Friday, June 10, 2011

The dawning of a new era

Dawn of Magic
Game Category: Role Playing Game, Action
Developer / Distributor: Skyfallen / 1C Company
Release Date: 23 Oct 2007 
Rating: ESRB - Mature, PEGI 16+

Introduction
Role playing games were once paper based affairs where players would sit around a table and explore a fantasy world. The world is normally designed and run by one of the players designated as the Dungeon Master. With the advent of the computer, the role of the Dungeon Master is now however taken over by the computer.

Dawn of Magic is a role playing game based in a huge fantasy parallel of Earth. The key word here is "magic"; this game has an interesting magic system that should be experienced. At the start, you will take on the role of one of four very unique pre-designed mage characters. The fantasy world you will be exploring comes courtesy of the developers from Sky Fallen. It's a huge world, and they have done a very good job of breathing life into it.

Like any good Dungeon Master, this game does not railroad you down either a path of good or of evil only. The background to the game revolves around Modo, an immortal who was banished to Earth for crimes that he committed. Modo is now bent on destroying the world all for the cause of petty revenge. You can choose to either assist or hinder Modo. If you so desire, there's always the option of walking that thin gray line and choosing the path of neutrality instead.

Don't you just love gory red isometric beginnings?

Game Play
The game comes in two main flavors - Single player and multiplayer. Single player takes you on an epic adventure romp that lasts through 5 huge acts. This game can potentially last you hours and hours if you play it all the way by attempting to complete as many side quests as possible. You will start off your quest in a magic school, and then travel into the Wastelands. This is followed by the Diamond Forest, the Coast, the Kingdom of Air, and finally the Land of Damnation. 

Multiplayer allows you to play 5 modes on a LAN or the Internet. The modes are: Free for All (5 maps), Team Deathmatch (3 maps), Capture the Flag (3 maps), Market (2 maps), and Survival (10 maps). There are no battles in Market multiplayer, the only thing you will be doing in this multiplayer mode is trading. Strange, but true.

How to enjoy a Russian game? Stick through the tutorial...

There is also a tutorial available at the main menu and it would be good you play it once through so you don't get surprised by some of the rather interesting design choices thrown your way. Moreover, the tutorial segues pretty well into the start of your main quest, so it is worth your time.

Excluding the tutorial, you will get to choose from four characters as the avatar representing your mage in the game (note - the tutorial sticks you as the first choice from the list below). In what is perhaps the most unorthodox of design decisions, you are presented with the weirdest character choices ever in a role playing game. They are:
  • The Awkward Scholar - a tall young bespectacled guy, with a pony tail to boot. 
  • The Weird Gypsy - a pretty lady with lots of luck (perhaps my favorite character of the lot).
  • The Fat Friar - an old balding man with a paunch and wearing the frock.
  • The Baker's Wife - a big jolly woman who would just love to bash your head in with that skillet of hers. 

Wait till you see the Brunhilda bombshell up close

Each character has three attributes - Strength, Intellect, and Energy. Strength is related to the type of weapons your character can use and the damage you can inflict, Intellect controls your spell casting ability, while Energy represents the life points for your character. Remember, you need a high attribute to wield certain items (like weapons and armor).

Your character gets experience by killing monsters and completing quests. With enough experience points, he advances to the next level. A bar at the bottom centre of the screen shows you how much further you are at attaining the next level. The bar is divided into four equal parts. At 25, 50, and 75 percent of your level, you will get skill points and spell points. Skill points can be used to improve your character's skills while spell points help to improve the strength of your spells. When you hit the next level, you will be able to improve one of your attributes.

My character sheet and inventory
Let's talk about the skills first. There are eight pretty interesting skills divided into active and passive categories.
  • Active - Dark Path, Bash, and Trading. The first is a teleportation skill that works over short distances. Next, is a melee skill that gives you additional damage. The last is the most interesting - you summon a trading genie who can trade items with you and even allow you to store items into a bank-like repository. Hooray! There's no more need to return to town to sell my stuff. Just rub that lamp and the genie appears.
Dumping stuff into the bank
  • Passive - Weapon Mastery, Armor Mastery, Crafting, Enchanting, and Repair. The first, Weapon Mastery, determines the chance for you to deal twice the damage on your enemies while Armor Mastery makes you more resistant to damage.  The last three skills require the crafting interface; with it, you can then create your own items, imbue your items with power runes, and even repair them.

Runic power for my weapon

Spells are divided into 12 schools - Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Summoning, Bone, Pentagram, Alchemy, Light, Blessing, Curse, and Blood. Each school has 8 spells and they either have a primary or secondary effect. I liked the fact that each school had character based on the spell choice made available to you.

You get two slots for each shortcut required to evoke spells. You must place a spell capable of a primary effect in the first slot and a spell capable of a secondary effect in the second slot. You can mix spells from different schools to obtain a dazzling display of magical fireworks when fighting against your enemies.

Fling the fireball at that monster
Let's talk about one other important feature in Dawn of Magic that I have yet to cover. First, the automap. The automap can be cycled through four settings - as a little circular map at the upper right corner, a full blown zoomed-in view of the current map, a full blown zoomed-out view, or the map is not shown at all.

I thought the map in the game was awesome, as it never failed to inform me of enemies nearby. I just need to pay attention to all the red dots and keep away from them until I feel ready to take out the enemies. Green icons on maps are equally important, these are quest related and serve to continue the story.

This elven city is huge!

Graphics
The graphics in Dawn of Magic is pretty solid. You get 3D terrain, characters and monsters. Some of the monsters are pretty cool - like the flying wyverns, harpies, and the irritating gila monster with her troupe of scorpion minions. For every monster you meet or item you find, you can also proceed to your spellbook and view the 2D drawings under the encyclopedia bookmark.

One thing to note that is unique to this game - your main character starts to morph based on the schools of magic he is using. He may suddenly sprout antlers, or grow a prehensile or demonic tail, and so on.

I found the game's interface to be basic enough and yet at the same time present all the much needed information at a glance. I disliked the inventory system since all items are squeezed on a single row and you have to scroll left and right to go through the list.

Don't drink!
Audio
In general, I found the in-game music to be nice and it does help to keep me on my toes. I thought the sound effects were alright, but the voice acting was not that great. I disliked the manner in which the guy who portrayed Eric spoke. There is also the issue of a poor attempt at a Gollum impersonation.

Pros:
  • Huge world to explore in with tons of enemies and treasures to reap.
  • Authentic large cities to explore - with the stress on L-A-R-G-E! 
  • Maps are conveniently traversed through a portal system. Autosaving takes place whenever maps switch, although you can save at any time if you wish.
  • Nice interface shortcuts: You can hold down the CTRL key to mark all objects that can be destroyed (like treasure chests, barrels, and so on). Pretty handy, but it gets tiring holding the key down for long periods of time. You can also hold down the Space Bar to pick up all treasure on the ground.
  • Lots of different types of treasure can be found. You can further enchant them or craft your own stuff. 

I am impressed by the size of Avon

  • Character death is not so painful. You lose your treasure and some items after death, but you can go back to where your character died to pick up all the stuff you lost. 
  • By dividing the experience bar into four quarters, you find yourself improving your character more often. This gives you an overall sense of constantly improving your character, and it is an innovative idea that deserves mention.
  • The game has a neat magic system featuring 12 schools and 8 spells each for a whopping 96 individual spells. You can combine a primary and secondary spell into a slot (even from cross school disciplines) for the ultimate in spell customization.
  • Life and Chi potions are continually dropped by monsters you kill. Any surplus points are stored in the bottles located on either side of the experience bar (at bottom centre). You can use the Z and X keys to quickly give yourself the required life or chi boost in the heat of battle.
  • The boss fights are pretty incredible. 
Death throes of the Boss monster from Act 1

    Cons:
    • Lots of character death in the first 5 levels for your character. This is because the enemies will swarm and swamp you without mercy. Don't despair though... it does get a bit easier after that.
    • Some of the weirdest character choices ever to grace a role playing game. 
    • It gets worse after choosing your spell schools. Your characters will start to mutate to reflect their "addiction" to their chosen schools. Don't be surprised to see antlers or a monstrous tail sprouting from your character. What's the point of all this?

    Mdm Brunhilda (in green) wields a nasty skillet
    • Each act is repetitive after a while. You will keep seeing the same monsters that you will either one, diligently despatch them or two, just try to run away.
    • The voice work is not too stellar.
    • You can't stay stationary to take out your agile enemies like in other action RPG games. Because of this lacking feature, you will sometimes wind up running around your enemies. 
    • By attempting a run through an enemy laden zone, you will notice in-fighting among the enemies due to random acts of spell casting by the poor AI. In short, this means you can complete the game just by running through maps to reach the final battle.

    Is this Kelethin on Faydwer? Oops too much Evercrack...

    My opinion is that this game may have been unfairly reviewed when it first came out. I have played it for the past three nights and thoroughly enjoyed it. My character has already broken the level 10 mark and reached into Act 2. The experience has been tiring (due to the repetition of taking out enemies), but I do look forward to exploring the remaining 3 acts.

    Dawn of Magic must have done something right, for the developers, Sky Fallen have released the next version of the game in 2009. I don't know about you, but I am getting Dawn of Magic 2 to find out what comes after defeating Modo and completing the story starting in this game.

    Daily PC Game Review Score: 6 / 10
    Review Date: 10 Jun 2011

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