Ben and Colin Explore Arcanum: Part 7



The fine folks at Blizzard went through the fires of Internet hell when they revealed Diablo III’s new look. The old guard were used to pitch-black caverns and morose dungeons, the sort of locales you’d see on a heavy metal album cover that takes itself way too seriously. But Blizzard wasn’t content to just ape the same style from the last two games; they crafted a far more colorful and varied world with orange deserts, prisons bathed in an eerie blue, and even the rare, faint rainbow near a waterfall.

While this bold change in direction irked a few fervent fans, they were quick to forget the technology used to play Diablo went through considerable changes over the last decade. We no longer play on heavy, round monitors with degauss buttons and a 256 color scheme; today’s monitors are svelte, display images with an increasingly massive number of pixels, and are capable of pumping more colors than ever before. It also means that TVs and monitors have a greater range of vastly different brightness settings, which is why nearly every game comes with an opening configuration image. (You don’t want to wash out your image or thrust the player into total darkness!)

Unfortunately, games like Arcanum were built in a time when everyone had their faces plopped right in front of a thick screen, not sunk into a couch several feet away or temporarily hooked into the HDTV because “Hmm, I wonder how this would look on an even bigger screen!”. There have been several dungeons where the darkness, combined with the awkward isometric angles, made it nearly impossible for me to find passageways or even keep track of my own location. It’s a rare case where I could see MORE of the area if the camera was even closer to my party, positioned just above their heads like Dragon Age: Origins or Knights of the Old Republic.


I’ve been plenty patient with you, Arcanum. I’ve forgiven a lot of bugs, a lot of quirkiness, because the writing was ultimately worth my patience. But after so long, my opinion is finally starting to turn around- I’m wondering if you’re worth the trouble. The obnoxious impediments you’re throwing in the way of me completing you are pissing me off.

So I’m at a point in the main game where you have to go to a hidden elven village, and talk to the leader of it. I was wandering around the world map, grinding, when by chance I wandered close enough by the village for it to be revealed on my map. I went there, did a few side quests, then went to go see the leader. She’s in a house at the east end of town, and as far as I could tell, there was no way in- the door wasn’t even marked “locked” or “unlocked,” it was just impassable. After a little poking around, I turn to the internet. And boy, the things I found there.

It turns out that I need to talk to the leader’s daughter, who is sitting out front of the house to get inside. Only she isn’t, in my game- she’s just not there. I look into why and I find out that she only spawns if someone tells you where this village is- if you find it yourself, she’s not there. Oh, and no part of them telling you has any connection with her at all- this is completely arbitrary scripting.

That’s fine. I’ll go get someone to tell me. Except there are only two people who can tell you- one guy who you have to collect a rare animal pelt for before he’ll tell you, or a lady whom you have to kill an innocent man and steal an amulet off his corpse (or have extremely high pocketpicking, which I do not) to satisfy her. My character is high morals, so I’m not killing any innocents. I track down the animal pelt, bring it back to him… and I have no dialogue option to show it to him. Nothing on the internet is telling me why I cannot show it to him. Come on, game. I am just about out of patience.



Colin might be at his wit’s end, but after reading his latest account and realizing that I’ll have to face that exact same scenario soon enough, I’ve finally drawn the line. You and me are through, Arcanum; I’ve given you week after week to prove yourself, but every time I find something positive, you double down and make my life even more aggravating. How could I forget that week where you corrupted my save files because I overwrote them too often? Or the time you locked me out of an entire slew of major quests because I left an island, without so much as a warning that I wouldn’t be allowed to return?

You’re remarkably well-written, your characters make for great companions, and I particularly love your approach to dialog trees, but none of that is worth the pain you put me through. Even with the fan patches applied and the GOG release making it possible to play on modern PCs, you run at an unacceptable snail’s pace. Your interface is more disheveled than a season of Hoarders, you refuse to provide me with basic gameplay lessons, your character system makes it all too easy to build a useless character, and your methods for finding undiscovered locations are a nightmare.

It’s time that I’ve said goodbye. I’m seeing other games now, and though you’ve nestled your way into the hearts of countless gamers fortunate enough to play when you were still relevant, you have no place in my life. Adieu.


I can’t fault Ben for calling it- right now, heaven knows I want to. I’ve figured out a solution to my problem (I can use a limited resource called Fate Points to force a pickpocket success to progress), so I can keep moving forward… but I know this is going to happen again. I know this game is going to throw more arbitrary walls in my way, and I know I’m going to get really pissed about them. I guess I’m willing to finish the game anyway.

There is a lot about this game that I simply do not even think would be a valid game design decision, in our modern industry. If you made this game today I would be pissed at you. It would be irresponsible. This isn’t the part where I say “but they make the game so much more real”- I mean, sure. There are elements like that. There are systems in this game that wouldn’t happen today but are fascinating. But more of this is just bad design that, at the time, we didn’t know better.

A game shouldn’t ship as buggy as this game is after fan patches, not to mention before them. RPGs should explain what their stats do, and not have stats that are all but useless (yeah, fuck you too, Beauty). Your combat system should be explained, you should provide your players with more information. If you’re going to have a game where players can screw themselves over without even knowing it, you should have some kind of failsafe for the player! And, of course, save corruption is just absolutely, 100% unacceptable.

I met a village of lizard people, and I talked them down from the brink of war. I met an exiled Dwarven king, and we argued about what it meant to serve your people while still protecting their honor. I solved a murder, rescued a stray dog, blew up a monster that could manipulate time, and I’m on the verge of uncovering a massive gnomish conspiracy. I’ll finish this game, and I’ll write one final piece on my thoughts. I just hope whatever Ben and I pick to play next, it gives him a bit of an easier time.

Ultima VI sounds pretty good. Right?