Dawn of Magic PC Review

Throw a quick glance over at the screenshots, and it’s not exactly difficult to see that Dawn of Magic is your standard fantasy RPG. You run around, lobbing lightning bolts at giant scorpions, getting quests off townsfolk, levelling up your character, getting better equipment and spells, and so on. I can tell you right now that Dawn of Magic does very little that’ll surprise or shock you. This isn’t strictly a bad thing, of course – sticking to tried and tested ideas can promote the refinement of those ideas and lead to genuinely great games. But this isn’t always the case – and it’s fairly apparent that no great amount of refinement has taken place here.

Dawn of Magic, taken on a very basic level, works. You’ve got your health and mana repositories, which deplete as you take damage and cast spells respectively. You’ve got your mini-map in the top right, your shortcut bar along the bottom for easy access to your magic spells, and a bunch of different screens showing your current abilities, spells, items, and so on. It all works because it’s the exact same kind of system we’re used to in most other games of its ilk. Nothing wrong with it, but then it’s hardly worthy of praise, either. And I’ve not even started talking about the bad stuff, yet.

Let’s take a look at one of the first quests you come across. “My children have all run away,” a woman tells you, “and they should be here eating their dinner. Can you bring them back for me?” A bit weird, yeah, but it’s hardly the most ridiculous thing we’ve been asked to do in an RPG. Until, that is, the woman blurts out the following: “Repeat this task many times over for extra skill points!”

I mean, bloody hell. Make your minds up, guys. There’s nothing wrong with games that aren’t ashamed to be games, but when you’re pushing the po-faced ‘interactive story’ angle with loads of spoken dialogue and fancy FMV sequences, you can’t then get away with reminding the player that he’s a fat nerd sat behind a desk who’s probably quite willing to spend his valuable time clicking little children on a screen to make his character’s numbers go up. It’s depressing, embarrassing, and easily avoided. Yet even mostly-excellent games like Fable think it’s okay to get a professional voice actor spouting crap like “Remember to pick up the green orbs when you kill an enemy, or you won’t learn a thing!”

Cut. It. Out.

Oh, and speaking of professional voice-actors, it doesn’t seem that any were involved with Dawn of Magic. All the dialogue seems rigid and clichéd, both in writing and performance. This is, of course, common in video games, but when you’re sharing a genre with the likes of Baldur’s Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment, you’ve really got to put the effort in if you want your story and dialogue to look like anything beyond a half-arsed mess. As it is, Dawn of Magic barely even deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as either of these games. The voice actors’ performances frequently don’t match up with the subtitles on-screen (a minor gripe, I know, but it get seriously annoying if you try to follow both), and pretty much everyone sounds as if they couldn’t really be bothered.

Then there’s the camera. It still amazes me how many times developers fail to get the in-game camera right, when there are so many examples of how it can be done properly. Dawn of Magic gives you a camera that is always centred on the player, though you may zoom and rotate to your heart’s content. Combine this with the fact that you have to repeatedly click on enemies to kill them (the game doesn’t allow you to lock-on to enemies like in most RPGs – you select your spell and then have to click on the enemy over and over again until it dies), and the fact that you also control your character’s (and therefore also the camera’s) movement with the mouse by clicking on the ground, you’ve got a recipe for one of the most clumsy and infuriating interfaces you’ll ever use. You give up on moving during combat, as tracking an enemy with the mouse whilst taking into account his movement and yours (due to your movement affecting the camera’s position) is a total pain in the arse. So you quickly learn that life is much easier if you stand still, soaking up any attacks that come your way while you frantically click on your enemies until they die. The ways in which this could’ve been fixed are too numerous and tedious to go into, but you can observe them by playing pretty much any other top-down RPG from the last ten years, just as Dawn of Magic’s creators should have done.

On the other hand, it does look pretty. Like, really pretty. Character detail leaves something to be desired, but the environments are often genuinely wonderful to explore, populated as they are with large amounts of trees, flowers, and so on. There’s a great deal of close fogging, preventing you seeing too far into the distance if you bring the camera down to ground-level, but even this is done in a way that makes it seem like a stylistic choice rather than a technical limitation, and it gave me flashbacks of the superb art direction found in World of Warcraft. There are some other nice touches too, like the way your character morphs depending on the magic spells you’ve learned, but this is totally impossible to predict or plan for, and so what could’ve been an interesting game mechanic is relegated to just being a nice idea.

Sadly, these few highlights aren’t enough to save Dawn of Magic from the pit of mediocrity. On paper, there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t work. Most of the typical elements are there, but somehow the end product feels more like a collection of ideas, re-hashed and poorly implemented in a way that is neither entertaining nor fun, then loosely tied together with some embarrassing dialogue that’s barely acceptable even when compared to other video games.

If you’re new to the genre, go and hunt down a copy of Baldur’s Gate 2 instead. If not, do yourself a favour and keep your money in your wallet, where it’s safe. Or just buy a game that’s actually good. If you like.

Dawn of Magic? Dawn of Tragic, more like.

3.5 out of 10