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Mild Disappointment


I always thought Ryan abandoned much of what was great in Zankozzie when he made Chains. The plot doesn't hang together in many places, and the inclusion of the Z man himself felt self-indulgent. Stupid Party Tricks & Strange Puzzles meant the loss of the charm that turned Zankozzie into one of my favorites. It's a quality scenario, very competently executed, but ultimately lacks the charm of the greats.Good

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Yma's 'Humor in Exile' article is one that Ryan would have done well to read when he was writing Chains. Unfortunately, the article wasn't around at the time. The mood was dark and grim, right up to the point where Zankozzie came into the picture. While no jokes were made, it was sort of like introducing Charlie Chaplin into Schindler's List. Aside from that, the plot had a handful of serious flaws. I liked the puzzles, but they weren't enough to make the scenario great. Good

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Zankozzie's presence was a mistake. Some of the puzzles seemed counter-intuitive, although this is partly because it would be horrendously difficult to make the puzzles slightly more logical. Bits of this work and bits of it don't reach the same level. Just about no bugs, though.



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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 — Good

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Just finished it today. This was a very interesting scenario. It is a story about how the mage Linda came to be Exiled in the first place.


It had some interesting puzzles and node tricks. My favorite being the Dark Wyrm puzzle. The trial was very well done too.

The battle with Remaze was pretty nifty too.


It took me a while to figure out what coordinates to enter for that portal in Harker. It turns out the walkthrough has the coordinates reversed. It's not 6,8. It's 8,6. It took me like several reloads until I figured it out, until I just went up to the area and casted a Location spell. Then it gave me a clue.


Anyway, this was a really good scenario, and the ending was very well done. A sure winner, this scenario.


My Rating: Good

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Talk about ups and downs-- this scenario had more drops than a rollercoaster. There were a couple times where I thought "Oh boy, this is about to get awesome!" but each time it promptly went belly up. We have the buildup of the first mystery (which was well done) culminating with the revelation of Zephrius' identity, and the dream sequence (pretty damn cool.) Ten seconds later it was all over, and after listening to Zephrius wrap everything up real nicely I was standing outside town. Huh?


By this time I'd completely forgotten what my original reason for being in the region was, but after wandering outdoors a while I stumbled on a town, where apparently I was supposed to head (Designer wasn't nice enough to tell me this.) Suddenly I wasn't playing a mystery scenario anymore-- I had a dungeon to crawl, and shitty puzzles to solve (Alright, the dark wyrm puzzle was kind of cool. Although why my character would EVER think it was a good idea to free a massive, ravening monster in the hope that he could lure it into position to dump boiling oil on it-- all in the hope that it would dig a tunnel to get him out-- I will NEVER know.)


So the dungeon ends with a very cool twist, and now I'm ready to get my mystery on. Things are starting to look up: Town's are destroyed! My friends are dead! I'm on trial for treason! I narrowly avoid being executed! Linda's about to summon a demon and kill us all! And..... Zankozzie is back?




Deus-ex-Zankozzie doesn't clown around this time, but it was instantly obvious that his only purpose was to fall out of the sky and bail you out of sticky situations. Not to worry, though, despite the lull of a twenty hour boat ride to Z's tower (Yeah, there's a demon about to destroy us all, but I think we can take the time to dick around on geology missions. You know, on the off chance that that somehow turns out to be relevant....) things were looking good again. I was pretty pumped to have Zephrius back, and was ready to go kick some ass. At this point things went belly up again. Big time (Ass was indeed kicked-- although certainly not by me. I got a lame description of it though.... 400 kill spells my ass....) What wound up being the biggest confrontation of the game was a disappointment, and it wasn't over yet. I still had to 'gather evidence' that Linda was summoning a demon (*SPOILER* HER" UNCLE" IS A GODDAMN VAMPIRE, AND I'M HERE WITH TWO ARCH-FRIGGING-WIZARDS TELLING YOU SHE'S UP TO SOMETHING. LET'S ARREST THIS [censored] */SPOILER/*)


First I've got some puzzles to take care of. By this point I've lost all sense of urgency about the demon summoning looming ahead (All this stuff happened in one day, by the way.) Eventually, though, I scrounge up the evidence, and am rewarded by.... getting the whole thing wrapped up nicely and handed to me-- again. No final confrontation. No climax. (Apparently for a demon possessed mage, Linda is quite respectful of the law. Good thing she went quietly, or that could have been a good scene.)


So that was Chains. Tons of potential, but fell short in many ways (Oh, and I forgot to mention how buggy it was. It was quite buggy.) When all was said and done I was disappointed that it didn't turn out as good as it could have. It could have been awesome-- but it wasn't, and that's probably why this review sounds so negative. It's still a worthwhile scenario, but there are too many bugs and too many design flaws to be rated as high as it is.


-Good- Because it's worthy of the 8 tier, but not of being at the top of said tier.

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