Take your typical RPG and all of the Magic, elves, humans, dwarves, etc. Then add some more variety: half-ogres, half-elves, and even half-orcs are available for the player to choose as the hero. Throw them into a world with hundreds of unique characters to interact with and myriads of different, well... things to fight. Then hand every last one of them a gun. In the latest release from the guys who brought you FALLOUT, in conjunction with Sierra Studios, ARCANUM takes the classic RPG style and gives it a brand new twist.
The plot line and overall gameplay is where this game really shines. The first step is to create your character. Hopefully you'll have a lot of time on your hands, because this process takes about 20 minutes or so. You not only choose what gender and race your character is, but also a unique upbringing for your hero - anything from being raised by aristocrats to being raised by a pack of wolves, each of which affects your character's statistics and abilities. After choosing this you get to tweak your stats and skills. Magical skills, technological skills, thieving skills - choose one and stick with it, because if you are a master in magic, you have about as much chance of hitting someone with a gun as you do stopping a Mac truck with your left pinky.
If you are in a hurry you have the option of choosing one of the pre-made characters Sierra has thoughtfully made available, (although I wonder why exactly you sat down to play a RPG if you are in a hurry). Although the characters you meet along the way try to guide you through the game, ARCANUM really leaves most of what happens up to the player. One could easily get sidetracked from the current objective by the prospects of thwarting, or possibly joining up with, a bank robbery. Maybe you decide to live your adventure out as a debonair ladies man, or perhaps a two-bit hustler is more your style, or it could be that you are just the right person to join the Thieves' Underground. Every challenge you face has innumerable different ways to prevail in the face of evil (or good!). You might be able to gallantly defeat the three ogres guarding the town exit, or maybe you can convince them to join you and make some money off the pathetic townsfolk. It's completely up to you.
Although the styles behind the game may be new and innovative, the graphics are certainly nothing to get excited about. They seem reminiscent of a DIABLO style, with a slightly skewed overhead view of the world, but unlike DIABLO's frenzied battles, you don't leave every skirmish with a cramped index finger. Similar to RPG's of the past, fighting uses a turn-based fighting scheme, or you can choose either a partially turn-based scheme, which eliminates some of the more tedious movement sequences of the turn-based scheme, or a real time scheme. The turn-based style becomes more useful later in the game when you have more attacks and items to use. Earlier in the game you may as well leave it on real time, click on whatever vicious animal comes your way and hope for the best.
The sound is truly unique as well. The music isn't what you would expect from a RPG, as it has almost a classical tone to it, but it sets the mood very effectively and adds a lot to the game as a whole. A variety, but not all, of the characters have voices overlaying the string of text that provide you with useful tidbits of information.
All in all, Arcanum offers some excellent innovations in the area of RPG's. If you are one of those freaks who doesn't like to read through enough dialogue to fill several novel's, then I don't recommend any RPG, let alone one this complex and involved. However if you've played through the FINAL FANTASY series the same number of years that you have been alive, ARCANUM is a wonderful example of the genre.
ESBR Rating: Pending
Publisher: Sierra Studios
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Fun Factor: A
Reviewer's Wild Card: B