Publisher: Deep Silver / Atari
Developer: Sky Fallen Entertainment
Release Date: October 23, 2007
You know that kid in school who wanted to fit in so badly that he would copy everyone around him? He tried to dress like all of the cool kids and work his way into the cool table at the cafeteria, but above all else, this kid never even tried to just be himself and see how far that got him. To some, it might be flattering. To others, it might be really annoying. But everyone pretty much agreed that this kid was a pretty poor substitute for any of the kids he tried to emulate. That's the feeling that I got while playing Dawn of Magic. It has its moments, but most of the time, it feels like a poor rip-off of dungeon crawlers that we played 10 years ago.
The first thing you notice about DoM is that you get to choose from four of the most unappealing character archetypes of all time. Now, in Diablo, you got characters that made you feel powerful, such as Warriors and Rogues. Dawn of Magic gives you the choice between, and I kid you not, the Awkward Scholar, the Baker's Wife, the Fat Friar and the Weird Gypsy. Each character type is different in terms of health, magic power and strength. To be fair, your character will not remain a Fat Friar through the entire game, but it sure doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence when the first decision in the game is which horribly undesirable character type you want to use.
DoM opens with the evil wizard Modo standing before a tribunal to answer for unspeakable crimes. Apparently, Modo performed horrible acts upon the world of the Absolute, which is kind of like the afterlife, in the pursuit of power. The tribunal punishes Modo to be born to the world of mortals, live 100 years and die; he'll have all of his memories but none of his power. Unfortunately, 40 years into Modo's sentence, he begins to develop a talent for mortal magic and crafts a plan to take revenge and return to the Absolute to live forever. Your character is a student of magic who must decide whether to stop Modo or help him.
Once you begin Dawn of Magic, you start to realize how completely unoriginal the game really is. Everything from the quests (go outside of town and collect 10 termite eggs) to the story (evil sorcerer is on a quest for power) is cribbed from the likes of Diablo and Baldur's Gate. Unfortunately, DoM leaves so much to be desired in its execution that you should really just play one of those other games. It would be a better way to spend your time.
The gameplay is handled like your typical hack-'n'-slash RPG. You have a top-down view of your character as he runs around the dungeons, left-clicking controls moves and attacks, and right-clicking casts spells. None of this works really well, though. Most of the time, left-clicking makes your character move, but if, while you're moving, your mouse passes over an enemy, you'll automatically target that enemy and start attacking. Sometimes, clicking the mouse doesn't even work, and your character will just stand there while he's attacked by hordes of monsters.
And there are a lot of monsters in Dawn of Magic. By stepping outside of the city walls, you're mobbed by monsters, which will quickly reduce your health to zero. Expect to spend a lot of time running from one destination to another because even after you've leveled up your character a bit, it still feels like there are too many enemies to fight. This wouldn't be so bad, except that the developers decided to make every enemy automatically initiate an attack, even when unprovoked. One of the most frustrating moments I have ever experienced in an RPG came when I had been sent to find some coyote pelts. I hopped into the little portal the game uses to switch maps and was instantly transported to the miners' village. Actually, that's not true. I was transported a ways outside of the village, right in the center of about seven monsters, all of which proceeded to kill me. That was the second story quest in the game.
Now, you have to deal with a lot of monsters, and you would think that Dawn of Magic would give you the abilities needed to deal with all of these monsters, right? Well, yes and no. The game is set in a world where magic is a common thing that everyone uses, so you're given a wide range of spells from which to choose in about 10 different schools of magic. You've got your typical RPG magic types, like fire and water magic, and you also have other, less common types of magic, like bone magic. While the variety of schools is certainly a plus, each school only has eight different spells, which you can easily get within the first few hours of the game. On top of this, about half of the spells in each school are passive and merely enhance the other half, so what you're left with is about four spells in each school that actively do damage to your opponent.
Well, the spells kind of do damage. Most of the attacks are very slow, and you're usually fighting enemies who are very fast, which leads to a lot of missed attacks and frustrating mouse clicks. The environment also causes quite a bit of problems, as the hit detection on the spells seems to be a bit off, so your attack can sometimes clip a tree and just dissipate. Quite often, I found myself running after a monster and hitting him with whatever melee weapon I had because it was going to be easier than trying to hit him with a fireball.
The sound and graphics in Dawn of Magic are also a bit of a mixed bag. The graphics, while simple, actually look pretty good. And there's quite a bit of nice effects on the spells that make them fun to watch. My experience, however, was kind of ruined by some pretty severe video card issues. For example, I only saw about one-fourth of the opening cinema, which tells the story of Modo, and I'm not talking about only seeing one minute of a four-minute-long cinema. I only saw one-fourth of the picture. I could tell stuff was going on, but I had no idea what it was. I upgraded my drivers, I looked for a patch and checked the official Web site to see if other people were having this problem. While I didn't find a fix and I couldn't find anyone else who was experiencing this, I did find a host of other video card problems, including the game not even running at all. If you're planning on buying DoM, I would definitely recommend heading to the official forums beforehand and giving your info to find out if there are any known conflicts. It might save you some headaches further down the road.
The sound is horrible. The sound effects are the most bland, unappealing things to come out of my speakers in a long time. The music is your typical fantasy stuff, with lots of epic-sounding orchestral pieces, but the biggest offender is the voices. Now, I understand that we're dealing with a small developer, but they should at least try to find people who sound realistic. Your male characters sound like they're trying to pass kidney stones, and while the female characters are a bit better, they sound lifeless and unbelievable.
Now, to be fair, Dawn of Magic tries to do some things differently, and they should be commended for that. I mentioned earlier that even though your initial character types are unappealing, they won't remain that way for long. That's because the spells you choose to learn will morph your characters into other forms. For example, learn some water spells, and your character will start to develop scales and fins. Learn bone magic, and your character sprouts skeletal wings. It's actually kind of cool to see how your character changes with each new spell.
The developers have also done a pretty good job of creating levels of difficulty for any player. While you have your typical difficulty levels, you must also choose an alignment — good, neutral and evil — and whether your character is immortal or mortal. Pick an evil character, and you have a harder time in towns because people don't trust you. If your character is immortal, he starts at the last checkpoint you crossed when he dies. The enemies are left with the same amount of health, and your character starts with full health and chi. When you play the game, it feels as if the developers definitely tried to accommodate a comfortable challenge level for any gamer, from the casual to the hardcore.
Dawn of Magic is pretty long, as well. Your first playthrough will probably take close to 20 hours and after that, you have two other alignments to play, which change the quests you receive and some of the dialogue.
In essence, Dawn of Magic isn't a terrible game. There are some rough issues with the controls and sound, but at its very core, it's a classic hack-'n'-slash RPG. Oddly, the problem is that, it feels too much like a classic hack-'n'-slash RPG. Games like Diablo and Baldur's Gate used the same formula over 10 years ago, and they did it better. While huge fans of the genre will find quite a bit here to keep themselves busy, newcomers would be better served passing this one by in favor of other, better RPGs.
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