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Map Title: Nali Chronicles
Part 1 of Nali Chronicles came out bringing with it a completely unique concept, and generally decent design quality, leading to me giving it 8 out of 10 (the old review can be found here). Now the rest of the pack has been released, so how does it stack up as a whole?
Firstly, the installation process is much less painful this time. Nali Chronicles uses a special .exe to launch its own version of UT, this means you have to set up your control and graphics settings within it. However, unlike the previous version of Nali Chronicles you can now use your own renderer with it, so, unlike before, I could use OpenGL without any issues. There is also a manual added to this release which explains the systems of the pack and is done in an interesting style.
Part 1 of the pack seems to be near identical to how it was in the original version (including bugs). The only difference there seems to be is that the mana zones around the Moonspire have been removed, making killing the Titans far more difficult (and therefore stopping you from going on a spell levelling spree there). This is a shame, since some of the earlier levels would have been aided by some improvements to the lighting and geometry, although they are decent enough for the most part. The low point is Sram's Cerberus Castle, which has its exterior walls decorated with one of the ugliest "rock" textures I've ever seen, as well as lots of ugly shadows on the borders between brushes due to "bright corners" not being checked (While the bright corners issue remains, the texture problem has been found to be a issue with using S3TC textures in this level; Fashahhh has provided a fixed version of the map which can be found at the end of this review, this was enough of a blight on the visuals originally that I have upped the texture score by one as a result of this fix). Things do pick up a little once you reach the interior sections, and Sram's following Skaarj base map is much stronger, although the geometry is still relatively simple. While this is the most blatant case there are other obvious drops (and highs) in build quality throughout, in terms of design consistency I'd go as far as to say it's almost as inconsistent as Deja Vu 1.0 (although the other aspects of consistency, like storyline and gameplay, are far stronger). NC really should have had its more experienced mappers help with bringing up the design quality of the weaker sections.
Lighting suffers from the same inconsistencies. I can recall finding NC part 2 extremely dark the first time I played, but I didn't really have any troubles this time around other than in Neutron's Sky island map, which was almost pitch black outside and turning on the flash light led to a huge performance decrease if you shone it on the skybox. There was also a pitch black water cave in map 4 that I think could have done with some illumination, although there was enough light to guide you. In some cases NC suffers from the opposite of darkness, in that there are areas bathed in nasty greenings, although thankfully these aren't too common. Some of the levels also relied a bit too much on white light rather than more interesting colours. Other than these problems the lighting is generally decent, and is of very high quality in Gui's maps, although the other maps have high points as well. Other than the terrain walls in Cerberus Castle, the texturing was convincing throughout, and I can't recall any blatant misalignments.
The new music in Nali Chronicles is very good and is used well throughout, although some of the regular music use was dodgy at times, in particular, Dusk.umx in the Prophets Palace did not fit in the slightest. UT music was used in some cases, but it is usually only used in short intervals so didn't stand out too much and fit the situation quite well, although one or two cases with stuff like heavy rock music kicking in didn't seem that fitting with you playing as a Nali. I still don't think the UT ending music fits that well in the attack at the start, but it's established later on as sort of being the "Skaarj theme" of the pack, which means I'll let it off somewhat. Also, as NC does not use Oldskool it suffers from the "music reset" bug when you load game. Sounds are also covered well, the only thing I can recall that stood out as wrong were some Tarydium like details in Gui's first level that give off high-tech type sounds. Some people might not like the way that Nali sounds are repeated when they speak, but I didn't really notice it.
The story is different from almost anything else involving Unreal. You play as a young mage who is forced on a journey to find your destiny in bringing an end to the tyranny of the Skaarj invasion, there are some twists as well, a talking Nalirabbit being particularly surprising, and your character's banter with it brings a little comedy to the story. There are lots of conversations with other Nali, who also relay various story and world details, as well as sometimes giving you items and allowing you to progress. A logbook and diary are also included with different purposes (one being like the translator, the other being a sort of "story so far" guide), the logbook messages throughout the levels are good quality and I didn't notice too many blatant errors (although I can recall one message early on that just cut off and was unfinished).
There are some flaws in the story though, two maps were cut (from the section between part 1 and 2), which means a ton of spells are dumped on you and the Nali Rabbit is left to do some exposition after you wake up in a crashed sky pod. On this same note a sub-plot brought up at the end of part 1 involving a Nali traitor is never resolved at all. There was also another sub-plot involving a psychotic Human that doesn't seem to be completely resolved either (the messages provide a wrap-up, but you never seem to come across a corpse or anything, although I may have overlooked something). In the second Sandcanyon map the fact that you fight Mercenaries on a Human ship after fighting a Titan felt a little... Mind bending, especially as there wasn't much explanation for why the Titan had got there and there were also a couple of other Titan placements that seemed odd (like out in the open in a Skaarj base). Finally, early on, there is a Nali who tells you to kill some Pupae outside his house, but then he does nothing to reward you if you do so. Without these flaws I might have been tempted to give the story scores a ten, due to how it manages to pull off a unique concept very well, but even with them it is still in the upper end of Unreal map pack stories.
Gameplay is one of NC's strongest points, the spell system takes a little getting used to, but it's simple enough after you get the hang of it. The first half of the pack is mainly fighting pest enemies like weakened Slith, and the fact they respawn in a lot of cases can get frustrating when it comes to stuff like Flies, but this is all just a build up to the second half, where things change and you find yourself up against large numbers of tougher enemies. Some of the new weapons look a little weak, but they are actually pretty powerful and there are nice details like how sniper rifle has an effect where the neck stump of a victim smokes when you behead them. There are also a couple of more familiar weapons in the form of the ASMD, which has a faster firing rate to make up for the lack of secondary fire and the Razorjack, which is pretty much the same as before. The weapons are just a sideshow to your true arsenal though, the spells. Your spells start off quite mundane, but build up until the point where you can pretty much summon a redeemer blast on enemies, there are also a wide variety of armour spells, some of which have quite unique effects (such as invisibility, repelling projectiles and damaging nearby enemies, they also change your character's skin, which is a nice touch), as well as the odd "different" spell (like summoning a Squid to hold enemies in place and damage them). You need this large arsenal though, as, especially in the last third or so of the pack, you are thrown into situations that wouldn't look out of place in a crazy pack like EXU or Unreal Zero.
The fun part of NC though is that you can throw yourself into these sort of situations and come out on the other side perfectly fine. The gameplay highlight is probably the 3-part Skaarj base section, which has many situations that force you to constantly adapt your tactics, as well as having a lot of enemies to kill. To add to this, many of your enemies in the later sections attack through things like scripted sequences and ambushes adding to the awe factor. The Nali are portrayed as more warlike in NC and there are a few sequences where you fight alongside armoured Nali toting various weapons, which is fun, especially as a lot of the fights would be big even without the Nali assisting (and they can actually be pretty helpful). The only flaw in the awe other than pest fighting is that some enemy set-ups seem quite unlikely (like Skaarj and Krall working in the same room as Gasbags and the somewhat bizarre Titan placement I mentioned earlier).
For the most part the challenge curve is very smooth, gradually throwing more and tougher enemies at you. Unfortunately, there is one GLARING balance flaw at one point. I said the boss at the end of part one was way too easy, but now it's been made the total opposite, being one of the most unfair fights I've ever seen (even with 90% armour protection it can kill you in about 6 hits), there is one saviour in this battle though, as Magical Lake holds it still and therefore can make it trivial if you use it right, but without that or some other holding spell you are pretty much doomed. As just one "blip" in the challenge that can be circumvented easily with the right tactic it gets off slightly, but this is still way too big a problem to ignore (especially as it basically equates to "learn by dying"). NC as a whole also suffers from not having any new enemies or modified AI. It looks kind of stupid when a Skaarj runs straight at you just as you are about to throw a massive boulder in their face and the general Unreal AI just isn't adapted to deal with the magic too well. The main show of this is the "Shadow Armour" spell that makes you invisible, while invisible you can slaughter an enemy standing right beside another with a one-shot kill spell and they won't even bat an eyelid (or notice the glowy effects as you cast a spell in their face for that matter), on the flip side, it is nice to see an invisibility power up that actually works.
There are also some general imbalances and redundancy issues. Divine Bolt seems extremely overpowered for its mana cost compared to other spells that cost around the same (or more); it casts very fast, it has a fast recovery time after casting (there is a delay before casting again that seems to vary between spells), it is VERY powerful (as in it gibs a Skaarj lord when fully charged) AND it goes through enemies. The only things about it that seem balanced are that it is not hitscan and that it requires an accurate hit to do damage, but the advantages easily overshadow the weaknesses. If you combine this with Shadow Armour and some other protection you can pretty much get through the game without using much else, although some of the other offensive spells aren't much better in terms of balance they do a least seem to have some sort of weakness (like long casting times). There were also so many potions lying around that I never had to bother with alchemy and some effects like bloodlust and vitality were not explained so I just ignored them. I gained a lot of ammo as well, but I think this was partially intentional on the part of the designers to allow for players to ignore the magic system if they want. On my first time through I played on Hellish (the equivalent of Unreal) and can recall it being pretty challenging whenever I couldn't exploit Shadow Armour/Divine Bolt, although most of my deaths came from being too stingy to use potions in areas that were low on magic recharge areas. For this review I played on Medium and only had problems when I hadn't prepared right or, again, didn't use potions, which is pretty much how it should be. Of course the hugely overpowered boss Skaarj is the exception to this (Although I beat him easily the second time when I knew what to do).
There were some areas where it seemed like there should be more magic draw points than there were, although NC gets away with that by not outright stating that the magic drawing comes from every instance of the element (just "points of power"), still, there was a temple map near the end that seemed quite lacking in recharge points considering how "natural" it was. Although in a way I consider it a good thing, since having to utilise your other equipment a bit more was an interesting change.
Conceptual Grandness is probably NC's strongest point, even the weakest levels have events or battles that make them memorable, and there is plenty of guided non-linearity (as well as foreshadowing). Some of the level themes also seemed quite unique (for instance, the second level of the Skaarj section was done in a style that seemed quite different to a lot of Skaarj levels I've seen). Plus the originality of the concept itself adds to the memorability of the pack.
Technical execution is a little lacking in some ways, partially because of the lack of testing that some areas show (like the imbalanced Skaarj), but as I said the bugs from the previous version are also not fixed, meaning that you get stuck if you jump off the boat after it has moved to its final position on the Moonspire exterior and you can also get stuck by blocking a lever part way up the Moonspire. I played through this time swapping between two computers (one much slower than the other) and had few performance problems with either that weren't expected, other than that flash light bug in Neutron's map that I mentioned earlier and also near an island in the water cave on map 4. The final cutscene did make my weaker computer pause for a long period multiple times but it involved a lot of complex explosion effects etc so it made sense. I noticed one or two BSP holes, but nothing huge. There were a few times where I was attacking a decoration and suddenly died, plus I had a crash at one point, but these were rare enough that I think it was UT itself rather than something the NC designers could have fixed. There is a way to change the text delay in the menu, I recommend you make it manual so you have to use the "skip cutscene" button to scroll it, as it's possible to miss text if you don't since there's no conversation storage(although if you do this you have to remember not forget to scroll it in dangerous situations). The description text of the HUD was also dodgy, it was in the style of the game, but at higher resolutions it's almost unreadable in some cases, I think plain text would have been much better. Finally and perhaps most detrimental to the enjoyment is that the Nali Rabbit can become completely mute, there seems to be no way to prevent this if it happens and it can get get you stuck since some of his comments are essential to know how to progress, you also miss out on some of the story.
If you can overlook the extreme inconsistency and lack of polish in some areas then this is a very fun and unique take on the Unreal world.
Second Opinions - Mister Prophet
Let it be known, right at the get go, that Nali Chronicles is perhaps the most unique entry into the Unreal mythos. A prequel to the mother game, you play the role of protagonist NaGaruuk, a fledgling Nali mage who finds himself inexplicably thrust into an epic quest to save his people from the tyrant Skaarj. If this sounds familiar, then you have played at least one RPG at some point of your life. This is precisely the direction NC takes; merging RPG with shooter. It's been done before, but for our community of SP players this one is a first.
The new game mechanics range from familiar to unprecedented. A log book acts as the game's equivalent to the Universal Translator, and is equipped with a scroll back button that saves ALL the logs you will read in the game. Also provided is a sort of personal journal that NaGaruuk updates at certain stages of his journey. This is what is commonly known as a "mission update" in other games, but here it also doubles as a sort of insightful introspective on our hero. In this sense, NaGaruuk is very fleshed out. And unlike the protagonists from the other 90% of RPG stories, he isn't an angst filled teenager.
Obviously, the biggest aspect of the mod is the spell casting, of which all are gauged by a mana system. Starting with only a lowly mud slinging spell, you obtain quite a library of magic before the game's conclusion. These spells are truly imaginative. From fire balls, to giant worms, to squid tentacles coming out of your skin, to creature summoning, to sea blasts that spew ocean debris around a room, to air attacks and sky shattering elemental projections, the NC team did an amazing job on the spell system. Everything looks really cool to use, and some of the effects caused by them are truly satisfying. They are all divided up, as usual for an RPG, by their elemental properties. Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Holy, and others. Each set has offensive and defensive spells, along with at least one "big" spell. Alternatively, NaGaruuk locates a compliment of weapons that are almost all new. The way the game interchanges between attack modes (spells or guns) is not unlike Undying, where Primary fires the current gun and alternate casts magic. However, it must be said that while all of this is refreshing, it sure as heck isnít flawless. In fact one of Nali Chronicles' biggest drawbacks is its cumbersome combat interface.
To start with, the spell system has some issues. All the spells have a cast "charge", where the button must be suppressed for the necessary amount of time needed to perform them. While this is fine for most cases with the defensive magic, it can often be taxing the other way around. In this regard much of the spell fighting becomes a case of duck-and-shoot trench warfare, and that's when you aren't running from fast enemies. To make things more complicated, some spells are unreliable in situations with lots of enemies (which is almost always). For instance, many of the spells require a direct line of sight with a target. This is true for many of the stronger spells, and to confound things further even when you DO see an enemy the environment may prevent you from using it. Also, some spells "track" a target, but not always the one you're aiming at. There is also a sort of imbalance between some of the spells, where mana cost and charge time don't always match how much damage should be being caused.
You will find and use ten weapons in the game, as per usual, and they are well thought out thematically. Your first weapon is a petty Nali blade, but before long you find an interesting looking Stinger replacement; a sort of Tarydium shard spitter in the form of a sort of wheel with a crank. You'll also find a Skaarj pistol, as well a Krall Staff (FINALLY!). Skaarj weapons make up for some more of your arsenal, including a rocket launcher and a sniper laser. Late in the game you'll also find a mage's staff that can be used in conjunction with specific magic to be the game's best weapon overall. But my personal favorite is the quad-bow, a Nali cross-bow that fires clusters of arrows at targets. I used it more than anything else and as a bonus you can collect missed arrows, provided that you pry them out of the wall. Rounding off the guns are two "old" guns; the Unreal Razorjack and the UT Shockrifle. What's important to note about NC's guns is that because of the spell system, each gun has one firing mode. To compensate, many of the weapons have a melee attack that goes into effect when a target is in swatting range. Likewise, the sniping laser I mentioned goes into scope mode when you hold down the button. All the new guns are modeled well and have skins that are quite passable. True to Unreal, their design tends to be very distinct and contrary to genre.
But like the spells, there is a downside to the weapons. Unfortunately for NaGaruuk, most of the guns are inefficient when push comes to shove in many of the game's combat situations. And herein rests one of NC's two biggest flaws. Early to mid-way in the game, your weapons will be firing slow moving and weak projectiles. Likewise, the weapon selection is excruciatingly slow. When you begin fighting faster, stronger enemies, the weapons just donít cut it for 90% of the game's combat situations. Baddies are constantly in your face! These guns just need to be faster than they are. This is the reverse of Spatial Fear's weapon woes. In SF, you had too many guns that were way too strong for the enemies presented. But in Nali Chronicles, you're fighting Unreal enemies. Anything less than the Unreal arsenal's speed, precision, and overall balance... well it's a liability. The knife is next to useless, basically being an empty slot. It has a ridiculously sluggish swing, and you'll never touch it after you find some guns and decent spells. As for sluggish attacks, each weapon aside from the two familiar ones suffer from some sort of delay with the exception of the bow. The melee attacks are helpful when you're in a corner... sometimes. Other times they'll screw you up because, since they are automatic, if you want to fire a blast from your sniper laser in the face of the Skaarj that's ripping your guts out you'll instead perform a slow acting melee stab that causes a fraction of the damage you need to be dealing, and you die. The Laser rifle has the worst of it, since the sniping system is insidiously crappy and it's very easy to go into the slow zooming scope mode when it's the last thing you want to be doing. For your sake, don't think of using it unless your target is miles away. The staff and the pistol both fire projectiles that their Unreal counterpart enemies use, and they are useless on anything more than the standard critter or slow enemy. The spitter is equal to the stinger in most respects except that the rounds are fired in a curving arch that needs to be centered properly like the Flak Cannon's alternate fire in order to be effective. The problem with this is that it negates the balance of the Stinger, where the shard damage worked in conjunction with the steadiness the rapid fire allowed. Imagine a Stinger with a liability and you lose some of the balance. True enough, the Unreal guns fare the best, and you can melee with the Razorjack which is nice. Though, not having the ability to shock whore is a bit off putting, but a faster firing rate is a fair enough exchange.
Items are very plentiful. And numerous, since there are loads of items to carry around. In fact, there are so many that cycling through them all can take a little too long. And they all have similar HUD icons. The HUD itself is no more cluttered than Unreal's, but once you bunch up on items, spells, and weapons... and then powerup with shield spells, it might be a bit bloated. What.s bothersome is the font used on the item and spell labels, making it hard at times to see what things are or what they do. None of this is really that much of a big deal, but then of course we come to Alchemy.
The alchemy system is pretty interesting conceptually. Besides normal items, you can collect empty vials, a chemical burner, and a pharmacy worth of ingredients. You can, presumably, add all of these contents together in various combinations to make health potions, mana potions, and stat boosting potions. This all might seem rather cool, but the system is very poorly introduced ingame. I made one concoction during the training level, and that was the last time I messed with alchemy for the rest of the game. For a good while you'll just guess on how to mix them, and any failed combination negates the product, wasting your supplies. Eventually you get an alchemy book which tells you how to make everything... or so it seems. When I tried to mix according the way described, I found that either my items did not fit the containers the instructions told me to use, or that the cocktails failed to work. According to other sources I've talked to, the numerical values listed in the alchemy book differ from the number of each individual item. You can figure out the proper measurements I'm sure, and I've talked to people who have. If you wish, there is extensive documentation provided outside the game to help you out, but if you can't figure it out there is no loss. The alchemy system is not necessary for anything outside of basic potion mixing, and you already obtain more than enough items to sustain yourself and clutter NaGaruukís loincloth for the whole ride. I didn't mix a single cocktail the entire game. It's there for those who want to use it, and everyone else can ignore it.
True to RPG form, the storyline of NC is perhaps its most compelling asset. The first thing you'll get is a very intriguing flyby upon startup, and when you begin your game you are treated to an introduction that sets the stage for what's to come. Beginning in flashback, you witness the arrival of the Skaarj to Na Pali, for the first time ever, centuries before the events of the game itself. As he watches his world crumble under the heel of its newfound oppressors, the Prophet declares that a messiah will one day come. Enter NaGaruuk, in a flash-forward spanning hundreds of years. NaGaruuk is a lowly mage just learning to use his powers. But when the peace of his tiny village is shattered by a violent attack from the Skaarj, NaGaruuk becomes an outlaw. The narrative is very engaging, told through both extensive log book documentation, heavy use of scripted scenes, and most prominently with spoken dialogue in the form of text. The latter is where NC raises the bar for direct character interaction. Ingame dialogue, either spoken or text based, is something of a rare novelty amongst Unreal canon and non-canon. Unreal was a very classical shooter in this particular sense; with the exception of a three second, off screen kill, Unreal was devoid of any ingame character communication of the direct sort. Return to Na Pali only briefly pried into this untapped story-telling method. It was with community packs where this sort of thing was tried, and aside from NC it has been very limited. But NC embraces direct conversation wholeheartedly. Whether your talking to the many Nali that appear in the game (there must be a record for most used involved Nali culture here), or to your companion the talking rabbit (it's a lot less stupid than it sounds, really), NC is one talkative mod.
NaGaruuk does quite a lot in the space between NC's extensive storyline. Not even counting the numerous battles you have to play through, NaGaruuk sails ships and row boats (cutscenes document the days in transport in a rather cunning way), he hijacks aircraft, and treks a wide variety of environments. The flaws with the story telling are minor. The written text is quite good, and for the quantity that is provided it seems like there should be more errors. But I only noticed two or three instances of typos. As MMAN pointed out in his review, the biggest damage to the storyline is caused by a buggy system with the Nali rabbit character. In fact, in my play through I was not even aware that I had the bug until I was in the Moonspire. What's supposed to happen is that the rabbit chatters with the protagonist throughout the adventure, often giving you hints that you otherwise would be lost without knowing. For instance, because my bunny did not work at first, I actually became stuck in a map because the bunny was supposed to guide me. This bug can be circumvented by console commands, and it's a real shame because there are some very humorous exchanges between the two that you may miss. Likewise, also as MMAN mentioned, some aspects of the sub-story are left unresolved. The most disappointing of which is a yarn about a deranged human who slaughters his squad inside a temple. There is allusion to his presence, but you never run into him. While disappointing, the main story is rich enough to keep you occupied.
The maps are, as I said, very diverse. But not only in environments. In quality. Some maps have a strong build and appearance while others fall short of average. What they all get right is having a high degree of conceptual grandness all around. Many of the maps have an inter-traversable floorplan, and in the case of the lower quality ones the lack of technical prowess is made up for in explorative possibilities. I was very fond of most of the themes I encountered, as well as the various attentions to detail. These feel like places. Of all the levels, I especially enjoyed the galleon, the towns, and many of the temple segments. The tech themed maps were rare, but interesting. I found the idea of a Skaarj city quite original, but when I played it I found that it felt like more of a base. But not all the maps matched well thematically. The Moonspire level used the texture set from DM-Gothic, which is fine because it's rare in SP. But the mapper made use of conflicting decorative textures with human figures on them as well as Christian cross-shaped windows. Far be it from Nali. Otherwise the Moonspire maps were interesting, even if the interior failed to match Sunpire's standards. Also, both Skaarj and human environments used elements of the richrig texture set, and many of the all around texture choices for things like walls and rocks were strange. There is also a great deal of snags, often times near doors (which as you'll read on is a deathtrap).
But these are fringe criticisms, and they hardly amount to the sheer mismanagement of the gameplay aspect in nearly all the maps in Nali Chronicles. Yes my friends, we come to NC's gravest controversy. It seems every major community campaign has one thing that causes some players dismay. Spatial Fear had pathetic enemies. Zephon was notoriously unfair and was designed like a giant monsterhunt map. The last half of Seven Bullets played out like a series of bot matches. Operation Na Pali had a joke-ridden story and a protagonist with an extra chromosome. Nali Chronicles, well, has an ass backwards approach to enemy placement with heinous flow stoppers and an overall clunky combat system.
Combat in Nali Chronicles consists of, essentially, a series of doorway scuffles. Literally. 90% of the combat you'll have in this game happens through a door or entrance. Not only did the game designers have the frustrating idea of putting the majority of the game's enemies directly near an archway, but they also went ahead and made sure that nearly all of NC's doors are broken. These goddamn doors, I swear to God. They either don't open right, or they close at the wrong times. Itís mind numbing for me as a player to know that my grief could have been avoided if a level designer decided to set the door triggers to TriggerControl like they should have done. And not only are these enemies badly placed, they are almost all in swarms. More often than not, you'll find yourself in really one sided positions where the enemy always has the advantage and the ability to kill you almost instantly. With the weapon drawbacks and the cumbersome spell mechanics, well, altogether itís just a miserable experience. Enemies either bum rush you in hordes or spawn directly near you in such a way that truly reminds one of those 2D RPGs of old. Sadly, it seems as if the NC team forgot this was a shooter. The spell system is just too complicated for this kind of AI. This is 100% learn by dying gameplay, and in many cases dying is as necessary as having to press a switch. You enter a room, get raped, and restart knowing how the rape will happen. And the enemy groups don't even always make sense. Gasbags attacking me with Skaarj? Flies with Skaarj? In a game where fighting the interface in order to land a successful hit and cheapskate enemy placement combine to make even the smallest enemies a life or death struggle, the last thing any player needs is insensible group demographics. And there is one single fight, I suppose it counts as a boss fight, that takes place against a super powered cryo Skaarj... that's incredibly unfair. Coming from me, that means a lot. After dying many times I finally used "cheap" magic on him. Standing in my mana pool and casting combinations of the worm and squid spell over and over. Did it work? Yes. Was it fun? Meh.
Now don't get me wrong here, you should be able to beat the game without problems. Pending you don't get annoyed by cheap deaths until you up and quit. This isn't Zephon. But you may not enjoy fighting very much. You WILL enjoy the story. But not necessarily the fighting. I did have some cool moments of combat, but they were rare. Various Titan fights were very cool with spells, since slow enemies are about the only thing fun using magic on. And nothing quite grasps the "Holy shit" factor like carpet bombing a Titan with an explosive beam from heaven and watching the giant monstrosityís carcass fly across the map. That was pretty wow. A sea-bound ambush was also interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed any instance where I was engaging enemies in a wide open area. But that's precisely the problem. Most of the levels aren't wide open, in fact many of them are extremely tight and narrow. Imagine one of those playdough grinders you had as a kid, where you pancake the stuff through a hole and it comes out as spaghetti. A lot of these environments are like that. They cram all these enemies in a space so small there isn't any room to even hug the wall. And then with these door problems and the weapon issues? As you can imagine, it isn't very fun. But passable, granted that you shield up at every mana pool and get lucky with your spells. If I can explain NC's combat in a sentence? Imagine having the capabilities of a redeemer in your mitts, only to use it you need to log in for every shot and it weighs four hundred pounds.
Otherwise, the pack is really epic. Save for cookie cutter problems. The new music tracks are exceptional, but like MMAN said in his review the familiar tracks are the ones that are used awkwardly. The scripted sequences and cutscenes are beautiful, and completely satisfying despite the occasional rotating camera syndrome. The ingame narrative really sells it, and everyone should play the pack to experience it alone. To be sure, there are bugs. The Nali rabbit one is unfortunate because there are some exchanges there that made me laugh out loud and without him, players can not only miss a lot of great story moments, but they also may find several of the puzzling parts aggravating. It's a really different take on the Unreal world, and with some simplifying of certain mechanics and better attention to the player's needs, it would have been as equally fun to play as it was to listen and watch. The only part of MMAN's score I will question is the gameplay area, and I won't score it myself.
Addendum by MMAN
As a result of Mister Prophet's review, my own subsequent playthroughs of this pack (this, with its complex systems, being a mod that makes you evolve your playstyle on later attempts) and other impressions I've seen, I've decided to go into more detail on the player-dependant nature of the mod. Mister Prophet found the pack unfair and difficult overall, but as my review hopefully made clear I pretty much had the opposite problem; even on my first playthrough, the moment I had Divine Bolt and Shadow Armour, combined with another armour spell or two, I was pretty much on god mode and equipped with the equivalent of a vastly overpowered, fast firing weapon for the majority of the pack, and most of the enemies before that were mainly pests that could hardly damage me after I casted a half-decent armour spell; in the end I didn't die very much at all.
Nali Chronicles' style makes its difficulty very dependant on the player, and not just in terms of combat skill, like most packs, but in terms of spell choice, focus on leveling (its nature requiring you to go out of your way to initially build up each type of magic), use, and discovery, of mana-spots and how efficiently you can handle (and learn, for that matter) the overall interface. I've seen various accounts of people finding the pack either too easy or too hard; the one consistent thing being that it's either one or the other (beyond one or two spots like the boss fight mentioned in both reviews here which is universally regarded as very unfair). Its nature makes the gameplay balance hard to score, as it can vary widely (far more than most other mods) between players.
As a result of this I have lowered the gameplay balance by two; which I think takes the gameplay divisiveness into account along with the generally agreed on flaws in the gameplay (like that boss fight and the overall overcomplication of interface).
Download ncfinal.zip (88.2MB) from FilePlanet
Downloads - Unauthorised Patches
Download NCLevel013.zip (Cerberus Castle texture fix) (949kB) from UnrealSP.Org