Reviews have been mostly positive, with IGN scoring it 8.7 and conferring the IGN Editors' Choice Award on August 24, 2001. PC Gamer and GameZone awarded Arcanum 90 out of 100, with the latter also conferring its Editors' Choice accolade. The Electric Playground awarded the game 9 out of 10, calling it "the most diverse and open-ended RPG to date." The game currently holds an average review score of 79% on GameRankings and 81% on Metacritic.
The story takes place on the continent of Arcanum, which despite its initial fantasy setting, has just started going through an industrial revolution. The story begins with the crash of the zeppelin IFS Zephyr, of which the protagonist is the only survivor, which leads him throughout the land in search of answers. The game employs an isometric perspective and features an open game world where the protagonist can travel unhindered.