her ice magic.. but that was lacking so instead she got the first offensive spell I could find.. Harm.  In regular D&D once you have selected your character and race you distribute your skill points and choose from between 6 stats to level up. The rest is altered by those base stats.. and your class which levels up.. semi separately from the character. In this game however there are no classes! Everything! … EVERYTHING! Is leveled by the same points. So upon start and level up..instead of choosing out of 6 stats..you get to choose out a few more!  You can choose out of 50 things to put your points in.

It did not take me long to realise I had not built Elle properly to survive at the start, I kept dying before even exiting the starter area and because I am reviewing here I played the game on easy! Still I kept getting washed as Elle kept falling over! While very much in her character I wondered what was causing it. Was it the Nitzsche thing? No! It was the fact that if you are out of Mana you fall to the floor! As Elle had no Melee investments she could not put up reliable DPS without crashing. Or so I though!  Because experience is not based on how much you kill in this game! Experience is based on how much you hit! How many actions you take and all that stuff. I of course still could not hit enough to get away with so much little “mana” which is called fatigue in this game so I had to redo it. So Elle’s much more competent Twin Emma was born. She was Elle’s counterpart.. instead of clumsy and socially awkward she was physically apt with a hint of magic and she had an extreme personality which makes people react to her very hostile or very friendly!  I trained her to be skilled with a sword and gave her some magic for a ranged option. As she would grow during our adventure she would develop in a semi rogue, with trickster spells.  A bit of a chaotic neutral type player tethering more to the evil side.  For those who ask.. yes this game also features alignments.

It’s a D&D Video Game

Emma discovers a lot of things while playing.  I was walking to towns but apparently you need to quick travel, or you will travel for hours through empty lands. During travel however you can not rest easy as encounters may pop up! This can be disastrous or a fun challenge depending on what  your level is, what your settings are and what kind of gear you are rocking.  The game features the ability to play it real time, in which case it plays very similar to Diablo..but shittier.  Or you can play it fully turn based in which it kind of plays like Divinity Original Sin 2….but shittier.  More on those negatives later! I play the game in Turn based so it felt more like a tabletop and that was the less shitty of the three options but again you will have to check the next section for that. First let’s tell you about the size of the game! Which is sizable… even with many mock locations you can still explore the map with fast travel to discover points of interests. For example, I encountered many mysterious shrines I had come to investigate!   Then there are a few important towns connected by railway stations and tech, but also travable in the classic way.

This is what makes this game so interesting. The setting is quite unique, and when I say that I mean it is quite Identical to Fable 3.  The Industrial Age in a fantasy setting. However this game leans WAY  heavier into it and besides a good and evil alignment your character can either perform well in Steamworks OR Magick Obscura… You choose a side if it were. Though nothing works as well as just hitting things hard with a big metal object which for me .. kind of was a fun change of pace. Don’t get me wrong.. Sword is not the only playstyle.. but it is by far the easiest and it still isn’t easy. Let’s say Sword is Normal Level difficulty.. maybe even Intermediate. Magic is Hard and if you go Tech..well that is by far the hardest to a point that for me personally it is unplayable. It is doable but there is a lot of searching for parts, tinkering , leveling crafting levels to keep things up, leveling traps to use traps, leveling the stat to use it and of course raising your defence so you live long enough. It by far is the biggest package of skills you need to manage, but I am sure that will be someone’s dream playstyle.. save it for a second run though.

A second run is quite playable and manageable because there is lots to see and lot of choices to make! So high points in replayability. In this story you play the only survivor of the Zephyr a blimp that got taken down by Ogre Aviators.. who did not know how to fly a plane so they just tried stuff and took themselves down  by  flying into the blimp and just exploding against it.. it worked though and only a tiny halfling or gnomish man survived long enough to hand you a ring with some intials on it as your only clue! This person is important to the faith of the world the gnome says. Then a priest shows up and tells you , you are an incarnation of a god.. but since he is just a rookie priest he doesn’t know anything more than the legend. He teams up with you and so an epic journey filled with lots of shady figures and people out for that ring and/or your life begins.  While I haven’t been able to complete the game yet, I made a large enough dent in the story that I have a fairly good impression of the world building and it is quite amazing.  There are very many ways to move through the story.. so I won’t tell you mine as it might ruin the fun.. because this is not a game you’ll want to play for the gameplay.

It’s a Video Game

The game is a harsh one, there is no backing out of conversations, there is no regret , there is no autosave!  If you make a choice it is locked in unless you remember to save before it.  You don’t always know when these moments come up so save plenty!  For example, fairly early in the game, my character sides with a thief and I destroyed supplies for another … which gave me access to thieves guild.. but the town disliked me!  I never got very good sale prices after.. luckily I helped them stop a bank robbery earlier so I was in a more or less neutral position. I befriended a big Ogre that helped me a lot in combat..however I got sent back almost an hour of dungeon crawling when he reached 0 hp.  As far as I am aware.. if a character reaches 0 hp it’s dead forever.  So I learned to save plenty. I sided with a group of necromancers  , I figured since my character used necromancy herself she would not be against it. This does have an effect on other events later on. That kind of world building is pretty standard.. but it is implemented very well here.. but where this game really shines is the side quest.

In the first large city you encounter I got a quest to track down a painting that was stolen.. it plays out a bit like a detective story of sorts, it looks like the husband may be involved but he is hard to find. Unrelated I stumbled upon another side quest  to deliver a letter from a shady guy. He kept saying to me I should not open it! Yet Emma is curious and she has a big strong ogre to protect her so she opened it anyway! It directions to a house with a brief but ill foreboding bit of text. Upon delivering the letter they find out I broke the seal and they try to kill me! They kill that monk guy that tagged along so I restart and do the fight better.. These guys were gonna pull a heist or something it seems. However it turns out that in that house you now can rob yourself.. is actually THE painting you’ve been looking for.  Quests OVERLAP and I don’t think I have ever seen that. Of course if you decide to deliver the letter like normal you do not go to the house and I am not sure if the painting then would change locations to house you delivered the letter to or if they leave it.. but this world changes so much from you interacting with it.. and  what you do in one side quest or what order you do them in can change how events unfold and for a 2001 game that is hella impressive. Even today we don’t see that kind of thing a lot. 

Unfortunately mechanically the game is super wonkey! Combat feels super finicky and if you play it in real time mode it feels super floaty and often derails in click spamming, if you have any skills you want to use you are almost forced to play it in turn based mode. Real time does work.. but weird things happen, there is a quick select for example to use skills like in an MMO but they are not telling you which key is what. So I thought for the longest time I had to click them , still real time combat feels muddy and lacks the tactics you can use in turn based.  That itself is hindered by hitboxes and context sensitive spells but without proper feedback! For example casting harm on a friendly unit can be done when it stands in front of an enemy. It will say you target your ally but target the enemy instead it feels super unnatural.  It looks murky and boring as well in most places! The steampunk elements look super creative , but especially the wilderness is extremely repetitive.  It has beautiful music but it loops too often and all in all.. it is kind of a bad video game. Because almost all elements are wonky! It is too hard, it looks bad, (for 2001 standards and did not age well either)   it sounds generic and combat and movement feels super floaty and I had a lot of frame drops!   IN a 19 year old game!  So while it is an interesting video game .. it is also a bad video game.

What is it?!

In the end that is the fatal flaw of this game. It’s not good enough to be a strong video game and it is too limited to be considered a proper D&D adventure. What we get is something that is kind of smack in the middle of it! It wanted to be more a pen and paper game and compromised too little to be a video game. It doesn’t work. Combat is done poorly and unbalanced. A melee hit does less damage.. but costs less stamina and acts faster (mostly)  however since hits count towards XP and not  kills.. magic deals TOO much damage. You get less xp and more damage because of your build.. it is a system where you can do everything and you can beat it with everything.. but it is also a system that REALLY REALLY REALLY favours Melee and violent characters. Gameplay and idea don’t overlap.. as if they are from two different worlds.

So this will not appeal to those wanting a great RPG and not to those who want the liberty to play tabletop! That being said however I loved this game .. because it is pretty much for people like me! I’ll admit it is too hard and tedious for me.. so I can only stomach it in small sessions , like an hour a day!  But I really want to play that hour a day to see Emma get stronger. She isn’t going to be the character I really REALLY want her to be.. but a more functional build of what I want her to be and that is ..mostly fine.  There is such an interesting world to explore that I will take broken mechanics for granted. It is no Final Fantasy VI but it is the closest I can come to experience being a player in a tabletop game for now! It’s harsh, punishing and I really stress out while playing it.. but those nerves also are that of a D&D player on low HP.  Simply for the world alone this is such an unique game, and it is quite loved among recent players who like games like this.. It really has this niche audience and I belong to it for the most part! I am still annoyed by it’s flaws or my own limitations to play it more freely so for me it’s fine.. for anyone who thrives for difficulty and freedom.. this is an absolute and rare gem.

<Disclaimer>
The Screenshots I used are not of my own Journey, I was unable to produce my own screenshots properly due to some technicalities, imagine these.. screenshots but with an leather armored girl with swords and the disarm spell for my journey!
<End of Disclaimer>

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Princess Pinkie

A 34 year old, super pink, Geek blogger, from the Netherlands behind the keyboard. A 21 year old , Unicorn-Duck Princess VBlogger on the border of imagination and reality!

2 thoughts on “Steampunk D&D The Videogame? Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura”

  1. Aracnum sounds like the epitome of the reason I did not switch to video games for my rpg fix when everyone else did. They just didn’t give me the freedom and creativity that D&D with pencil and paper and imagination did. And now that I said that, I just bought it on Steam. Hey, it’s on sale and really cheap and I came into a little free money this month. I’m actually looking forward to tinkering with it. Please come rescue me if you hear me bashing my head on my desk though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Arcanum is indeed what you say, I do think it kind of lets you be to free for a video game but not enough for a Roleplaying game! However if you can’t analogue this is not the worst substitute and yes I got it cheap as well so did judge it on that price 😛

      Liked by 1 person

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