The idea was that only items with random modifiers would drop and while there would be a good chance of ending up with good equipment that might be enhanced further, uniques would mostly be available at traders. The selection should obviously support as many different characters/builds as possible and should be powerful and expensive enough that investing in one of them would be a big deal. It would also make gold-/money-rewards more meaningful.
I have mostly been playing Dawn of Magic (“Blood Magic” originally), an ARPG from 2007, which wasn’t all that well received back then. It’s pretty much what you would expect in that genre, but it approaches some of the usual genre-elements a bit differently and it has some odd quirks.
There’s the huge maps for one. This applies both to the wilderness and the cities. I appreciate it in the latter case since it makes inhabited places a bit more believable, but it’s slow and laborious to visit and talk to everyone. However, the nice architecture changes from Act to Act and the more important inhabitants usually have some contextual narration to offer. The wilderness on the other hand is just a matter of long walks plus monsters everywhere. And killing things takes time. At least with the build I used.
In relation to that here’s also the fact that people are upset very easily. When there are civilians in the wilderness or monsters on the edges of the towns, one has to be very careful with splash damage, because one can easily make the whole town go hostile. Thankfully it’s easily reset by just changing maps.
Another interesting idea is to let the player choose his/her alignment at the start. What I have played so far I have played on Good, so I can’t really comment on how the alignments influence the gameplay, but I’ll be sure to comment on it once I replay it.
However, the core of what makes DoM stand out is the Magic-system. There’s twelve schools with eight spells each to choose from and they can be combined in a number of ways. Basically there are active and passive spells as well as support spells. Active ones go in the primary slot and passive ones in the secondary one. Support spells are always active when the conditions are met. Some spells are both active and passive and there’s also the possibility that spells from different schools sometimes complement each other automatically, no matter what kind of category these spells belong to. Light Ray for example has a chance to cause Burn if the player has learned it, but Burn isn’t actually a support spell.
The Magic influence system is also something that hasn’t been done all that often. Depending on which spells are at which level, the look of you character changes. For me it was mostly different horns and wings and some less obvious things. For a short time my character was actually running around on four green spider-like legs due to influence from the Alchemical (Poison mostly) School.
Unfortunately the game is quite grindy. While one can ignore the fetch-quests without losing much, the crafting is quite annoying. You see, there are alchemists which can make unique items, but they need a specific amount of rare totems for it. The result is that I was regularly checking these recipes only to be reminded every time that I was still missing something. Farming for some particular item is the last thing I’m interested in. Runewords have a similar issue. The game seems to be built around the notion that players will invest an inordinate amount of time in their characters.
The setting is more or less the typical High Fantasy, but with a good amount of Larian-like silliness thrown in. A boss called Mullog and babbling something about his treasure, flesh-eating bunnies, a city literally under water, an item called “Omniscient Jellyfish” constantly trying to give advice to the player and other things I can’t think of right now.
I was about to finish off Act 3 yesterday, but then realized that I apparently had sold off one item absolutely required for the main quest-line. And since cities are big and there are many people one can trade with, I had no clue how to find it again or if it was still in existence. Doesn’t matter. I felt that my build had played itself out anyway and I wouldn’t mind trying some others schools when I replay it, so I just broke it off. That gives me the opportunity to go back to my paused Fallout: New Vegas-playthrough for now.