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The Chosen Review

by Joy "magerette" Jones, 2007-10-20

At first glance, The Chosen: Well of Souls looks to be yet another Diablo2 spin-off from a small European developer in the pandemic action RPG genre. To classify Rebelmind’s offering as nothing more than another Diablo clone would be misleading, however. While the name may conjure up visions of every RPG cliché since the Commodore 64, the game originally titled Frater by it’s Polish developers, has an old school quality and artistic view that entitles it to a definition of its own. Previously best known for their uneven sci-fi action game Space Hack, Rebelmind makes another attempt here to present an action RPG in an atypical setting, with mixed results.


The Story: When Bad Things Happen to Dead People

Contrary to what you might expect from the title, you are not going to be playing as The Chosen

One. This mysterious being is the possessor of the usual all-powerful Mysterious Artifact, in this case the Emerald Tablet, and it’s your mission as given by the generic good guys, The Society of Alchemists, to confront the requisite evil Archmage who has threatened the nature of all that’s good by kidnapping and tormenting The Chosen in order to acquire the artifact and rule the world. To do this, you will have to find and shut down the Wells of Souls, where the demons and other creatures are entering this plane.

At the onset of the game, you have the choice of playing as one of three pregenerated characters, Frater the Monk (mage), Elena the Demon Huntress (equally adept with bow or gun) or Khan, renamed from the original Tong Wong, (swordsman and melee.) Aside from one or two specialized skills, these characters all share identical skill trees (creatively named “Offense”, “Defense”, and “Other”) so your choice is more a question of combat style than character creation.

Part of Marcus Dominus Ingens’ evil plan involves reanimating the dead, and along with every possible form of vampire, ghoul and demon, the resultant zombies in this game are some of the most convincing and effective you’ll encounter. Nothing says RPG like being outnumbered and surrounded in a moonlit, ancient graveyard by a mindless clutch of inexorably approaching, rotting Undead with outstretched clutching hands, and this game does it atmospherically and well.


Return to Transylvania

There’s no doubt a large part of the charm as well as the effectiveness of The Chosen lies in it’s expertly rendered 19th century setting. You begin the campaign headed through the small town of Kamienec , an isolated village in a mountainous and lonely desolation very reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With a little help from the locals, who briefly join you for your undead-killing mission here, you soon find your way to the secret headquarters of The Society of Alchemists.

This area will function as your home base, and includes the usual facilities for adventurers found in towns: merchants and quest givers. A nice feature Rebelmind has included is the ability to click on an NPC portrait at the top of the screen and enter into negotiations without further fuss, speeding up the sell loot/replenish supplies process.

In other areas as well, the interface in The Chosen is streamlined and up to date with skill menus, inventory and map buttons all handy and activated intuitively with the standard left-click. Attacks are made with the LMB and spells, demons and scrolls activated with a right-click. There is no respawning of monsters, so once a string of associated maps is cleared, you’re through with it and can only move forward.

Graphically, the game is set in a well-executed 3D environment with a third person perspective. The visuals are always competent and handcrafted, and sometimes stunning for the low system requirements. The camera can be a bit of a challenge, but the variety of control choices in the options menu can usually be adapted to suit your playing style. The sweeping outdoor maps have few issues, but in the interior shots, the camera clipping and refocusing when it hits the edge of a wall can be distracting and sometimes dangerous. Fortunately, there’s a pause function (default: spacebar), and it comes in very handy during normal combat situations, as well. Skills and spells can be mapped to function keys that can be reassigned in the options menu.


Monster Meters, Pets and MinMaxing

The brass tacks framework of any action RPG rests on three things: combat, character development and item systems (otherwise known as ph4t l3wt). The Chosen handles the first very well indeed, provided you’re tolerant of the point-and-click attack system. There’s a lot more to slaying than just random clicking though, especially if you want to get the extra attribute point rewarded for completely clearing each map of the required number of hellspawn. This is represented at each level by a small numerical counter at the top of the screen that counts down the total as each infernal creature bites the dust. To reduce the monster meter to zero, players will have to exercise brain cells as much as an overdeveloped mouse finger.

You’re given a helping hand in your mission by Demons you defeat and can then summon, as well as two constructs, the Golem and the Nefarkar. The Golem is as expected, a large lumbering homunculus of inarticulate clay, but sports decent AI and makes a good complement for the ranged character with a formidable knock back attack. The Nefarkar is an Egyptian insectoid that flitters about shooting a magical missile attack and should combine well with a melee character.

To me, the game feels set up more for the two ranged characters, with terrain features like underbrush, elevations and stairways from which to shoot from a vantage point. Combat is not something that can be handled by blindly rushing forward and clicking furiously; that approach brings certain death, and like the monsters, for you there will also be no respawn. This encourages both the established practice of “Save Early Save Often” and the need to treat each combat tactically.

While combat is challenging and well-done for its type, however, the game has severe limitations in the character customization and loot categories that hold it back, and are ultimately what keep The Chosen from being as successful as it could have been.

From Dracula to Jeckyl and Hyde

Up to this point, we’ve discussed the good choices Rebelmind has made with the game. Now we get into its schizophrenic quality, where every design decision seems to cut two ways.

As anyone who’s played even a little Diablo, Dungeon Siege or Titan Quest can tell you, the action RPG genre focuses heavily on stat crunching and character builds. This is one of the factors that influences replay value and keeps people involved in the game. Obviously, to build a variety of character types with different combat approaches, you need a strong and varied skill system. The Chosen just doesn’t have what it takes.

Only three skills - one from each tree - can be active at any time, and because switching between skills on the fly is cumbersome and basically not worth it, that means you have to focus primarily on one skill from each tree, regardless of whether your character actually could use two defensive skills better than one “Other”. Skills can only be raised to a level of five, and each level provides only a small incremental difference in the effect so even the best skills may only give a less than 20% boost to ability. Worse, some skills seem to have absolutely no discernable effect at all.

In fact, in this game, the only way to significantly improve your character’s performance is to raise his governing attribute (Strength for Melee, Dexterity for ranged and Knowledge for the Mage.), which enables a better weapon choice. So while the skill system is simple and easy to use, it really provides little reward for all the effort that goes into acquiring the single skill point received per level.

The Skinny on Ph4t L3wt

The second cornerstone of the action RPG genre is loot, and plenty of it. More gold than you can spend, unique items, rare items, item sets, runes to improve armor, high powered swords and staves with nonsensical prefixes and suffixes, these are the meat and potatoes in the ARPG buffet. Instead, The Chosen serves up a salad bar. There appear to be about four or five templates for items and they are applied to every item across the board, so you are just as likely to pick up a sword with a boost to spell casting speed as a staff, and items are almost indistinguishable with armor, helmets and weapons all providing the same three or four buffs.

The problem might have been solved by an item creation feature called the Cauldron of Creation, where items can be combined, repaired and modified, but because of the decision to strictly limit the amount of gold and items found to a very Spartan level, the Cauldron is just too expensive to use. This issue is reflected in the use of your pets as well, as each time they are reduced to zero hit points, it takes an expensive scroll of regeneration to resummon them.

Another factor in your constant state of poverty is the deterioration of armor and weapons, resulting in costly repairs. If your character is a magic user, expect to devote huge sums of gold to purchasing spells, since the only way you can learn one or improve a spell’s ability is through buying a spellbook. To top it off, every enhanced item found has to be identified, which often costs more gold than the item will bring when sold. Healing and mana potions are also expensive and cause major excitement when they actually drop for free from a slain monster. It’s a currency hoarding nightmare and one of the games biggest frustrations.

At the End of the Day

The Chosen has peaks and valleys, and while its peaks are fairly high, its valleys - and there are plenty of them - can get downright subterranean. It’s also strangely reversed in design. What most action RPGs do poorly - creating an atmospheric and vivid world, minimizing grind with no monster respawn, and presenting monsters that are different and interesting opponents - The Chosen does well. Unfortunately, the core gameplay features most action RPGs produce as a matter of course - intricate and complex skill systems for varied “builds”, monster and boss drops that reward the player, and most of all enough gold and loot to enjoy playing - are either minimal or absent altogether in The Chosen.

Nonetheless, this isn’t a game to avoid if you are a fan of the genre. It does many things well. From the desolate Carpathian Mountains to the lush jungle landscapes reminiscent of Dungeon Siege 2, to the snowy wastes of Siberia, the world remains engaging throughout the game. And if the skill and loot systems are lacking, the tactical combat and well-designed encounters remain challenging and rewarding mentally if not lucratively. Not to mention, you get all the fun and frustration for less than the price of a lunch for two at a Chinese restaurant. If you can stand the bad voiceovers, (which are fortunately quite infrequent,) the Spartan economy and the linear design, there’s a lot of fun to be had in The Chosen.

Box Art

Information about

The Chosen: Well of Souls

Developer: Rebelmind

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Hack & Slash
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
North America
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2007-10-02
· Publisher: Meridian 4

More information


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Summary

Pros

  • Distinctive 19th century setting with firearms
  • Easy to use interface and short learning curve
  • Challenging tactical combat elements
  • Good use of pets, summoned demons and joinable NPCs

Cons

  • Poor skill system
  • Insufficient gold and meager item drops
  • Sub-par voice acting
  • Cliched text and extremely linear storyline

Rating

Review version

NA Release Version

Opinions from other editors

From Michael 'txa1265' Anderson:

I find myself very much in agreement with magerette's take on this game, but want to reinforce that is important to look at this as a budget release. Taking that perspective as a basis for your assumptions will put you into the correct mindset - limited game, fun gameplay, nothing revolutionary. And I find that this game succeeds along those lines in pretty much the same way as last year's Space Hack (not surprising since it is based on the same engine). The core gameplay is a blast - loads of monsters to kill, fun and effective spells and weapons, and you can see your effectiveness increasing as you increase in level.

Unfortunately the game is laden with problems that get in the way of your fun. The story is fairly cliched and dialogs that accompany it are stilted and boring to read - if you choose to read them at all. But they are better than the voiced dialogue that is just awful - the first time I heard the hero I thought someone was doing a bad impersonation of Peter Lorre. They might not have come that often ... but I dreaded them anyway. I normally complain about RPG's that have insufficient 'gold sinks', making you too rich for your own good early on in the game. This is the opposite - I played as Frater and found myself selling junk constantly and bashing every crate for the measly 21 gold so I could get the next level spellbook. But because the core game was fun, I dealt with it - it is a very linear game filled with some nice mindless hack-n-slash fun.

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