By Ryan Phelps
Note: Chains is rated 'R'
With the conclusion of the 4th Scenario Design progress, there came an assault of scenarios released. The first one that I played of these (well, aside from Falling Stars and, of course, At the Gallows) was Chains. Chains was an biographical look at the pre-Exile life of Linda and kind of a sequel to Ryan Phelps' earlier effort, Zankozzie's Big Mistake. I'm not sure if the two scenarios really go hand in hand. In fact I will rephrase that, I'm quite certain that they don't. I kind of cringed when Granson (your PC in the story) returned to Zankozzie's Tower.
My only other real complaint about the scenario is that being a quite strict Exile/Avernum historian, it kind of skews the conventional plot. Originally, Linda was exiled as part of the Erika power struggle and in this scenario it's a bit different. Well, a bit would be a far too kind -- it's way different. Erika is nowhere in sight. However, Ryan has creative license and I shall let him employ it without penalty.
I guess the self-serving motivation for why I picked up Chains first was for two reasons:
1) As a kind of gratuity for Ryan doing an excellent job betatesting AtG
2) It employed some of my graphical work, namely the Troglo Vampire who plays Halloth in AtG
||The game gets off to a typical start. You are an adventurer (Granson from Zankozzie) who just happens to be visiting some out of the way town at exactly the right (or wrong dependent upon your perspective) time. You get thrust the typical 'find the lost person' mystery upon you. Now when I first saw this, I must admit I greeted it with a bit of a sigh. I'm not sure how many such mysteries I've seen before.|
First impressions aside, the way the storyline evolves from that point is quite engaging and uses some innovative logical puzzles throughout the mix that moved the plot rather than merely thrown in for challenge. For instance, when the townspeople riot, I liked having to use Charm to calm the leader down instead of just butchering them. Before I leave the plot (don't want to reveal too much), I was impressed by the way Ryan told the story of Linda throughout the entire scenario. Although Redemption is superior in this respect, there are few scenarios which come close to Chains in the way it evolves the storyline.
|Going back to logical puzzles, I found them to be quite creative. In some respects, I see a couple ideas borrowed from AtG. Namely the teleporter puzzle is quite similar to the one used in Argadon's Lab. One puzzle that comes to mind was in Remaze's crypt where you had to focus the lens. Although nothing truly innovative, it does make good use of the lens custom graphic which impressed me.|
Another was where 'conveyer belts' were used to simulate you being carted off by guards. Then there was navigating through this deadly electrical arc. I don't believe I've seen either of those before.
Tactical puzzles were...well, nonexistent. To say there was no combat whatsoever would not be entirely true. The only combat I remember was really hacking through a few undead -- neither challenging nor engaging. I really wished Ryan would have made a greater attempt to make the combat a bit more interesting via special encounters. However, this is NOT a combat scenario. If you are the kind of player who seriously values challenging combat above plot line, I would urge you to skip this scenario as you would achieve very little satisfaction from it. Personally, combat is nice and all, but I can live without it.
Custom graphics were fairly well employed. One addition that I wished Ryan would have added would have been making Remaze's crypt's roof (you are in a cavernous level above it) different from the basalt wall graphic. Although this issue was addressed in a text message, I really wish it would have been modified. I'm so used to there being something solid where I see a basalt wall graphic so it really felt kind of strange. Nothing wrong with that, it's just years of playing Exile games has created certain paradigms in my brain that needed to be temporarily rerouted. The other negative was Linda's dialog pic got messed up, a minor detail, but one that should have been addressed.
Otherwise, there are two novelty custom graphics. The first that comes to mind is the electrical arc which is used to create a nice logical puzzle in the game. The second is a rune on marble floor that is really pleasing to me. I intend to steal...er...borrow the rune in Spears and my future endeavors.
The scenario had very few bugs as far as I could see. This is quite impressive considering the rushed timeframe Ryan completed this technically brilliant scenario in. Aside from a few minor glitches such as commonplace spelling errors that happens to the best of us ("alter" instead of "altar"), nothing fatal ever cropped up and the mechanics seemed quite smooth.
In its entirety, Chains is an excellent scenario, one of the top ten that I've played. In fact, Chains finished 4th in the 4th Scenario Design contest -- only 1.75 points behind my entry, AtG which took second. A few votes in either direction could have changed the ranking of either of the top four scenarios in the contest (Falling Stars, AtG, Shadow of the Stranger, and Chains).
Would I recommend Chains to you? If you are the sheer combat type, you may want to steer clear of this scenario. However, if you like technical innovation, it's definitely worth a look anyway. If you prefer a well told story, definitely play this scenario in the near future.
My Score -- 9.1