Note on Arcanum in CD-Action 4/2014

Discussion in 'Arcanum Discussion' started by Muro, Apr 20, 2014.

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  1. Muro

    Muro Well-Known Member

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    CD-Action is the leading Polish computer gaming print magazine, released monthly. It lately celebrated the 18th anniversary of its existence and given the occasion, it started a series of articles on best/most ground-breaking games 1996-2014. Under year 2001 Arcanum was mentioned along 14 other games and given the following note (translation from Polish by yours truly; emphasis kept from original source):
    Addendum:
    Arcanum was rated 7/10 in CD-Action 11/2001 (though it was mentioned owners of a high end PCs can add a point or two due to avoiding problems with performance).
    At the time it was praised for the possibility of creating any character, auto-levelling schemes for overwhelmed players, a big world, an intriguing plot, the variety of spells/items/etc and the existence of an editor.
    At the same time it was scolded for an awful map, a slow engine, a not-overly-detailed journal, an uneven difficulty level, average graphics and the presence of out-of-place medieval equipment in a XIX century-esque setting ("plate armors and revolvers").
     
  2. ytzk

    ytzk Well-Known Member

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    I disagree with these criticisms.

    The graphics and the journal are both detailed and artfully done, and plate armour didn't really develop until the advent of gunpowder anyway.

    I don't know what's wrong with the map, but I score Arcanum 10/10 for sheer replayability.

    One does not simply enjoy a mediocre game for a solid decade.
     
  3. Jojobobo

    Jojobobo Well-Known Member

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    I don't know, I would agree the difficulty level is off kilter - if you did betray Jacob Bens at the start then I doubt most people would be able to get past Doc Roberts unless they knew what they were doing. It's also very easy to die from a group of wolves traveling early on, which might be off-putting to some people; I can remember when I played Arcanum when it was first out I played a Halfling thief and, having not invested in any sort of combat skills heavily, got my ass handed to me over and over again - particularly when making my way to Tarant. I know to my 11 year old self it was a little soul destroying.

    In terms of the out-of-place medieval equipment, I thought that was the point? Anachronistic technology was there to highlight the magick/tech divide.

    It's an interesting find anyway, I wonder what other contemporary reviews like the 11/2001 comments had to say on Arcanum? Most links on metacritic for Arcanum are now dead; although apparently Playboy gave it an 80, so there's something.
     
  4. Muro

    Muro Well-Known Member

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    Re:

    Having access to the 2001 review, I can explain a bit more what the author had on mind by the points brought up.
    Graphics: in the author's opinion NPCs and cities - dispite the game having rather high system requirements at the time - didn't look better than in Fallout, often worse actually, which gave him a bad after taste given that Arcanum being Fallout's spiritual succesor of sorts shouldn't be a change towards the worse. I disagree with him today, however, I remember not liking the graphics when I first saw them and thinking "meh, Fallout looked better". It's subjective, but I also see an objective point in NPCs specifically (pointed out by me rather than the author): they don't have idle animations + in vanilla they had mirrored sprites. Compared to Fallout where NPCs always held the weapon in the same hand and you see people wiping sweat from their foreheads, tinkering with their weapons or scratching their butts -> sniffing, this does appear a step backwards and can make NPC and cities less alive.

    Journal: It was about functionality. Quest descriptions tend to not mention who was the quest giver and what location he lives in, which may cause confusion and frustration in players who pay less attention/play every few days and forget the details.

    Map: There were a few points here. One was that it was very slow to navigate and choppy, an issue mostly resolved by having anything better than a standard 2001 PC I reckon. Another was a lack of indicators = always blindly searching for that one shop rather than having it marked on the town map.
    Granted, such indicators do exist in the game, but adding them is neither intuitive nor mentioned in the manual. Players can go through several playthroughs until they learn how to do it by accident, so the point has some validity.
    Also, a limited number of waymarks. Generally, other RPGs at the time allowed scrolling the map without limits and setting the path from one end of the town to the other with one click and it was perceived as the standard that Arcanum didn't meet.

    "Plate armor and revolvers" - are just an opinion I guess. I think that works pretty well in Arcanum, especially when more medievalesque equipment were generally used by guards in locations less touched by technological progress such as Dernholm, putting emphasis on the contrast between old and new.

    "10/10" - Arcanum is one of my favourite all time games, but while it would be a subjective 10/10 for myself, I can see where the 7/10 came from. We are Arcanum nuts, knowing the game inside-out and playing it for years. The problem that was touched was that the interface is unintuitive, making it hard for new players to get into it, and you won't want to replay something you just don't get. It all changes once you get the hang of it, but I do recall it took a while.

    This is pretty much what was the point.

    The example brought up in the review were the thieves guarding the only way out of Shrouded Hills. There are 4 clear* ways to deal with them:
    - One is negotiation, but it requires specifically investing into persuasion from the very beginning and only a fraction of characters end up having the required skill.
    - The second option is siding with the thieves, but not only does that require an ethical sacrifice, it's often locked out because the option is dismissed if you accepted the "get rid of the thieves" quest from the first NPC you see when you get to the town.
    - A third option is you can pay the toll of 1000 caps, which at that moment in the game you might as well estimate is slightly more money that there exists in the world.
    - And so you're left with option 4 which is direct combat, and to be honest those thieves are a bit much for a character at that level, especially if he's controlled by a new player.

    Would be fine if it was an optional side quest which you can leave until you get a bit more seasoned, but since dealing with the thieves is the only way to progress with the game past Shrouded Hills, I can see it making new players feel helpless and demotivated. Other points in the game I can see causing a similar feeling is being slaughtered by a Molochean Hand assassin between the Crash Site and Shrouded Hills (happened on my 1st playthrough) or by some undefeatable at that point wild life between Shrouded Hills and the next location you pick (a pack of putrid rodents on the way to Dernholm, also been there).

    While it's realistic that wildlife doesn't conveniently wait for you to level around your starting location, it can make the player think "what am I getting myself into". And then there's the BMC with its traps and golems. It wasn't all that impossible for my mage with damage-dealing and healing spells, but a character with a sword and healing salves can just feel like giving up at that point.

    *I say clear because I know there are more. The point is to consider the options visible to a new player.
     
  5. ytzk

    ytzk Well-Known Member

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    You're right of course, on all points, as usual, but I still give it five stars.

    Viva Arcanum!
     
  6. Ruda

    Ruda Active Member

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    Re:

    So you halve your grade based on Muro's points? Infidel!

    Doesn't Arcanum have idle animations but rarely use them? I know for certain that kites do; they turn their heads and hum a tune. I'd argue that Arcanum have better sprites than fallout overall, mainly due to NPCs being able to change clothes and armour.
    (Also, the animation where you loaded and unloaded your SMG got old real fast.)

    Agree on the journal, especially later in the game as entries became few and far between. As for the map, I'm wondering if there is a mod or something that allows more way points.

    I concur that the level 3 wolves are dangerous early on, especially in packs, but how many do you actually meet? I doubt any newbies fight the ones after the crash site, and aside from those I think there's one in the Bessie Toone mine. And most people save before using the world map, right? You rarely face the same encounter twice.
    (And Fallout's encounters could be just as hard, but nobody whined then)

    The thieves on the gate are actually quite useful as they serve as an early test for the player. If you haven't created a character that can somehow beat them (through any of the means mentioned) you're gonna have a hard time completing the rest of the game. I can't really remember how I did it my first time. I believe I sold the grenades, camera and dynamite from the crash site, which combined with the starting cash was enough to pay them off. Either that or I used Sogg armed with Doc Roberts' axe while helping out with the stun grenades. Also, I believe stealing the key is a viable option for new players. Can be done with or without pick pocket skill, especially with a fate point. Or do you gain your first fate point later?

    Finally I'd argue that, while BMC can be too much for many players, there are quite a lot of avoidable fights there. As for dealing with the traps, you're basically showered with Spot Trap scrolls. They shouldn't really be an issue. And you can always backtrack, head to Tarant and purchase healing potions and a few new swords.
     
  7. Jojobobo

    Jojobobo Well-Known Member

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    Re: Re:

    Honestly, there have been some times where it's taken me about 10 tries to get from Shrouded Hills to Tarant because of the wolves with an early character (back before I made such combat focussed characters who managed such things easily). I don't mind particularly much now, but for new players it can be off-putting. Also saving before using the world map every time is something you learn from bitter experience through playing games like Arcanum, it's quite punishing to die as an early on in a random encounter and then find an hour or so's progress undone - which most players who aren't used to saving frequently will do.

    I'm pretty sure the fate point is gained from killing them, hence the problem. For my first character if I remember correctly I stole the key, however this only assured to compound my sheer combat ineptitude by making me assume there'd always be workarounds for combat tied to the central plot involving thievery - which most of the time there isn't.
     
  8. Zanza

    Zanza Well-Known Member

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    Still one of the bet games I have ever played. Put so much time into reading that manual.
     
  9. Ruda

    Ruda Active Member

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    You know this place is going downhill when the content of someone's post basically sums up to "I like Arcanum".
     
  10. Zanza

    Zanza Well-Known Member

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    Re:

    Speaking of content of one's post. Sarcasm adds even less to the conversation.
     
  11. Ruda

    Ruda Active Member

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    Ah, but that's where you're wrong. A bit of sarcasm forces the afflicted to respond, thereby drawing attention to an otherwise interesting thread.
    Together, Zanza, we will restore the Arcanum Discussion sub forum to its former glory!!

    That, or it was late and I felt like being an arse.
     
  12. Zanza

    Zanza Well-Known Member

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    I don't troll Arcanum threads. General Discussion forum is open game but we don't get enough traffic through this section to warrant scaring people off.
     
  13. ytzk

    ytzk Well-Known Member

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    On the subject of Arcanum's excellent soundtrack, I'm sure I just heard the Tulla theme playing in a scene in Torchwood.

    Cpt Jack was talking to a little girl fortune teller. That's the only info I have on the episode because the show bores me.

    Anyway, if it wasn't that exact piece, it was very similar. Long live Arcanum.
     
  14. Pyotr

    Pyotr Member

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    My first impression of Arcanum (back when I didn't know about internet and UAP) was like "what the satanic horseshit is that?". This game has a quite high learning curve and starting wolves/Shrouded Hills bandits/BMC can easily kill any motivation to play further. DMC actually did for me, which forced me to restart the game with more "power-based" tech build. In the end though, even with all faults Arcanum has, it's still better RPG experience than Skyrim.
     
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