Revisiting Arcanum: The Story So Far

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After some thought and trepidation, I finally got myself to revisit what I usually claim to be my favorite computer game of all time for a personal project that I’ve had in mind for quite some time. It may be ill-advised at best, but I’m currently working on it in my spare time to practice my video production skills. I do want to fill up my YouTube account with more stuff, so this is the idea I ended up with.

I don’t know why I even made this blog post as it seems foolhardy to talk about something that may or may not get finished. Perhaps I just want to put more content into this website. Just be forewarned that what you read here is still up in the air and I’m not entirely sure on whether I will finish it. Feedback will be appreciated though.

The Best Laid Plans

So the plan is to complete and record at least 4 whole playthroughs with different characters to make a multipart Arcanum retrospective. I had made a half-hour documentary about gaming in the Philippines for school in late 2009, and I was proud of it at that time. I’d like to make more stuff like that to pass my time.

There are a few things that I’m worrying about though. I’m not entirely confident in giving this game the justice it deserves. Arcanum is an isometric role-playing game, a genre mostly populated by the obsessive-compulsive when it comes to even the most minor of details. If I ever want to take the next step, then I have to prepare myself for any sort of negative comment that may come my way. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that though.

Another potential complication is the recent YouTube Content ID controversy. I’ve been planning to make video content as a serious hobby, and I had acquired equipment for it. But with that whole screw-up, I’m not sure if I’ll upload it there. I do want people to watch it, but the copyright thing dangles over my head like the Sword of Damocles that makes me think twice about uploading there. Maybe I’ll put it in DailyMotion or Vimeo if ever it gets to that point.

First Full Playthrough in Ages

‘Twas the day before Christmas 2013 when I finished my first full playthrough in a long time. I’ve had plenty of characters made throughout the years, and I still have some save files in my current Arcanum installation. However, I already lost the flow in those playthroughs, so I had to make a new one.

I came up with a melee character with Earth magick, which sounded like a good idea at the time. He was a half-elf named George Clark, a gentleman swordsman of sorts. But when I played through that build, I hit a few snags. For instance, Earth magick turned out to not be that good in the game since while it does grant extra strength and defense, it’s also rather slow. Speed is everything in a turn-based game, so Fire magick would have been better because of Agility of Fire.

As a magick-oriented character, learning Conveyance was too tempting due to Teleportation. I couldn’t board trains because I had Dog in my party, so had to put 5 more stat points into it rather than somewhere else. I then made the character even more half-assed by putting points on Persuasion, which was a waste since I was already near the end of the game when I got it up to max level. By then, there was no point in having it since whoever I had to sweet-talk had already been talked to.

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In the end, he did turn out powerful enough to give Kerghan a thrashing at level 50. There may have been a few things that happened throughout that playthrough that made it too easy though. For instance, I got Dog fairly early, and he’s still as overpowered as ever. Also, Virgil stayed at his current level instead of reverting to 25 when I rescued him in the basement of The Sobbing Onion.

Perhaps it was because he didn’t get killed when I wiped out all of his attackers, or that I never got around to looking for Elder Joachim, or both. I never got the dialogue from Virgil when he left the party at T’sen Ang for Caladon, or his transformation after being rescued. He stayed at level 37, and was strong as fuck.

I do regret not being able to do a couple of things, which are not getting Loghaire out of his exile and having to consult guides throughout the playthrough. As mentioned, it was 2009 when I last played this, and I never got as serious as I am now in playing it “right”. This made for a rather rocky playthrough, which I am in the process of correcting.

Things Learned and Reminded Of

Despite having played this game on and off for 12 years, I still learn more things about it. Maybe I didn’t fool around as much as I could have, or just never got as interested in the details as I though I did. I both ignored and forgot a lot of the stuff that now seems so obvious about the game.

I actually haven’t visited a good number of the locations in game, like the Secret Village northwest of the Poachers’ Camp, which turned out to be an easter egg referencing the Smurfs. There was also the Gorgoth Pass, which I had only visited once before, and I’ve never gone into the Thieves’ Cave since I never made a dwarf/halfling/gnome character before.

There were also a few things that I noticed that I could rant about. One of them is in the Wheel Clan, wherein one of the merchants is selling a small steam engine, which is quite an inconsistency lore-wise. Perhaps it does get cleared up later upon meeting the Black Mountain Clan dwarves in the Void as they regret not having made use of young Gilbert Bates’ ideas. But still, still selling the very item that got your brothers banished and your king self-exiled is rather crass.

As I play this more, maybe I’ll learn more about it and be able to talk about it in the retrospective. I could use some help though since the script will need a lot of refinement in order to get this just right.

Next Playthroughs

I’m now doing a balanced speedrun of sorts with a refined melee/fire elf build, going for less than 20 hours while still finishing the Old Gods quest. I’ll then continue my evil dark necromancer and gun/heal technologist playthroughs. The last one will be a stupid character in order to capture the funnier parts of the game. Once I have all the footage, I’ll be working on the rest of the retrospective.

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The speedrun is aided by a play order that I came up with so that I don’t wander around too much. I’ve already gotten to a quick start, but only after going through a botched attempt with a character using the Nietzche Poster Child background. While that would make leveling up much faster, the sheer amount of critical fails slowed things down quite a bit. I settled with the Child of Hero background in order to get a headstart with a good weapon. I reached level 30 within 6 hours, and I’ll hopefully finish the game by the 12th hour.

Arcanum: Enhanced

I am actually using Arcanum Ultima to make gameplay more streamlined for the most part. It does have extra modules, which I may get around to playing sometime in the future once I’ve finished most of the planned playthroughs.

Perhaps some people would think that playing a modded version of the game somewhat soils the experience, but I rather like it this way. I can’t really go back to playing in an old Pentium with a 4:3 CRT monitor on Windows 98 with this game. Not only is that inconvenient right now, but I would not have been able to record game footage with that setup.

In the Future

I don’t know if I can keep playing this game after playing so much of it in such a short time for this project. The memories of this game will stay with me forever, and it will always be special. However, I don’t know if I can keep playing it once I’m done with the retrospective.

I’d still continue to recommend it to people though, so it shouldn’t be too bad.



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