Dawn of Magic Review (PC)

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and nowhere is that more apparent than within the Action-RPG genre on the PC. Given the number of titles currently attempting to crib wholeheartedly from the Diablo playbook, you'd have thought that at least one of the pretenders to the throne might have broken through the barrier by now into an equally-revered state. Whilst Titan Quest has run Diablo close on a couple of occasions, on current form it'll be a while before anybody manages to reach the top of the pile. Is that a testament to the undisputed brilliance of the Blizzard-developed masterpiece or just a lack of strong ingenuity within the genre? A little bit of both most likely.

Dawn of Magic has a highly stylised and dark approach to design
With page upon page of magical abilities, it's hard to know where to begin

Developed by Russian-based company 'Sky Fallen'; Dawn of Magic sticks firmly to the tried-and-tested traits of the point and click Action-RPG genre, whilst at the same time attempting to bring a fresh coat of paint and a little bit of innovation to the table. The focus is heavily on Magic as a primary offensive and defensive force, which lends the game a somewhat unique air if nothing else.

Delving into the single-player meat of the game, character creation is initially somewhat limited, with a choice of only four exotic personalities: The Awkward Scholar, Weird Gypsy, Stout Friar and... the Baker's wife. (Did I mention it was a bit odd?) Each one is somewhat uniquely designed and different to most of the staple archetypes on display in other titles, but underneath the veneer of ingenuity the player attributes tell the same old story. Individual characters are suited in varying degrees to hand or magical combat, affecting whether you wish to play the game as a tank or a mage; and outside of a good or evil player alignment, that's as deep as the creation system gets. For now.

The storyline is initially set via a lavishly-produced introductory cutscene, depicting the fall from grace of an evil and fiery character known as Modo. Shunned from the magical realm he inhabits, Modo is cast to earth to live out the rest of his days as a mortal, the ultimate punishment for those with the power of a god. Of course Modo is none too pleased at his plight and promptly sets about attempting to regain his lost skills, threatening to destroy the world in the process. As a freshly graduated scholar of a magical school, your ultimate choice here is whether to attempt to halt Modo or to join in the destructive rampage yourself.

The focus on a dual-storyline approach to the game design is definitely one of Dawn of Magic's strengths, and is generally played up fairly well throughout. You initially align your character to good, evil or neutral, and this affects the manner in which NPC characters react to you throughout the game. Whilst this isn't a truly unique feature, and nowhere near the subtlety of a Bioware title, it's nevertheless welcome in a genre that so often funnels the player from one experience to the next without a thought of any alternative moralistic paths. Given the vast array of Magical abilities on offer, being bad is an attractive proposition.

Fairly unique character design abounds throughout
The standard action-rpg gameplay perspective is used throughout

Once the introductory magic school lessons are over, the game throws you into a vast world with storyline and side-quests flowing thick and fast, and some expansive environments to explore. The first town you encounter is larger than some of the most overbearing maps in other titles, and initially the scale of the world can be a little overwhelming, if definitely commendable.

Gameplay is largely traditional with character levelling, skill development and item crafting all handled with the minimum of ingenuity. The on-screen interface is par for the course, with a couple of hotbars at the bottom of the screen for frequently used skills and spells, along with all of the usual keyboard shortcuts. Anybody with any experience in a modern MMO or Action RPG in the last year or two will feel at home within minutes. Whether that's a strength or a weakness is subject to a fair amount of debate of course.

That's not to say everything is completely bland however. One of the more innovative elements of design shows up within the first few hours of play, and continues to draw praise throughout the experience. Your characters visual appearance morphs and changes throughout the game, but not according to any pre-set path or player-imbued items. Using a combination of different spells or performing good and evil deeds effectively morphs and styles various body parts, changing your characters appearance fairly drastically. The end result of this process turns into a composite aesthetic based on your in-game playing habits and traits.

Each school of magic also affects the player in the same manner, with unique visual aspects applied according to your alignments and prowess. It's a satisfying approach to character customisation, and explains the initial sparsity of options. Playing the game purely to morph your avatar into something wickedly nasty-looking becomes a game unto itself.

Unfortunately for all the good design touches, Dawn of Magic is let down by a combat system firmly entrenched in the past. The game throws large amounts of enemies at the player throughout the campaign, and gameplay generally degenerates into frantic clicking around the nearest group of foes. With the vast offensive magical arsenal at your disposal, it's a shame that a more measured and tactical approach wasn't used, as you get the feeling this is where the title could have excelled itself. Of course that's a criticism that can be levelled at the genre as a whole, but is valid nonetheless.

The atmosphere of the game can also be called into question. Whilst the developer has attempted to tie everything into a gothic-inspired fairytale universe, the lack of aesthetic cohesion throughout undermines any semblance of a strong visual footprint or a unique style. It all looks pretty, and it'll run well on even relatively low-spec machines, but given the old engine and the protracted release schedule to get this localised for the west, nothing really stands out visually. Voice acting is another casualty for this release, with a lack of personality in both dialogue and performance. It's almost worth turning the speech volume down and the subtitles on.

Hand weapons are important, but magical skills are primary
The game was previously released in Russia under the title 'Blood Magic'

Dawn of Magic contains enough deep content and a pleasing enough approach to the genre to recommend a purchase, but only if you know what's in-store and don't mind the incessantly repetitive nature of the combat. There are definitely worse examples of the genre to find, but many better ones also. Yet another also-ran to the Diablo throne then. Add it to the pile, somebody may sweep them away eventually.

Top Game Moment:
Watching your character morph into something unique.

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