If Troika Games LLC somehow turned into your uncle, he would probably have thrown himself off a bridge after yet another lousy sales report hit his desk. His will would be written in crayon, leaving you nothing but a series of half-built tree-houses in the backyard and a string of apologies.
The tree-houses in question would be Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and Temple of Elemental Evil. All three were inspired works that ultimately failed because they were unfinished, buggy and, in many ways, reaching too far. It wasn’t until the mod community raised their collective hammers and went to work finishing what Troika had started that we came to understand just how cool uncle Troika was.
Today we honor them with a list of some essential mods for each game and reasons why you should give them a second look—now that they actually work.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Arcanum was Troika’s first game, and it immediately challenged the D&D foundation the games before it built on. Tossing aside the high-fantasy work that members of Troika did at Black Isle, Arcanum took place in a world of steam technology and magic. In a way it was a graphical step down from the Infinity Engine games, but it made up for it with a story that came close to rivaling Planescape Torment. It was varied, complex and most definitely wordy.
This first game from Troika was a harbinger of things to come. It was never complete, yet it still garnered good reviews for the sheer chutzpa of releasing an isometric RPG that had nothing to do with Bioware. It tried for complexity that defied the game’s budget and deadlines. In the end, it was a worthy successor to the Black Isle games, only with enough bugs to condemn an apartment block.
The mod community came to the rescue. Even as late as 2009, fan patches were released, fixing bugs, adding widescreen support and generally bringing the game up to a state that Troika could only dream about.
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More bug fixes and additional content from the Forgotten Places of Arcanum.
Better town maps, level-cap removers and more!
Temple of Elemental Evil
The first game to use the D&D 3.5 rule set, Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE) was the most faithful translation of pen and paper rules to computers ever made. Every rule seemed to be crammed into the game, no matter how obscure. With an interface and game engine that felt like the natural next step after the Infinity engine games, ToEE was all set. Instead, once again, Troika released a product that was unfinished, buggy and generally broken. Something must have been in the water at Black Isle, because to this day, Obsidian is plagued by the same problems from the same place.
Like sponsors for alcoholics, the mod community stepped up and helped ToEE limp through the door long after Troika had closed shop. Fixed quests, widescreen patches, and added stability and content all make ToEE a game that plays great and conveys the vibe of playing the tabletop game—all with a clarity that no other game could match. You can make your entire party from scratch and play the classic Greyhawk D&D campaign. Just remember, this game keeps it real, so Wizards die if you sneeze on them at first level, and you should save a lot. A LOT.
Vampire: The Masquerade
Even before Half-Life 2 was released, we knew Vampire would be the first game to use Valve’s new graphics engine. The scuttlebutt before release was that the game was done, but because Half-Life 2 had to come out first, Vampire: The Masquerade had plenty of time for polish. It was a pleasant fiction, but reality was a harsh mistress for Troika and its fans. Vampire was an incomplete mess, flashing small glimmers of brilliance under the trash. A mix of vampires, Deus Ex and the hottest graphical engine of its time should have catapulted Troika to new heights. Instead, it was the death knell of the company.
It wasn’t until fans stepped in and picked through the wreckage that we discovered just what a game Troika had made. Branching paths, an action RPG system that worked and decisions that had real impact hours into the game: All of it was there. It took years for modders to finish what Troika started.
If you’ve never played it before, you can consider yourself lucky. The game is only $19.99 on Steam and it holds up incredibly well, even by modern standards.
All you really need is the unofficial fan patch, which you can find right here.
Troika burned out quickly, but to this day their influence is felt—thanks to their dedicated community. All three games are worthy of your time and work great on modern machines with very little tweaking. It’s a bit sad to think of where they might have gone with a little more time and a bit more discipline, but we’ll never know.