The Chosen: Well of Souls

Review

posted 11/2/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
Platforms: PC
This tale begins with the village idiot shoving a rifle in your face, stuttering about how you just might be a demon and why it's definitely a good idea for him to put some buckshot through your brainpan. It's understandable why he's rattled -- an occult scourge is bleeding through the Earth's skin, spreading itself like oily acne across the Gothic cityscape, even manifesting itself in Satanic abscesses across the picaresque countryside. The village idiot has already lost scores of friends and neighbors tonight, and your makeshift club isn't necessarily scaring him off. Not after his particular night of the living dead.

A more chemically-balanced citizen stops the village idiot, talking him down from his startled rant, and urging you to join their Diablo-esque nightmare. Revealed to you in a montage-spinning prologue, you only know that you're in the town of Kamieniec because you must seek out the Society of Alchemists -- a think tank of military strategists, undead lore masters, blacksmiths, and chemists, all lead by the engineer extraordinaire, Paul Renault.

You're also in Kamieniec because there's an Emerald Tablet and a guardian Chosen One, both of which have been taken by demonic forces, and both of which afford no ransom note in their stead. The army of Satan has swiped this Emerald Tablet, which possesses the Secrets of Hermes -- power over life and death -- and decided to open up a couple Wells of Souls which, you guessed it, are spreading the Lord of the Underworld's blight over the Earth.

You are one of three character classes in this familiarly-positioned isometric roleplaying game: Frater the Monk, Elena the Hunter, and Khan the Warrior. Each has a mid-depth and only vaguely-relevant backstory celebrating each one's ability to put the hurt on unruly demons. Each has a favored form of ranged, martial, or magical attacks. And each one is rather capable of stepping outside of their class boundaries to pick up and swing around a weapon atypical of their upbringing. Through experience points and leveling up, you can equip your warrior with magical staves if you divert enough development points toward knowledge. Your hunter can swing a broadsword with the best of them, if you forgo dexterity for strength. And your monk can follow suit, if it no longer behooves you to follow the straight and narrow path of the magi.

While there is that general sense of classless advancement, the arms and armament befitting your chosen path lacks presence and luster. The visual evolution of your armory and weaponry is so incremental as to be rather unnoticeable, but that's a distinct price of "realism" in this turn-of-the-19th-century adventure. You won't be showing off Warcraft-sized helms and shoulder pads, or eight-foot tall anime swords in your quest.

This unadulterated clickfest is also marked by unsteady level progression and a budget-minded variety of enemies, more interestingly cataloged by their Latin name denominations than by their color and size. But your foes dutifully swarm the picturesque maps in bulbous numbers, falling like undead dominoes beneath your arrows/spells/blades, their deaths cheaper by the dozen, and your well-being assured by an overly-handy teleportation device, courtesy of the Society of Alchemists. The level of danger is depressed further with bosses that are not craftier or more dangerous than the level's average denizens.

As you beam back and forth between map sectors, zero time is spent commuting to and from your killing fields, while more time is devoted to scavenging loot, selling loot to the Society, and repairing loot you want to keep. It's a grind of MMORPG proportions that's been a game store staple for over two decades now, hooking players with its D&D-centric numbers fetish, and shirking players that prefer a less gridlined approach to their stories. It bears worthy mention that allowing snippets of real-world mythology stir the plot mixes in a comfortable level of pulpy plausibility to the storyline.

With brazenly low system requirements, The Chosen: Well of Souls will fit snugly into the palm of your hand at 600 MB, lend you a healthy allotment of diversionary hours at less than the cost for an expansion pack, and bequeath a straight-forward, no-nonsense roleplaying experience. The Chosen doesn't reinvent the wheel -- but it's not the most crooked spoke adjacent either. If you pardon some questionable voice acting from the narrator, and some stiff-jointed character modeling, there's a feasible amount of material here to zone out on, and some pretty paintings to walk through. Especially as you approach one of the Wells of Souls, and the thickening horde numbers deepen into the triple digits, your mind and your mouse can enter a zen-like plane of point-and-click existence.


D+
The grinding credo is intact, but the insta-safe haven mechanic dismantles any progress-freezing roadblock, but also nullifies a player's danger instinct. It is what it is, and the game stands quietly and reverently on Diablo's august shoulders. But The Chosen is not The One.


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