Dawn of Magic
You can almost imagine the meeting when Dawn of Magic's developers were pitching the game to interested publishers...
Publishing Person: "So, it's a top down, hack and slash RPG set in a fantasy world?"
Dawn of Magic Developer: "Yes, yes, that's it, sounds amazing doesn't it!"
PP: "Well... The thing is, you do realise this has all been done before don't you? In Diablo for a start..."
DOMD: "Ah well yes, but at least it's not a World War 2 game, and look, we have a huge and impressive magic system!"
PP: "True, but that's not going to be enough, we need one more spark of originality before handing over the squillion dollars you're asking for."
DOMD: "Ah... ummm... ok, hang on, let me think!"
DOMD: "Got it! We'll ditch the whole elves, dwarfs humans and halflings thing and have something different!"
PP: "Such as?"
DOMD: "Well... how about a gypsy, they're a much loved social stereotype, and a monk too, a big old fat one. Then we'll have a young trainee wizard guy because that's never been done before and.... ummmm"
Tea Lady: "Excuse me gentlemen, can I interest anyone in a sticky bun?"
DOMD: "That's it! We'll have a frumpy fat baker's wife too!"
PP: "Wow, how original! Please, take all this money!"
Tea Lady: "... Are you calling me fat?"
Okay, so perhaps that's not word for word, but surely no other chain of events could have resulted in such a bizarrely flawed quartet of characters being available to the player in Dawn of Magic. While there's nothing at all wrong with wanting to get away from the Tolkien inspired fare that we see all the time, it's really only worth doing if you're sure you can conjure up another set of characters that will capture the imagination of players as much as the more traditional fantasy races are able to. As it is, unless you've always secretly harboured the desire to spend twenty odd hours of your life playing as an old chubby monk (in which case there are probably people you need to talk to who can help) you'll be hard pressed to find a single character to play as that evokes the required spirit of heroism and adventuring a game like this should really be aiming for. Starting things off with such an air of bemused disappointment is made all the more unfortunate because other than that eclectic roster of characters and the aforementioned huge and impressive magic system, DOM really doesn't have a huge amount else going for it.
The all too easy Diablo comparisons are almost as inevitable as they are damaging, with DOM failing to live up to Blizzard's seminal title in almost every regard. For a start melee combat is a mess, it is next to impossible to make out what's happening when more than two characters are involved, especially if there's even a hint of tricky things like trees or shrubs around. It also seems more than a little bug ridden at times with blows either failing to connect for no good reason or simply not being dealt in the first place however much you're hammering the mouse buttons. That the hand to hand combat in DOM is such a depressing experience almost seems like a deliberate design decision since it goes some way towards forcing you to try and rely on the game's single positive, the magic system, to regain some degree of control. With an impressive twelve schools of magic to work with there's a suitably vast number of spells to be learned and, in a novel twist, the more you specialise in one particular branch of the magic tree the more it's influence effects your character's physical appearance. For example, get pretty hot at fire spells and you'll trail sparks as you run, get heavily into Blood magic and you'll start to come over a little bit vampire, get good at both however and you'll get a mix of the two. It's a genuinely nice touch and makes character progression all the more interesting as you see how your choices effect how they look.
However, almost inevitably, such depth and originality in one area is immediately countered by numerous flaws in others, the gameplay structure itself being next on the list. The central story is actually relatively interesting, albeit massively unoriginal, and follows the fight against Modo, an immortal banished to earth for being a generally bad egg and now intent on, well, killing everything. As you do. However, the quests you undertake to move the story along are as generic and dull as they come, basic kill and fetch quests being miserably frequent even once the story kicks into gear properly. Even when things do get a mite more interesting you're frequently left confused by poor descriptions that often seem to just fall short of telling you everything you need to know.
The graphics are decent enough in a thoroughly unspectacular way, but when you're actually interacting with things nothing seems to have any real sense of weight or presence to it, giving everything a strangely fake feeling that's hard to describe until you've actually experienced hitting a wardrobe and seeing it scatter its parts on the floor with all the weighty physics of a handful of feathers. The voice acting is similarly shoddy with a range of cringe worthy performances picked right from ye olde list of vocal stereotypes, but when you consider the script they were given to work with its hard not to sympathise with their bored lifeless delivery.
If the developers had spent as much time on the rest of the game as they did on the magic system then we may have had a fun game on our hands, as it is we have a game whose single redeeming feature isn't enough to hide the underdeveloped, uninspired and frankly boring nature of the rest. Even playing as the baker's wife can't fix that.
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