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Dawn of Magic has a background story -- something about an immortal wizard named Modo who wants to destroy the Earth -- but you can safely ignore it. Dawn of Magic isn't the kind of game that wants to deal with things like plot or dialogue or motivation. It just wants to throw thousands of creatures at you and see how you do. Each of the game's five acts goes about the same: you wade through all sorts of enemies so you can defeat a boss, and then eventually you defeat the end boss. In an interesting twist, that end boss doesn't have to be Modo. If you choose an evil alignment for your character, then you can assist Modo in the campaign and presumably face some champion of good at the end. I played a good character (that whole (let's destroy the planet) spiel didn't make the evil path look so hot), but I'm guessing the campaigns aren't all that different and only the bosses change.
Oddly, Dawn of Magic almost requires that you play as a magician of some sort. You can play as a melee character if you really want to, but melee characters get all of two skills to help them out ((bash) and (weapon mastery)), while casters get 96 spells to play with. The press release I received with the game implies that this is a positive, but I thought it was strange. It made me think of a recent news article I saw where a game was called (innovative) for not supporting a single player mode. Since when did offering less turn into a good thing? Is there such a thing as a diet game? Fortunately, Dawn of Magic makes it expensive to build up spells, and the spells are linked (for example, the (fireball) spell has a chance to trigger the (burn) spell and set enemies on fire), and so you have to make lots of choices when building up your character, and the system works well despite the restrictions.
Also fortunately, the combat system is effective. Dawn of Magic uses a fairly standard point-and-click Diablo-style interface, and while it has a few quirks (for example, you can't map both mouse buttons to spells; you're stuck with one controlling your weapon, even if you never use it), it doesn't really cause any problems or get in the way of the action. Meanwhile, the enemies have a lot of variety -- some summon minions, some raise the dead, some teleport, and more -- and the bosses are challenging. During the course of the campaign, I never found myself having too easy or too difficult of a time, and that's a difficult trick to pull off.
But that's the end of the good news. The bad news is that Dawn of Magic is a bargain-priced action role-playing game that doesn't strive to be anything more. Every so often it does something sort of cool -- like it allows you to insert runes into equipment, and if you use them to spell a special word (like (future)) then you get an extra bonus -- but mostly the title doesn't do anything interesting or memorable, and it's marred by a lot of sloppiness and repetitive gameplay.
As an example, the maps in the game are about as boring as possible, with lots of generic forests and towns, but they're also extremely busy with trees and flowers and butterflies and birds -- to the point where it's difficult to see where the enemies are or to figure out what's blocking your line-of-sight. The only reason I survived at all was because the mini-map showed red dots where enemies were located, and that gave me a general sense about where I should be casting my spells. There are also pathfinding problems (characters get stuck a lot) and useless skills (there isn't any reason to learn half of them), it's almost impossible to hit moving targets, and it's way too easy to damage -- and kill! -- your allies.
Or consider the quests, which I would qualify as (sad.) Dawn of Magic is comprised almost entirely of the clichÃ©d quests that other games make fun of. For example, your first quest in the game isn't to kill rats -- but it's close. You have to kill ten termites, and it doesn't get any more original after that. Most of the quests don't have anything to do with the plot (what little there is) and they often involve dopey or tedious activities, like gathering geese or delivering ore to a forge. Many of the quests are also so generic that you can repeat them as many times as you'd like, or just skip them, since their rewards are about the same as what you'd get just by killing regular monsters, which is what the game wants you to do anyway.
Dawn of Magic also missed an opportunity to improve its replay value. Like most action role-playing games, it has three difficulty settings, where finishing the campaign on one setting unlocks the next, and it also has three alignments, where the campaign changes slightly for each alignment. That's perfect symmetry, and it would allow you to play through three different campaigns while building up your character. But alas, you have to choose your alignment when you create your character, and so if you want to play through all three difficulty settings, you have to do so with the exact same campaign. D'oh.
Obviously, I didn't really like Dawn of Magic, but I didn't hate it, either. The game has a 30+ hour campaign, it looks okay, and it runs pretty well. It doesn't do anything especially new or intriguing, and it's nowhere near the quality of Titan Quest, but it still provides some entertainment. I have some friends who gave their dog a fancy chew toy for Christmas, but the dog ignored it and kept playing with the paper bag it came in. Dawn of Magic is sort of like that paper bag. It doesn't look like anything special, but it can be fun to play.