Nali Chronicles - Review

There's several kinds of things I look for in a mod...whilst overall quality is one of them I don't really rate it that highly compared to other factors like ambition. Here's the thing - if you release a game on the market than most people are going to want a quality product that works near flawlessly rather than an ambitious collection of ideas not executed that well. Mods on the other hand, should aim for the complete opposite. One piece of advice I've seen given to modders is to aim small and see release. I used to agree with that but later on I understand the waves of mods that never crossed the finish line are admirable for at least being ambitious or creative. You can make a nice level set that'll look great on a portfolio, but it's not going to leave a lasting impression. Nali Chronicles is one of those ambitious mods that aims high, falters in areas, but the overall experience remains for a long time, and it's one of my favourites.

The set-up is fairly simple - you're an aspiring Nali mage (a race of peaceful people living on the planet Na Pali, the setting of Unreal) who must fight through the Skaarj occupation of his planet and ultimately fulfill his part in destiny to stop the invasion. It's a fairly simple plot with some twists and turns, but it also fits very neatly into the Unreal storyline. It's carried in game throughout books and conversations with other Nali, as well as a companion you gain not that far into your journey. NC will take you through a wide array of environments, which while mostly being similar to the established themes set up in Unreal also dabble in some fairly new and creative places as well.

The build quality of the levels is very inconsistent however, and not just in visual quality. Some levels, like the Moonspire, look fantastic - but they're either straight corridors or in the Moonspire's case are just a climb of fairly empty beautiful rooms to reach the top. They look great, but they don't have much in-game purpose beyond that (I could buy that it serves a mainly Ceremonial purpose, but that's not stated in game) Other levels can be fairly dull and drab looking, with uninteresting lighting and small cramped rooms. Their layouts are great though, and take you through all sorts of twists and turns to turn the environment into a much more real one.

Nali chronicle's game play is fairly different to Unreal's, and feels like a more elaborate version of the system in Clive barker's Undying. You have your basic weapons on screen, which range from some really neat ideas like a Nali-made crystal spitting repeater weapon and a Quad-Crossbow to simplified Unreal weapons like the Shockrifle or Rajorjack. They have no alt-fires anymore as that's used for casting spells, but they're fun to use for when you need them. The spells and magic are the real meat of NC's combat. You have a fairly basic mana system, which can be recharged at natural hotspots located throughout the environment, each one attributed to an element. Each element has it's own spell book and list of spells, and through a bunch of hotkeys you can select and cast them as you find them, building up your spell book. There's a lot of spells, and each one varies wildly in how useful and practical they are. Here in lies the problem - the whole system doesn't mesh well with the behaviour of the default Unreal enemies. There's no fundamental difference between damage types, so deciding what spell to use boils down to how you're particularly feeling that day (but lightning is the most powerful until you get the holy spells)

This is where what I was blathering about in the intro comes into play though. It would of required a ton of testing and fine tuning to create a finely balanced spell book of 10 spells, let alone the amount you find in Nali Chronicles. It's another instance where the ambition far exceeded the skills - but that is not a bad thing. You will become very overpowered quickly in the game, but this doesn't detract from the experience. There's a lot of fun in raiding a Skaarj city and charging up your most powerful abilities in one of the mana-rich spots before wading into a horde of hopped up enemies. Whilst balancing isn't really there, it's to it's benefit that it tips towards making the player too powerful rather than forcing them to cheese a certain spell over and over just to progress - there is one notable exception though, the boss battle of a certain section which is by far the most powerful enemy in the game and WILL require you to use spells that lock enemies to the ground. It's the only instance in the game where that's needed rather than just being a neat thing you can do. Gameplay scenarios could of been built around things like that, however for the most part the spells are just a replacement for bigger guns. It all fits into the game's theme though.

There is a lot of love put into selling the theme of the game, along with a lot of new resources. The NC team knew how to capture the atmosphere of Unreal, and how to recreate that cozy atmosphere you got when you stumbled into a Nali hut in the cold wilderness of the planet. There's a lot to see and explore, with lots of items to pick up as well. There's even a fairly unique potion crafting system, which although not neccesary is pretty fun (you crush ingredients into a potion bottle and then cook them to create potions when needed. It's entirely superfluous, but it's such a neat feature it deserves mentioning)

To try and wrap this up....Nali Chronicles has a ton of ideas that are executed with mixed levels of success. But it tries to offer something completely new, and has a lot of creativity put into the process. The mod's story, the atmosphere, and even the ending which was unexpected but fits fantastically into Unreal's lore...It's one of my favorite mods because of these factors, not solely because of quality but because of the care and ambition that's been put into it.

Nali Chronicles download on Moddb page