Monday, July 9, 2012

Dishonored Arcanum

Dishonored is next anticipated game from Bethesda Softworks of Fallout 3 and Skyrim fame. From the trailer, the game atmosphere takes on the combination of the Fallout and Elder scrolls series that meet a dystopian middle ground. I am both excited and disappointed by this Victorian supernatural assassin game; am I missing any other adjectives? Excited, because it is Bethesda's next big game and, generally, they do good jobs with their games. Well, if you choose to ignore all the glitch issues. Disappointed, here was a chance to revisit one of my favorite game worlds of all times: Arcanum:Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura.

Which means more fun, obviously

Come again, Arcanum? First off, as everyone may not be familiar: the team behind Arcanum is the same team. behind the original Fallout series. With this team, the game kept that rather dark yet humorous approach to semi-open world isometric RPGs but with steampunk and magic. Judging from the trailers and interviews, Dishonored seems to be just dark and linear missions, which is seems a bit out of place for Bethesda.

Arcanum was game where its gameplay and plot were not the greatest but this is where the world just dominates. I would argue that this is what made BioShock, and Bethesda's main games. Let think about BioShock: the gameplay was bland and the plot was good but made only greater thanks to the world. The world, basically a watery retort to Atlas Shrugged, and its exploration was the waves (sorry could not resist pun) crashing back in 2008. The personal joy was exploring Rapture and piecing together the various individual stories that make up the fall of the city. Kinda like WorldWar Z but replace zombies with libertarianism.

And why Ron Paul never gets that nomination...

The worlds of Arcanum and Dishonored can be easily confused. After all, they involve magic, steampunk, monocles and Victorian darkness. Since we've seen only glimpses of the Dishonored world, let's just focus on Arcanum. The Arcanum world most visibly seen as magic vs steampunk science. Simply put, neither can exist next to each other as the mere present of one disrupts the function of the other. Magic and science come to symbolize old world mysticism and new world progression, respectively. While the magic part carries itself in the Tolkien tradition, the steampunk science does give a nod to Tolkien also.

So yes, you can visit Middle-Earth

Lord of the Rings was not heavily influenced by World War II as one would expect someone living through that time and penning an epic of defeating a great evil. If anything, Tolkien reflected on the destructiveness of industrialism towards the environment. A prime example is Saruman chopping the forest near his tower-fortress to manufacture the supplies for Sauron's armies. Arcanum reflected upon this by giving a side mission to side with or against an orcish labor union strikers. While not dealing with union politics, you can the slums of the biggest industrial city in the game or explore the vast plains that once was forest but was cut down for industrial progress. Then again, what RPG is complete without the slum dive? Oh, there is a bit more but you might as well as play the game to get the full pleasure.

What makes this world great is the exploration of all sides of magic, science, politics, fantasy racism and such. While you do have your obvious evil and good, there is mostly an explanation instead of 'that's just how it is.' A sequel to Arcanum could have sent time exploring these topics a bit more and give a more personal yet open-world. With Arcanum, you've got a origin story established and now your sequel(s) can focus on a more personalize story as BioWare had done with Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect series. Let's explore the old mysticism and politics of magic and compare the pros and cons against the progression of steampunk science. Let's dive into the rise of capitalism against feudalism, with wizards and gunslingers thrown in for the mix. Sure it sounds like that horrifying history class with an overenthusiastic teacher you always dreaded; but look at BioShock.

Not sure if we should be scared or admiring that one student in the bottom right corner...

Bethesda seems like it is weaving something of a personal tale with Dishonored, which is a stark contrast with its two biggest titles. Sure, it could be just the game that breaks from its typecasting. Perhaps it will deliver on the new spin on stealth games. But still, a missed oportunity.

Posted by Richabob         

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