In order to pretend that I can, in fact, do these kind of things semi regularly, I figure my 5 or so loyal readers deserve an update on the game that I said I was going to play
Here are my impressions so far after about 10+ hours:
Like any good non-party based RPG from the late 90s to early 2000s, Arcanum has a stupid deep character customization system. However, the game is a textbook case of " Bad Character Builditis", which affects all RPGs to some degree, but is extremely obvious here. First of all, experience isn't some arbitrary number (Hey, that could be an alt account for me!). Instead you get it every time you hit something. While I can commend Troika for trying something different, this leads to one of many imbalances: Melee characters with high DEX and STR are going to level up about 90 billion times faster than either gunslingers (While I'm at it: Guns are pretty weak and ammo is surprisingly rare, which screws gunner characters over even more) or straight mages. Leveling up is good, but the way point distribution is done could have been handled a lot better. You get one point per level up with 2 points every 5 level ups. The problem is that there is no division between spending points on improving your stats, improving your skills, or learning a new spell/tech recipe, which leads to a lot of confusion on my part on what to increase. There is a reason why this stuff is compartmentalized. On a side note, Charisma isn't totally useless, as it determines how many party members you can have! However, it's ugly red-headed stepchild "Beauty" is. All it does is determine initial NPC reaction, which can be easily alleviated by having high enough charisma. Bleh. For the record, my actual character is a half-elf melee fighter with a little defensive magic thrown in for good measure. He works. I assume thief characters would work as well.
Another progressive/absolutley stupid and obviously not playtested idea was to make your "magic" and your "stamina" gauges be the same thing. In layman's terms, this translates to: Every time you cast a spell your stamina goes down. When enemies hit you your stamina goes down. When your stamina reaches zero you fall down and are totally vulnerable to all baddies. If you can't tell, this doesn't exactly encourage people to be mages. Unfortunately, tech characters perhaps even get a shorter end of the stick. Not only can they not use magical weapons and armor (i.e. the best weapons and armor in the game), but their resistance to magic extends to friendly spells as well, which means no magical healing. Allow me to emphasize: That is bad. What do they get in exchange? Tech characters can craft some pretty nifty items, a task that, in the end, should be delegated to a party member.
"But Arbitrary!" you say "You aren't talking about the part of Arcanum that makes it a weird cult classic!". You are right. But before I talk about that, let me tell you about how the combat sucks. No, it's not aggressively bad like Jade Empire, but it is the bastard child of Fallout and Baldur's Gate, having the flaws of both and the tactical elements of neither. You can do real time, which is too fast to be of any strategic merit, and Turn Based, which despite being slower still has no strategic merit. It's quite simple: You click on dudes. They die. The end. It's not great.
Alright, then why am I still playing this shitty game? Because, despite the above flaws, the world and story of Arcanum are incredibly interesting. Sadly, the developers aren't exactly Bioware when it comes to quality of supporting characters, but there are plenty of dialog options that let you be as much of a smooth gentleman as humanely possible, which I immediately approve of. Of course, all the "evil" options inevitably end with you murdering someone, but that can't be helped. The morality isn't quite as black and white as some other games, but there is still totally an alignment meter and you can still totally be a dick. That's besides the point. It's good stuff and I really like it. The non-combat gameplay itself can easily be compared to fallout, which makes sense considering the lineage. That means giant cities that you have to wander around in in order to find quests. It's a pain, but I forgive them. Also, no Autosave, which sucks and I don't forgive them for not including it.
In conclusion, I can already see why everyone says that Arcanum is a deeply flawed game. However, I can also see why people like it so much. It's oddly engaging, despite its flaws and considering it's $6 on Good Old Games, unless something totally awful happens, I feel justified in my purchase. Expect me to blog again when I am done. Thanks to those who soldiered through and read this entire thing. I promise the actual blog will be a lot smaller and more specific.