This article provides hints and tips to new and experienced Arena players.
Arena is primarily a dungeon crawl. The number of dungeons to be raided is unlimited, as the game will continuously generate new dungeons and land to explore. Because of that, you can either follow the main quest line and do the randomly-generated quests from talking to people, or just strike out on your own, walking the wilderness and letting the game randomly create dungeons to explore. Only the main quest line has fixed, pre-mapped dungeons; the rest are generated by the game as you enter the dungeon level. Essentially, this means your progress and the building up of your character is unlimited. Like the later Elder Scrolls games, you can advance a character significantly before even starting the main quest. Like most other Elder Scrolls games you may also continue playing after you finish the Main Quest.
When it was released in 1994, Arena was designed to run on very low-end computers with default DOS settings. However, exploiting the map generation will eventually and inevitably lead to memory issues. Methodical and careful saving of your games is a must!
- Save now, save often! There are no event-driven saves like auto-saves or quick-saves in the game. Generally speaking, you should save the game whenever you kill something, find new treasure, rest and recover, and before you open a door.
- Every time you explore a little further, note where there are resting areas.
- Attacks will often be ambushes from behind. Always look around you and never assume the creature you just killed is alone. Keep the sound up since monsters usually make a standard sound particular to their type either before attacking or when they come into range (a kind of leitmotif).
- Always find a raised area to rest on until you have fully recovered. You will never have random encounters if you rest on any raised surface, no matter how little it is raised, which means you can rest as long as you need to without being disturbed. If you rest on the floor, you may be subjected to attack from a random monster. It's advisable not to proceed forward until you are completely recovered and then save the game once you have.
- Game play is fairly unbalanced. With low-level characters, the Warrior class that can wear plate armor has a significant advantage. Characters that can wear plate armor, any of which can be found with enchanted properties, potentially have seven additional magical enhancements over non-plate-wearing characters. For those just starting out and getting the feel of the game, you might consider a Warrior that can wear plate armor for survivability.
- As you progress and level up, the monsters encountered will be more dangerous. However, if following the main quest line, the game play can become unbalanced as certain types of monsters will always be found in certain dungeons and low-level characters can quickly find themselves overwhelmed, getting killed in one or two hits, or unable to cause any damage to certain monsters. While it is possible to go through the entire main quest below the 20th level or so, virtually every battle towards the end can be a frustrating life or death struggle.
Aside from plate armor and weapons, there are 8 different kinds of magical accessories. These fall into two categories: active and passive. The passive ones—amulets, belts, bracelets and torcs—give a constant bonus to one of your attributes or your armor class, while the bracers, crystals, marks and rings give you magical abilities with each use, all with a limited number of charges. Especially at lower levels, you will find that having the right magical accessories can make the game much easier, while not having them can mean reloading your saved games dozens of times in each dungeon. Getting to know your character class and magically enhancing its needs may mean the difference between a sight-seeing stroll and character death around every corner.
Due to the inherent memory problems of the game, you may encounter things locking up or dropping you to DOS without warning. Making certain you have as much memory available as possible will help avoid this. In a non-DOSBox configuration, this means reducing the number of other programs running, and getting rid of as many TSRs as possible. Trying to dedicate your computer to running only Arena sessions will help a lot. On Windows-based computers, rebooting into "Safe Mode, Command Prompt Only" and then following the original Arena installation instructions can help the program run much better.
When saving games, since character death and game crashes are so common, it helps to keep your saved games well organized. For example, you might have one save slot for your current save, a save slot specifically for each time you're about to travel. Then, the next several slots could be saves for each level of a dungeon, while the last few are used for key points in the game. Save strategies such as this can save a lot of backtracking. When memory issues occur, levels may not load correctly and all sorts of buggy things might happen—this issue can usually be fixed by dropping completely out of the game then restarting with the first save from that level. The reason for this is that you can make a save game that has memory issues, some of which—like a quest artifact not appearing—become game breakers. By the time you notice the bugs occurring, a new or recent save may already have been affected.
If you use DOSBox, a modern (2005 or later) system, and Version 1.07, these problems occur rarely. Game crashes are rare and memory issues almost never happen. Most crashes happen when you start a dialog with somebody on the streets of a city, so save from time to time when you are talking to a lot of random people.
Break into a house, put your back to the corner, and try to rest. Within about 20 minutes of game time (2 seconds real time), you'll be assaulted. At level 6, you start seeing 1000 exp skeletons, sometimes 2 or 3 at once. Make sure you pick a house with a bed, and watch the condition of your weapons. This will allow you to level quickly and easily.
Another strategy that works well is to get a cheap ranged weapon and find a Mages Guild where there is a raised surface that surrounds a depression behind the mage. Try to steal an item from the mage. If you are unsuccessful, guards will come, up to three at a time. Jump behind the raised area and kill them with the ranged weapon. They will not be able to cross the raised surface, so they will not be able to harm you. After killing the guards, leave and repeat. This will not only gain you experience quickly, but you will also gather a large number of valuable magical items which you can sell to rapidly gain gold pieces. Be sure to buy two or 3 ranged weapons, as they will wear out quickly. Sometimes the guards spawn behind the raised area, so it is useful to save before trying this, particularly at low levels when the guards are much stronger than you.
Once you have located the inns within a city, the first "dungeon" to consider is: wandering around that city after dark. You will encounter monsters and can always duck back into an inn if they are too much for you.
Most cities have a very minor dungeon or two not far outside the main gate. Keep track of the main city location as you encounter surrounding villages. Plan it so that you are always able to return before darkness. These minor random dungeons are not difficult to find and are better for grinding out levels on a beginning character, since you can revisit them every day. If you are hurting, you can always leave before completing it. Dungeons for the city ruler quests and the main quest are larger and much more challenging, and leaving early means having to do it all over again.
Once in a dungeon, always hug a wall. This helps the mapping feature. Some dungeons are incredibly complex mazes. Walking down the middle of an aisle can cause it to not reveal important features and landmarks.
Familiarize yourself with the hot keys, especially the U (use). Not only do they pause the game, allowing you to reposition the cursor, they can serve as a time-stop where you can check if you're about to be damaged and, if need be, drink a potion or otherwise prepare yourself.
Since the attack/shoot feature and the movement are all balled into one control, when coming to intersections and into rooms, aim your character where you get the X in the most likely location for a monster to be in. Using the keyboard arrow keys can help a little but normally you find you can either fight or move but not both. It can be very frustrating to be getting stomped by a monster which is just outside your target area. You have to stop the attack, pivot and re-aim, then go back to the fight. If you're using DOSBox, it is possible to remap keys using DOSBox's KeyMapper function to change the movement keys to WSAD or any other preferred keyboard setups, making combat much more easy and enjoyable, and the game in general more fluid.
Keep a constant watch for odd bugs. A very common one is the game putting your weapon away when you move up or down a dungeon level. While these don't seem to be serious issues, getting a monster in your face while you are in 'chat' mode can lead to being seriously damaged.
Become a potion purveyor's best friend and practice chugging them on the fly. Due to game balance issues, it is quite easy to go through 20 or 30 health potions in difficult stretches of a dungeon.
In the random dungeons, the up and down stairs are almost always situated due east or west of each other.
Before you take loot from a chest or pile, save the game, and if you don't get some good loot reload the save and the loot will be different. (Note: in the Anthology version of Arena, this is only true in the primary quest dungeons; otherwise the loot content is static and will not change from one saved game to the next.)
Certain monsters, such as ghouls, can cause disease when they attack you. Being diseased is not so bad initially, as the stat reduction is small. Once you are diseased, you cannot catch another disease on top of the one you already have. As you travel, the stat reductions accumulate, and if you travel so long as to allow a stat to drop to zero, you will die. Sleeping will help you repair hit point and fatigue reductions, but sleep will not cure your attribute reductions, so eventually you will have to be cured. If you cannot cure yourself with a potion or spell, you have three options:
- Search any nearby treasure piles; one of them may hold an item that cures disease.
- Kill a potion-carrying monster (such as an orc) and see if it is carrying Potion of Cure Disease.
- Travel as quickly as possible to the nearest principality to find a temple or Mages Guild for healing.
Playing as a Thief class or one of the related subclasses (including the Nightblade) opens up new gameplay experiences; specifically, your character begins with the ability to pick locks, pick pockets, and steal items in stores. These abilities are very powerful, especially considering that a Warrior or Mage-branched character must invest in mundane, and later enchanted, items with (for the most part) legitimately acquired gold or questing. Mage-based classes are especially hit hard early on in the game, as they must not only invest in equipment (which, given their armor and weapon limitations, must be high-quality and/or enchanted to be useful to their survival), but also in spells.
To compound matters, money is very hard to acquire. If you leave the sewers of the Imperial City with roughly 2000gp worth of money or equipment, you are doing quite well for yourself. On the other hand, as a Thief-based character, you can quickly acquire some of the best items in the game as a first or second level character.
Sometimes, chests or doors are too hard to unlock when trying to pick a lock. Fortifying your intelligence, agility, and luck may be useful. When you come across something you can't lockpick at all, simply use your weapon and hit it. You should hear a sound that sounds like wood grinding against wood. This means you hit it successfully. If it didn't open the first time, try again a few times until it eventually opens.
Casing the Joint
The highest profile targets for a Thief are the various shops in the game. However, they are difficult to rob in comparison to later Elder Scrolls releases because you can't save your game while you are in one of them. In addition, it can take time to find the shopkeeper so that you can interact with him (and subsequently steal his stuff). If your attempt to steal fails, you will invariably be chased around the shop by guards who are more than powerful enough to destroy a Thief-type PC in the low to middle levels. In any event, you'll have to spend a lot of time getting set up again. While nothing can be done to override the save prohibition, you can fortify your intelligence, agility, and luck with a high-power, short duration (and therefore cheap-to-cast) spell to increase odds of successful theft in your favor. Of course, the trade off is that, without the use of magic items or potions, this is a trick you can only try with a Bard or Nightblade.
The various Mages Guild branches across Tamriel are much more attractive targets for thieves (especially at lower levels) because you can save your game inside them, ideally right next to the guild-master. In addition, they appear to generally offer better chances at a successful theft than equipment stores do. Find a location selling Ebony torcs, bracelets, and such. Once you've stolen as many as you want, you can sell them at a nearby equipment store for thousands of gold a pop. A considerable upside is that these items are also weightless.
Another profitable occupation is stealing from houses by picking the locks on the doors. As a rule of thumb, it is best to target two kinds of houses: the "poor" houses (usually buildings with ratty-looking textures) and the "wealthy" houses (buildings with the most expensive-looking textures). While robbing higher-end houses is obviously desirable because they have more money and better items in their loot piles, the poor houses tend to have potions in their piles. It should also be noted that, as a thief, occasional forays into houses are a good idea if you want to level up, as the critters you can encounter inside them are typically not overly powerful for your level. Since thief-related classes level up the quickest, these lighter critters can actually provide some reasonable experience. In addition, if you are receiving heavy damage inside a house, you can easily leave it (not always an option for a dungeon) and get a room in a nearby inn. Finally, if you can find a safe, raised area to rest in, houses are free places to sleep off your most recent dungeon delve or wait to have your weapons repaired in a nearby equipment shop.
Thievery and Combat
In addition, theives have a certain chance of causing a critical hit with each level they gain. However, this balances with the fact that many Thief-based classes are not able to equip high-end gear such as plate armor. As demonstrated above, however, money is not an obstacle to a thief, and protection does not have to be either.
Consider a 10th level Bard, for example. 10% chance to Critical Strike with any weapon (1 out of 10 attacks will do 3x damage), ability to equip Chain Armor for -6 AC all-around (before amulets, torcs, etc.), spellcasting equal to their intelligence, and the ability to equip reasonably potent melee weapons like sabers. That Bard, while not able to take on a similar level Warrior unfortified, can cast the default Shield spell to absorb 65 points of damage. Add in a reasonable intelligence rating; and the Bard can cast this spell 4 or 5 times, making him able to absorb several hundred points of damage, if need be, which will be more than enough for him to outlast most opponents at his level. With magic items and potions, any other Thief-based character can match these feats, as well.
In Arena, guards only appear in towns if you fail to steal something, unsuccessfully pick a lock, attack a locked door with your weapon without breaking it in, kill an innocent pedestrian, or trespass in a palace. When they appear, all other citizens will temporarily vanish from the streets.
Unlike later games, where you can be arrested by them, the guards in Arena show no mercy whatsoever, so the simplest of crimes can cause entire squads of guards to appear nearby and attack you immediately. Guards come in a variety of appearances and different races, although the most common is a human swordsman in full plate armor. A single attack from a guard is capable of causing a lot of damage, so engaging a guard in combat—let alone multiple guards at once—would mean suicide for an inexperienced character. However, there is no bounty system in the game, so you can escape outside of a town or into a building if you set off the guards. The next time you return to that area, the guards will have disappeared. Also, if you manage to kill all the guards that are sent after you, you will be free to resume your usual activities as though nothing happened.
Guards are also inexplicably absent from patrolling the streets, be it day or night, so don't expect any help from them when a monster attacks you in the dead of night, since they only appear when you have committed a crime (at which point, they won't be helping you, they'll be attacking you). Depending on your crime, they will shout "Halt!" or "Stop, thief!". This will often be the only warning you will get, since they tend to spawn next to or behind you and waste no time in striking you down.
Magic is incredibly useful in Arena, and spellcasters have a substantial advantage over their foes. For this reason, they will need more experience points to level up. Magic can be used for many things to help you and hinder your opponent.
The spellmaker in all Mages Guilds can create every combination of magic in Arena.
The spellmaker's option of increased spell effectiveness based on your level becomes useful quickly. Spells can be made cheap to cast, while still being powerful, by keeping the initial power at 1 but maxing out the power per level. Custom level-based spells can start to outpace the built-in spells as early as level 4, with the added benefit that they automatically get more powerful as you level up. At high levels, these spells can become downright devastating.
There are four main spells which, combined, provide an essentially foolproof plan of magic combat. Absorb Spell allows you to constantly replenish spell points from the many spell-casting enemies, while Reflect Spell kills the enemies as they attack you. You will still receive XP even if you do not attack them directly. Shield spells are also very good as they do not have a time limit and will protect the player from attacks until the shield is destroyed. At high levels (10+), Damage Health spells can be very effective, often killing any creature in the game with just one hit, but even at lower levels, Absorb Spell will provide enough Magicka to cast the Damage Health spell repeatedly.
There are also certain classes for which the spellmaker results in different costs. For example, the Healer class can create healing spells for around half the ordinary magic cost, whereas damage spells cost him double. The inverse is true for the Battlemage; damage spells only cost him half, but healing costs him double. The built-in spells are not affected by this, so it's actually best to buy pre-made spells if, for example, you're a Battlemage needing a healing spell.
It is wise to save the game right before you level up. Hit point and attribute gains upon level-up are quite random, but you can reload your save as many times as you want until you get good bonuses.
Every level gives you a random number of attribute points (between 3 and 6) to distribute as you see fit. Your maximum HP is increased by your endurance bonus plus a random number between 1 and your class maximum (Mages can only gain up to 6, but Barbarians can get up to 30). Poor rolls on attribute and HP gains will make the game much harder. For example, Warrior classes gain more maximum HP on average than other classes, but your character can become severely disadvantaged if your HP rolls are unlucky and end up being in the same range as a Mage.