Ben and Colin Explore Arcanum: Part 3

If you missed the second part, you can find it hereArcanum_dwarf_1920x1080.

Ben:

Surprise, surprise: those jokers down at P. Schuyler and Sons were up to no good after all! As Colin pointed out to me after the fact, there’s no indication that any of the sinister rumors floating about their famed jewelry studio were true, but enslaving legions of dead dwarves through necromancy is arguably worse than anything the town gossip could spit out. They didn’t even have any solid excuse for their actions; after I cornered the ringleaders, they weren’t even willing to give up the names of their clients, as if divulging information was somehow worse than turning corpses into cheap labor! Naturally, I slayed them and found the records I was looking for, which conveniently sat right next to their charred remains.

Reaching these defilers of nature was far from easy; I had to cut through waves of skeletons and pale dwarves, and as I soon discovered, dumping most of my points into conversational tact and charm left me ill-equipped for actual battle. It was not uncommon to drop dead in ten seconds flat, faster than Virgil could even ready his healing spells. My new, cowardly strategy involved wedging myself between Virgil and my troll companion, letting them do most of the dirty work while I stood at a distance, occasionally “helping” by poking a dwarf with the pointy end of my sword. It only took a few of Virgil’s frustrated barks before I resolved to spend some time balancing my character sheet.

Colin:

I see my dear friend Ben has yet to discover the Solution- Fireflash. This third tier fire magic is the answer, whenever Arcanum is getting you down. I hesitate to call it “overpowered” but it certainly doesn’t seem too fair. What does “The Solution” solve, you might ask? The very nature of violence, in all its forms. Anytime, anyplace, when someone displays intent to harm, cast Fireflash two or three times. Watch them and any of their friends evaporate into so much ash, while the dancing tongues of flame singe nary a hair on the head of you and yours. Invest your points in Fireflash, and get an execution and cremation for your foes all in one. Fireflash- It’s Magical! (TM)

When not solving various hostile encounters, I found myself roaming between Tarant, Shrouded Hills, and the coastal city of Dernholm to do some serious questing. I blew up a steam engine (for money, of course), then got the unwitting town sheriff to pay me to fix it. I joined the Thieves’ Underground by stealing from Tarant’s City Hall. I did odds and ends to keep a brothel running smoothly, and I killed an old man (with fire) for stubbornly refusing to return a stolen ring. No NPC yet has called me “mercenary scum” but I assume it’s only a matter of time.

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Ben:

Hmm… is there a morality system at play? It would be interesting to see what Arcanum considers good or evil; though I helped one real gypsy kill of her faux competition, said poser was plotting to do away with the genuine clairvoyant after stealing her crystal ball. Did I do something wrong by knowingly leading this con artist to her death, or was I preemptively saving the life of an otherwise innocent, upstanding Tarrant shopkeeper? Arcanum certainly hasn’t told me. There was no “+1 Good/Evil” notification after I did the deed, and while there’s certainly a meter that keeps track of your attunement to magic/mechanical attunement, I have yet to see any sort of morality scale.

After mopping up the necromancer’s basement and getting what I came for, I wandered around town until I stumbled onto a gentleman’s club. It was one of the first times where playing as a female character felt like a true disadvantage; the bouncer refused to let me into their boy’s den, and seemed perturbed that I would even try to join them. Much like the real world, Arcanum’s citizens tend to treat women unfairly. Though it seems to help diplomacy, more often than not, it feels like they’re talking down to me. While this ingrained sexism makes for interesting commentary on society’s ever-present dismissal of women, I much prefer fantasy worlds where the creators are creating an idealized version of reality, putting every gender, race and sexuality on equal footing (here’s to you, Final Fantasy XIV!). Arcanum’s gender politics certainly reflect reality, but that doesn’t make it a more pleasant place to explore.

Colin:

Well, as is often the case in art, I don’t think making it pleasant is a goal. If you try to ride the train in Tarant, they ask you a series of questions, including if you have any elven blood. If you say yes they shove you into a third class car. It’s based on Victorian times, and like those times it has some serious (and dark) equality issues. There’s nothing pleasant about bigotry, and I applaud them for not dodging the issue.

It’s so easy to take the simple solution- everyone is polite and pleasant and treats everyone else with respect. It’s so unreal, though: a plastic society. There will always be biases and mistreatment, and pretending otherwise is nice when you don’t wanna think too hard about a game’s world, but if you’re aiming for any kind of message or weight it rings far too hollow. Arcanum has a dirty world. Dernholm is a dying town, being left behind by progress. Tarant has more than its fair share of scum and villainry, and potentially the first NPC you meet in the game (other than Virgil) is the lying ghost of a murdered murderer. To me, this is what makes it worth exploring- imperfections are everywhere, if your eyes are open. Most of these people are not good people. In its own, swords and sorcery way, it’s the most honest look at the self-serving Victorian era that I’ve seen.