If you're not familiar with the concept of steampunk, visualize this. Take the world of late 19th century technology, complete with its steam engines, gearworks, and mechanical devices. Add five parts Tolkien and other classic RPG elements and character archetypes. Mix thoroughly. Theoretically, the result you get should be something along the lines of Arcanum. Unfortunately, Troika, the developers of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, didn't seem to skim the crud off the top after stirring...and the game probably could've been stirred a bit better.
If Arcanum reminds you at all of Fallout, then you've got good reason to suspect that some of the minds of the Fallout development team were behind it. Yes indeed, Tim Cain, Jason Anderson, and Leonard Boyarsky were among the production staff that created Arcanum's world of elves and engines. Arcanum started out as an RPG much in the same vein as Vampire: the Masquerade, but took its own tack in plot development and character building. The differences certainly don't stop there, of course.
For starters, before we embark on this review, let me go ahead and put forth that I only completed approximately 25% of the game. Some of you more pointed readers will immediately start flaming me for this fact, but read on through my review and I hope to justify my comments and opinions about this game.
Arcanum is actually the name of the world in which its namesake is based. Arcanum was long a world of mysticism and mages, but various political changes and scientific advancements led to the development of a technological cult that rivaled the magic users in size and strength. For a time, the two existed peacefully in a symbiosis, but eventually things started to get rather distant between the two, and the magic users started going into isolation as the scientists began elevating their knowledge over the reality-bending powers of the magicians.
Stupid fool...It's *my* job to save the world...
If it sounds like the background of the game is rather vague and foggy, then you're catching on to the basic underlying theme of the game. Basically, very little in the game is explained thoroughly or well, so you're often left with question-marks hanging over your head after hearing a story from an NPC, or completing a particular quest. This unveils one of the game's worst problems. The plot of the game is revealed more-or-less linearly, but its progression is non-linear. That is...you can go anywhere you want to anytime, but you generally have certain events to complet e in order to progress the plot.
Unfortunately, the non-linearity of the game lends itself to the fact that sometimes you lose sight of the plot and start to wonder why you're playing the game. In the beginning of the game, the zeppelin you are riding on is mysteriously shot down and you're the sole survivor. You find another survivor of the attack, but he dies in your arms as he gives you a ring and tasks you with finding its rightful owner.
In the 40 hours I've played this game, I have spent approximately two hours actually dealing with the plot. The rest of the time is spent completing various odd jobs for people, which in turn are supposed to allow you to complete your primary objectives. Unfortunately, these secondary objectives are usually small and unimportant, and essentially become obstacles more often than side quests.