Nival is a Russian veteran developer, with its roots buried temporally in 1996 and known for varied titles incorporating real-time/turn-based tactics and strategy in factual or fantastic settings. The somewhat unstylishly named Rage of Mages trilogy ('Allods' in Russian) was their first toe in the proverbial water. After two games in a RPG-strategy vein that looked something like Warcraft, the next Allods game was the rather fetching Evil Islands: The Curse of the Lost Soul. This is a game that got a good reception at the time, competing for RPG of the year with Arcanum and Gothic. It's remembered best by the Russian community these days, with various mods and patches somehow still popping up.
When you first boot the game, there's a fair number of binds to think about, though I recommend first starting a new game to see which ones you'll end up using. There's also a decent chunk of tutorial to chew through that you can't completely ignore since the game has unique mechanisms. These include a level-up system where the experience points required scale up with each new skill pick, four types of movement, the inability to access your inventory within a zone etc. While initially belied by a cliched amnesiac hero, the game's writing is also interesting enough to drive your sessions, though I think some of the voice acting sounds rather theatrical (and downright cheesy) in the English translation. This is not quite so pronounced in the original Russian which is epic but mostly serious in tone and definitely works just fine.
Playing on the "normal" setting, you should quickly be familiarized with the sudden death syndrome: head hits cause three times the damage (armor is only deduced once) and so you might find yourself taking fatal damage out of the blue until you've managed to kit up properly. Saving early and often will preempt frustration. You'll also find that running away from fights isn't always an option. In fact, it quite seldom is, seeing as you'll get winded quickly and most enemies can easily catch up to you with the game's ultra-proficient pathfinding. Two sides of the same coin, eh?
Generally, there are always foes you can't take on given your current skills and statistics, and leveling up smartly will require some deliberation. My advice is not to commit to any skill picks (the ones in the right column) until you're sure what'll benefit you. In addition to that, whenever you've gotten hold of money and materials for crafting, the system for doing so – creating weapons, armor, and spells – is an obvious highlight. Min-maxing what you can get with your limited means, when to spend, when to save up, is quite a deep challenge with tangible repercussions. You may want to abuse the save system here as well seeing as it will be difficult to tell how effective a weapon or especially a new spell will be without getting your test drive in.
There are tons and tons of enemies everywhere. This is a part of the game that might put you off if anything does. There is a certain amount of tactical thinking during the fights, which are similar to other real-time RPGs (they can be sped up or paused), but repetition may set in as you tackle foe after foe with generally the same stratagems. It was fun for the majority of the game, or at least not bad enough to make me want to stop playing, but it seriously started to get out of hand towards the end and I even ended up resorting to the "novice" difficulty setting, which gives a huge boost to the damage you're dealing. On this setting, a lot of the challenge is gone, though you could still easily get killed if you're reckless since the damage received stays the same.
You could, in theory, stealth your way around a lot of the time and even try to pickpocket enemies, and this works fine but you're probably not going to have the patience to keep up with it through the whole game. Also no experience is gained this way, and the game heavily incentivizes killing most of the enemies in each area you pass through since you can only fast travel through them after reclaiming them in this fashion. Other than that, you can safely ignore enemies unless you want their drops, seeing as the experience gained scales up in such a way as to make earlier kills less and less significant in the long term. Similarly, you'll seldom want to go back to materials and weapon types that have been superseded.
Something worth bringing up is the multiplayer. It seems you could still find people to play with in 2019 (when writing this), but the multiplayer goes through some kind of post-game storyline where the character you create for it gets to hear the other NPCs talking about the main protagonist's exploits. I didn't play much of it but apparently the quests and rewards are different and it's more difficult overall. There was also an expansion called Lost in Astral but that one was only released in Russia and to a poor reception.
Overall, it's remarkable how little people talk about this game anymore, especially outside of Russia. It has its flaws, among them some dubious balancing in spell prices and effectivity, though I can't say for sure I put them to their best use. There are dedicated fans improving on the game, with a very neat-sounding package of tweaks having been uploaded as recently as June, 2019. Just make sure you get the most out of the experience (see the tips below) and keep a podcast handy if it gets too humdrum and I think you might be pleasantly surprised. Two thumbs up!
- You may want to hunt down a physical copy since the GOG version doesn't work right for nearly everyone, including the inability to scroll the camera vertically and having no way to join other people's parties in multiplayer out the virtual GOG "box". You can still play the game straight off the CD (v. 1.05) in Windows 10, though I saw a crash after trying a 1920 x 1080 mode (in a 2000 game! How?). This also allows running people's mods which the game is likely to be all the better for. While I tried none of them, this one for example sounds great since it increases the movement speed, probably by enough to impact gameplay as well as add to convenience. In addition, it seems shadows don't always work properly without tinkering, and low-quality textures are forced. If you get any of this, you'll either have to do some reg editing, hunt down a physical copy, and/or complain to the GOG staff, but I was told everything works fine on their test computers, and offered the same reg edit solution to the mouse scrolling issue anyway, so chances seem slim they can patch it.
- Get the other party members to follow one character to avoid congestion issues in narrow spaces. This can be a smart way to keep non-fighters out of harm's way in general.
- While my review was based on having a full party whenever available, I did since find out that since the EXP is shared between everyone, and you have to say your goodbyes whenever moving to a new land (remember to strip them of anything you'd like to keep), the game will actually be easier to play as Zac solo. It's probably never more fun that way though, and you can always switch to the novice difficulty.
- There's a section called the Canyon of Death which is a pain if you thought Zac could be kept in a support role. Instead, you might want to make him capable in combat, especially hand-to-hand, and repair all his equipment and even keep some spares when you're about to travel to the third island, since you have to endure a long gauntlet before you get another opportunity to get repairs done.
Reviewed by: LotBlind