Visuals add a layer of confusion to everything. Art design is poorly handled from a technical standpoint because of such clumsy elements as big text blurbs illustrating conversations. Towns filled with non-player characters get so muddled up with these word balloons that you can barely see the scenery, let alone make your way around. Maps are just as tough to read because of the same excess clutter. You might as well keep the minimap switched off entirely because the huge text denoting the location of NPCs and boss enemies gets all jumbled together into an alphabet soup. Only blowing up the map to full size clears the picture, but this full-screen view of course makes it impossible to see the action.
In-game graphics are just as bewildering because of a reliance on the surreal. Glowing rocks fill caverns, alien plants sprout up all over the terrain, and you even morph into strange shapes depending on what school of magic you favor. Spells are fired off to the accompaniment of some groovy pyrotechnics, but the strange glows actually make everything appear even more bizarre. At times, it almost seems like you're hacking and slashing your way through an Hieronymus Bosch painting. But don't get excited. As cool as this sounds, the weirdness isn't pulled off very well and the whole surreal idea doesn't mesh with core gameplay pulled straight from a traditional medieval fantasy game.
As usual in an RPG, every successful attack generates an explosion of numbers. But it sort of takes away from the immediacy of combat when you can practically see a 20-sided die being rolled on the screen.
Audio is equally bewildering. Dialogue darts around so much (probably because of poor translation from the original Russian) that you're always asking yourself what just happened. At least the quest log keeps track of things. You always know what you need to do, even if the logic behind your actions is missing in action.
Lastly, there are the bugs. Crashes to the desktop come so fast and furiously that the game can be all but unplayable. We tried all sorts of different video drivers and went so far as to pull out the installed audio card in the test system to go back to onboard sound to try stabilizing the game but had no luck with any approaches. Making the situation even worse, the save system only allows you to store your progress when exiting the game or at rare checkpoints. So you can't even try to compensate for the random crashes by hitting a quick-save button every couple of minutes. The only saving grace here is that not everybody seems to be having serious technical problems with the game. Judging by forum posts, it's hit and miss as to whether or not you'll encounter problems. But when you do, these issues seem to be severe enough to cause crashes or prevent you from loading the game at all. So, caveat emptor and all that.
Dawn of Magic also features a multiplayer mode that we haven't gotten into, but really, haven't you endured enough suffering already? If you happen to see this game on a store shelf, just back away slowly.