Thanks to the flexible build system in Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, there are any number of ways to break the game if you know where to look.
- Apprentice training (a single skill-point investment) in any of the fighting skills grants +5 Speed to all weapons used by that skill. The difference is so massive it can go as far as grant five additional attacks with a fast weapon. In the case of one-use throwing weapons, it completely cancels AP cost of using them.
- Called shots, which are easy to overlook since they aren't properly explained in the manual, come with a lengthy list of Status Ailment and simple damage buffs. With Expert-level training, characters can reliably perform called shots and start dishing bonus damage like crazy.
- Since Aptitude towards Magick is not capped at 100 in either direction, magic users can keep pushing it higher, scale their spells above 100, learn as many spells as possible to increase their spell power... magical mayhem awaits.
- Backgrounds aren't exactly balanced. They're supposed to be a trade-off of a bonus in exchange for a penalty, but some of the bonuses far outweigh their penalties, either by sheer numerical value or the insignificance of said penalty compared to the advantage. For instance, "Escaped Lunatic" grants a unique set of damage resistances, but its downside — a fairly large negative reaction modifier — can be almost completely offset with equipment and won't meaningfully impact a character with a baseline Beauty stat, not to mention the various blessings that can improve Beauty.
- The backstabbing skill for melee fighters grants additional damage for rear attacks. With Apprentice training, backstabbing with a dagger ignores armor. With Expert training, a sword or an ax can backstab. Fully maxed out, backstabbing has even more bonus damage, equivalent to maximized Strength and only limited by the weapon damage cap. The real game breaker, however, happens if the target is unaware or stunned— multiplying the bonus damage yet again, ignoring the weapon damage cap, and effectively administering One Hit Kills to all but the toughest enemies... when it succeeds. On the other hand, critical backstab fails are basically you accidentally committing seppuku.
- It is possible to bypass waypoints and manually cross the mountains by entering complete wilderness close to the mountains (but not close enough to generate them) and walking in the desired direction. After hours in real time, tediously clicking to progress instead of plotting an automatic path, the party will be finally marked on the other side of the mountain range. The benefit is gaining access to certain locations waaaay ahead of schedule.
- Certain followers do not count toward maximum party size. The maximum party size with maxed out Charisma and expert Persuasion is supposed to be 6 plus the dog (a creature so powerful that it's a game-breaker by itself). Instead, various tricks, loopholes and simple bugs make it possible to take an additional 5, essentially doubling the party size to vanquish any opposition in single turn.
- Ristezze, the junk merchant in Shrouded Hills, uniquely carries the key to his shop inventory on his person. With some Save Scumming, a point or two of Pick Pocket or simply stealing from him while he's asleep, you can get this key and gain permanent access to the gold in his inventory. That works out to 1000-2000 gold with each daily inventory reset, alleviating any problems that could be caused by not having money at the start of the game. Any object that you sell to him can be also retrieved almost instantly, as long as you do so before shop reset.
- Far more importantly, selling unidentified objects to Ristezze for pocket change reveals their enchantment - and you can then pick the identified object from his store trunk without any issues. In the long run this can save a pretty penny on identification and is especially handy early on.
- Essence of Intellect is a huge point-saver for technologists. It's relatively cheap (100-500 gold), can be bought in just about any magic shop or gypsy stand, and it works even if your aptitude is 100 technology (but only for a very short time). How it saves points? It adds 10 Intelligence, allowing you to learn all schematics in any given tech branch from a baseline of 9. As long as the potion is active, all those schematics are available, and can be relearned by drinking another. You essentially get 10 free character points to spend on whatever else you want, like another tech tree for example. It also lets you unlock powerful end-game gadgets pretty fast, since that's 8-9 levels less to get access to specific items — a feat impossible when unlocking spells as a mage. It can even be used in the very first town, greatly helping with powering through the Beef Gate.
- Combined with listed below Looking Glass Rifle (even the nerfed version of it from later patches), sniper gunsmith is one of the most point-efficient builds possible. Normally, it would take 11 points to put into Intelligence, another 7 to unlock entire Gunsmith tree, then another 10 (8 with the Eye Gear that is guaranteed to be in Black Mountain Clan mines) into Perception (which is a Dump Stat used only by firearms), and 5 more to max-out Firearms skill to qualify for Master training to remove distance penalties for guns (their main weakness). In total 33 points, which is almost half of possible points one can earn through entire game. Essence of Intellect cuts the Intellect investment to 0 and you only need 5 points in Gunsmith to unlock the LGR. Due to the rifle's item perks, you don't need master training in Firearms (the gun provides the same effect for free) and more than a single point in Firearms to qualify for Apprentice training (the gun also provides equivalent of +1 point in Firearms due to massive to-hit bonus). All while providing the longest range of attack in entire game. So in the end, this allows to have a deadly gun-totting character for 6 points. You start the game with 5. No other build is this cheap. Even if player decides to go for Expert in Firearms, it will barely increase the cost by another 6 points (4 with the Eye Gear). In case of pre-nerf LGR, this also gives you a gun that can reliably kill most of enemies with a single shot. Post-nerf, it's still one of the hardest hitting guns. The rifle doesn't even have to be crafted - it can be easily stolen from William Thorndop, former gunslinger turned hermit. Or even given by him if you decide to ignore master training (the gun's on-item perk provides the same effect as said training anyway). This saves another 5 points, since no investments in Gunsmithy are required.
- Fatigue slowers halve the fatigue cost of all spells while they're active. Combine that with fatigue-restoring potions, and you can throw around several hundred fatigue points worth of spells without rest. And yes, that can be combined with Force mastery, which allows you to Disintegrate the entire population of The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
- Once you find the Necromizer schematics, you can turn some of the most dangerous enemies in the game into your eternal zombie companions. And if they die, just revive them again. The ingredients can be bought or stolen from shops, so you craft an endless amount, for free if you have the lockpicking skills to rob them.
- Even though it's somewhat late-game, the healing mechanical spider gifted to the PC by returning the camera from the crash site counts. As soon as you have it, forget any possible need for any type of healing. One spider, so long as you can keep your party alive, will heal anything short of a maxed-out mage. And the late-game aspect is dropped if you can navigate to a certain mountain passage and cross it in reverse direction.
- In mods that restore cut content, Clockwork Physicians (healing mechanical decoys) are even more broken than the aforementioned spider. In exchange for being far weaker and incapable of combat, they're much lighter and move faster. The parts to make them are also cheaper and much more common, and the recipe makes two at a time. You can have a swarm of healing bots that will make you and most of your party all but immortal. They also sell pretty good in a pinch.
- As soon as you visit Tarant or Blackroot, you can take a train to Ashbury, pick up the aforementioned dog and then dart straight to Vendigroth ruins. With some speed potions you can run past most enemies and get yourself the components and schematic for what may be the best firearm in the game, but if you are willing to pack a couple of invisibility scrolls and explore further, you may also get a chemical that raises all your stats by 1 permanently, and an army of battle robots.
- In general, technologist characters get far, far worse rap than they deserve. It's just a matter of smartly applying resources to get absurdly powerful combinations, rather than linearly throwing points on skills and stats, like it goes for neutral and magic characters. Technologists are extremely asymmetrical in their growth once basics are figured out. If mages are quadratic, then technologists are cubic.
- A minor one for technologists is the electric ring in the second level of the electric tech tree. It gives a +2 to Dexterity when worn. You can wear two. In a game with only 64 character points to give your character, four extra is a huge bonus, minus the two you spend to get there. If you're going for electric mastery, then it might as well be four more points. And you can easily make them for your companions, giving them on average at least one additional attack per round.
- The first fire spell, Agility of Fire, raises the target's Dexterity, the stat which most combat skills depend on, by four, and the effect stacks. By casting it on yourself three or four times, you can gain mastery of any of those skills as early as level 2.
- Damage caused by spells is tied with the Magickal Aptitude of the caster. Meaning it is not rolled when a spell is cast, but a consistent amount of damage is taken via simple equation. Experienced mages will thus deal always the maximum damage of the spell. Cue Harm, the very first spell of Black Necromancy, which starts out dealing damage in range of 5-6 (which is comparable with good starting gear) and maxes out at 40 damage. A damage that has reach of 30 tiles, isn't affected by anything and can't be blocked, unless the target is 100% on the technological side or a machine. There is only a handful of late-game weapons dealing anything even remotely close to such punishment and they all roll from a pretty wide range of damage to begin with, along with having different kinds of downsides. Oh, and the spell only costs 5 Fatigue to cast. It is point-by-point the most efficient direct damage spell out there.
- Can be made even more broken if Black Necromancy becomes specialisation of the character, halving the costs of casting to 3. Or drinking a cheap fatigue slower to achieve the same effect from the very first town visited. Or do both, where the game will round the Fatigue cost to just single point.
- If you go the magic route and specialize in Force magic, you will eventually be able to cast the Disintegrate spell at half endurance cost. It will completely and instantly vaporize whatever it hits, essentially letting you run all over the place destroying anything that stands in your way, be it monster, NPC, or a door. It destroys loot, which is something of a downside, but there are a lot of things to kill that do not drop loot (or drop worthless loot).
- The fifth-level time magic spell tempus fugit speeds your party by a factor of two, and slows everything not in your party by the same factor (no saving throw, no immunity, magic resistance does not apply). It has a large up-front cost, but the cost to sustain it is trivial. It's every bit as broken as you would expect for something that increases the number of actions your party gets per enemy action by a factor of 4.
- Even better, it is not affected by technological aptitude: as long as they are willing to invest points into willpower and Force, even the powered armor-clad gun-toting 100% tech characters can successfully distort time to their favor. The Elephant Gun in such combination becomes particularly devastating, as its only drawback, lower-than-average firing speed, is thus negated by speed-up, and slowing down enemies allows it to make an excellent use of its much greater range than other similarly powerful guns like the Warbringer. With right positioning, a character such equipped may singlehandedly wipe out all monsters pouring from Liam Cameron's portal with barely ever getting bitten, or even soloing Stringy Pete and his crew.
- And if you want to go even beyond, you can combine Tempus Fugit with the third spell of that same branch, Hasten, which doubles your already insanely high speed. Combined with maximum dexterity allows for a whooping 70+ actions every turn, which for some already overpowered weapons means you can attack up to 70 times per turn. This means you become an almost invincible Lightning Bruiser capable of dealing enough damage in a single turn as to wipe out everything in the game before it can even react, as long as you can keep with the high fatigue cost.
- Thrown weapons never suffer damage when hitting hard and/or hot targets. They are relatively fast even without Apprentice training, deal quite consistent damage and obviously allow to have range attacks, all while not requiring any sort of ammunition to use, be it arrows, fuel or bullets (and guns further suffer from requiring Perception increase). This means all kinds of golems and fire elementals are absolutely trivial to deal even with a wooden boomerang, while the exact same enemy would trash almost all melee weapons used on them. Expert training can be obtained as early as in Dernholm and it increases the range by 50% - most thrown weapons will then outrange every single form of attack aside from the Looking Glass Rifle. Throwing is also a Dexterity-based skill, so the increase of stat provides even more action points and thus more attacks.
- Every combat skill has a matching uber-weapon, almost all of which become available at an appropriate stage of the game. However, Throwing specialists can obtain the Aerial Decapitator around halfway. Finding it may be a Guide Dang It!, but after that you have a one-hit killer that requires no ammo and doesn't break. It's also one of the fastest weapons, so even if the first hit isn't lethal, your opponent probably won't be able to retaliate before the next one does the job.
- Azram's Star, the quest item required for Master of Throwing, can be also gained right after crossing Hardin's Pass to reach the other side of the Grey Mountains. It has thirce the range of Aerial Decapitator and is considerably faster, allowing more attacks per turn. The only downside is that it requires magick-oriented character to receive a huge bonus to damage (+20 at 100 Magickal Aptitude), as its baseline is just 1-10 damage. The bonus damage elevates Azram's Star into one of the hardest hitting weapons in the game, since it can't deal less than 21, a value only exceeded by Infinity +1 Swords from the very end game.
- Bows with a high Speed rating, when combined with Expert rank in the related skill, turn into quasi-machine guns in real time combat. In turn-based, bows are at best "meh" and usually simply bad. But in real time, that high speed rating means firing one arrow after another... and Expert training means you are always firing two at the same time. While consuming a single arrow from your inventory. And rolling separate crit chance and crit effects for each of them. The final DPS exceeds just about any other possible form of attack and that's with early-game bows. And you can obtain the Expert training while in Shrouded Hills. There are a few bows that go particularly well with this, being a game-breakers on their own.
- The Pyrotechnic Bow, craftable from purchasable schematics, like all weapons that deal fire damage, might not be the fastest in the bunch ("just" 13 Speed with training), but with Expert level, it fires two arrows dealing 1-10 damage and 5-20 fire damage. Each. At maximum bow range of 20.
- Ellumyn's Bow from Quintarra is the truest to the basic concept of fast-firing bows, since it has Speed rating of 20 (25 with Apprentice training), making it one of the fastest weapons in the whole game. It "only" deals 1-10 damage, but has maximum range, +10 to-hit bonus and +50% critical chance against animals. And the game registers a whole lot of things as "animal". Accidentally running out of arrows is pretty common with this bow.
- The Hurtful Long Bow from Village of the Ashlag Tribe, is at first glance a terrible, cursed weapon, as it casts random Harm spell on both the target and the archer. However, it deals a respectful 5-20 damage by itself (making it one of the strongest bows out there) and the hex effect can be negated by having Meta's first level spell, Resist Magick, cast on the archer. Since Harm is by itself a game-breaking spell, the potential for damage is just absurd with high aptitude mages.
- Arcane Bow is a great choice for magic users, especially those that specialise in other spells than direct damage. It adds a substantial bonus damage based on magick aptitude, roughly +1 per 12%, so it can go as far as add +11 bonus damage with certain builds and still very good +8 for "regular" mages, meaning it can't deal less than 9 damage per shot.
- The Explosives line for technologists becomes absurdly powerful if you invest in it and throwing. Almost all of the crafting recipes have materials which can be scoured from trash bins, they can be sold for massive profit, and the higher level schematics create deadly combinations. You'll have a character who can stun an entire room and then blow them all up before they know what hit them.
- Puny Molotov is enough to throw your enemies all around, forcing melee fighters to waste all their AP to close in once again.
- Stun grenade allows to knock-out cold everything and everyone in pretty big explosion radius. You need two very common ingredients to make them, producing four grenades each time. There is just a handful of very rare enemies that are immune to stun in the whole game and they are so weak they don't need to be stunned in the first place. Stunned enemies won't even budge while you and your party are busy slaughtering them, plus being susceptible to all sort of debuffs, including increased critical chance and getting extra damage from Backstabbing. The only real limitation is the size of inventory for more grenades/ingredients.
- Throwable explosives by default are broken by the sheer virtue of costing 1 AP to use. Or no AP at all with the Apprentice training. As long as you still have supply in your backpack, you can keep tossing grenades until nobody is left standing.
- The Looking-Glass Rifle borders on Good Bad Bugs. The rifle comes with few really potent properties. It has the longest range of all weapons, surpassing any possible form of attack. There are absolutely no range penalties when firing (it takes Master of Firearms with other guns to get this effect) and the weapon itself comes with additional +20 to-hit bonus, making it pretty much impossible to miss a shot, even while having just single point in Firearms. It's all balanced out by the fact the rifle deals 10-30 damage — a massive gap combined with so-so maximum output... unless you happen to have a version of the game where it deals instead 40-40 damage, while retaining all the other nice properties. That's about the amount of HP average mid-tier enemy has, so it's perfectly possible to waltz through the game up until T'sen Ang or so with this rifle. Combined with mentioned above explosives and you can take down an army all by yourself.
- For melee technologists, Smithy is just as broken. Balanced swords can be created in the first town or have Magnus make them for you by the second. They have one of the fastest attack rates in the game, but still have good damage. The next step up is the featherweight axe, which is slower but stronger. The axe can then be upgraded into the deadly pyrotechic axe, which pound for pound is pretty much the deadliest tech melee weapon in the game thanks to fire being such a broken damage aspect (it's also invulnerable to weapon damage save critical failures). The only things that outclass it are Infinity +1 Sword weapons. After that, you get to make the best tech armor in the game.
- There is an unique sword called Sword to be found in Isle of Despair, used by one of the bandits in the fighting pit. Though it uses the same image as a regular, generic Sword, it deals 10-15 damage and comes with Speed of 15. To put that into perspective, the Balanced Sword, one of the best melee weapons in the game, deals 3-12 damage and has Speed rating of 18, while the Feather-weight Axe does 1-16 damage and has a Speed of 12. In other words, Sword deals — at a minimum — greater than average damage than either of those weapons and has attack speed comparable to both. In fact, only a handful of weapons deal minimal damage equal to or above 10. Due to its Speed, it can outdamage the Pyrotechnic Axe, without the standard downside of destroying or badly damaging armor of attacked people. The best part? It has neutral aptitude, being, well, a generic sword, so just about any melee character can use it. The only drawback is that it suffers weapon damage, unlike the axe, so all the Demonic Spiders the axe will stop will trash the sword.
- Stillwater Blade at first glance is just an insignificant 5-10 damage sword with a Summon Animal spell. Its damage range starts at respectable value, but it is relatively slow (10 Speed) and the bonus for Magickal Aptitude ends at measle +4 damage at 100%. However what makes the sword worth it is the Summon Animal spell enchanted on it. The spell is affected by the aptitude meter, so at 100 Magickal Aptitude, it summons level 40 Vorpal Bunny. You can summon between 2 to 5, depending on your spell slots. Animals before that are no sluches either. It is also a Disc-One Nuke, since it can be accquired as early as Shrouded Hills. Lukan and his merry ogres have never been easier to murder.
- Keeping the theme of Disc-One Nuke and Infinity -1 Sword, there is Sword of Baltar. It's personal weapon of Lianna Per Dar and Ancestral Weapon of her father. It also deals absurd 15-25 damage and for such range, the lowly Speed of 10 is still a lot. Dernholm can be accessed in about first 30 minutes of gameplay and stealing this sword is well-worth a Fate Point. Only end game weapons deal anything near this range of damage.
- Filament Sword, an early quest reward, becomes broken with Mastery in Melee. Normally the sword has +20 chance of critical fail (negated by Mastery), but also a whooping +50 to critical effects. If critical happens (and with Melee Mastery that means about every third hit), it will have absolutely staggering effect. Moreso if combined with called attacks for specific body part. If a character happens to be magick-oriented, the sword gains further buff to damage, being a magic item. It is also worth to note the damage output starts at 5, meaning on average this sword can outdamage a vast majority of other melee weapons, simply by having higher minimal damage.
- The often-overlooked Shocking Staff (the fourth level of the Electric tech discipline) can turn your character into lightning-spewing broken fusion of technology and magic from the start due to the unusual way it works. Normally, it's a melee weapon that consumes charges and deals moderate physical and electric damage with average speed. However, after the first successful strike, it "connects" and instantly drains your action points, dealing similar amount of purely electric damage per action point with 100% probability. Moreover, in real-time combat, the effect persists until you run out of batteries or your target runs out of health, effectively one hit killing anything at the cost of ravenous charge consumption. And the most broken aspect is that under the "first successful strike" the script means "any damage dealt while the staff is equipped", be it with grenades, or with magic. So, you can use 4 Character Points and one Essence of Intellect to actually make the staff, plus one more CP to learn the aforementioned Harm spell, cast it once on any enemy and watch it get fried in two seconds because the game thinks you've somehow smacked the critter with the staff from across the entire screen. And later, you can learn Fireflash to produce the same effect in 7x7 area. Using thrown explosives also works. The only drawback to this exploit is the necessity to lug around tons of batteries, but fortunatelly buying those won't be an issue - the Shocking Staff, while being made of cheap components, is profoundly expensive.
- The All-Father's blessing is intended to be one. It provides an amazing, permament bonus in form of +100 HP and Fatigue (which is what you get for being level 50), +30 Damage Reduction (equal with some end-game armours), +30 Magic Resistance, +4 Dexterity, and if all that still wasn't enough, it also provides +3 to Melee, Dodge, Pick-Pocket, Persuasion and Firearms. The Damage Reduction itself is worth it and the skill gains are so high a blessed character can qualify for expert training without spending a single point on any of the related skills. Or, which is even more exploitable, get all of those skills cheaply to level 2 (2 points for each skill, along with their related stats being 9, which can be done by some cheap magic trinkets or other temporary boost) and then suddenly gain full mastery after being blessed. All the player has to do for getting it is solving the riddle of proper order of giving offerings to ancient gods and doing so. Which can be achieved as soon as reaching Caladon (which is mid-way through the main plot), gaining access to all the altars. And the first part of the riddle can be solved even earlier in the game, giving a substantial bonus (+2 to Will and Perception, +1 Heal) on its own. The final blessing is especially potent for gunslingers, as it cuts out the otherwise unavoidable investment into Perception. And turns complete wimps into competent melee fighters.
- Very early into the game, you can receive a blessing from Arbalah, the priest who cursed Charles Brehgo. It provides you with a +5 reaction modifier. Later on, in Stillwater, Brigitte will grant you a blessing of Geshtianna, goddess of beauty, which is not the same as the blessing received for making an offering at Geshtianna's altar. Together, those blessings equal to +10 reaction modifier, which does visibly affect prices from shopkeepers. This also allows to work around the negative impact of various backgrounds that tank your Beauty or reaction, especially when combined with elegant clothes.
- A minor quest regarding a feud between two fortune tellers in Tarant grants, as part of the good ending, permanent +1 Charisma blessing. It is often overlooked, since to qualify for the blessing, you must first solve the quest regarding the stolen painting. Otherwise Madame Toussaude will instead help you with that, rather than bless you.
- The dog. Really high damage, fast attacks, and usually hits. For added cheapness, he even automatically gets the mastery bonuses that you have to either pay or work your ass off for. Makes combat a bit too easy, and kill-steals like you wouldn't believe. He can even bite open doors and chests inflicting only minor damage to himself. You do not need keys or unlocking skills/magic anymore. All it takes to get it is reaching Ashbury (which can be done right after hitting Tarant or Blackroot or even walk there without using train) and either pay pocket change for the damage the dog caused or kill the gnome kicking the starved animal — it won't even trigger aggro from town guards.