(-) lack of a mini-map in large environments is damning / severe lack of direction causes players to get stuck very easily / enemies are obnoxious to fight and take too long to destroy
Spyro has become another victim to franchises that have lost their way. Along with his partner in crime Crash Bandicoot, he was become shunned by the original developers and through the months of the once exclusive franchises now becoming multi-platform, coincidentally much of the quality in their adventures have been lost since their beginning days. Like Crash Mind Over Mutant, Dawn of the Dragon is a pale impersonation of the impact Spyro has formally had, but can still be enjoyed if the loyal fan loves the character enough to put a blind eye on much of the frustrations. But for anyone else, they should have very little to do with this game.
The story is taken several generations forward when Spyro is stuck with Cynder with a dark magical bond forcing the two to stick together against their will. They work together to fight mysterious enemies that are threatening their homelands, like a giant fire ogre thing referred to as Golem, and an overwhelming amount of forgettable enemies that aren't interesting to fight or even look at. The plot isn't much to write home about, but at least it's all rendered in high production values. The graphics are simply amazing, bright colorful environments that shine with fantasy charm, and they really encourage you to make up an excuse to explore. The crystals you break at to receive health and mana upgrades look good as well. Just as impressive is the cinematic soundtrack which stays involved throughout without feeling out of place, with light and heavy tempos which were counterbalanced nicely, and some truly great voice acting with all the characters. The in-game cutscenes look good but some of the non-gameplay events during a battle simply don't measure up, looking stiff and unimaginative compared to the rest of the experience.
If only the same amount of attention that the visuals and sound received came to the game's design itself. The game introduces some large environments for you to fly through, which taking flight in the air really is satisfying, because not only is it something that most platformers typically aim for, it's just nice to hover over the scenery and give yourself a feeling of unbridled freedom. It really is sweet. But there are wind currents and even invisible walls which put a halt, so you'll suddenly realize that you don't have nearly as much leeway as you initially believed, but it makes sense enough that you'll need to climb that ledge and propel your way through a glide to reach that ledge, otherwise there wouldn't be any platforming in this game and it would be too easy. But it's hard to identify when exactly you'll be nudged by one of these inconsistencies.
Where the game shows its lack of structure the most obvious is the level design. These levels are really large, but there's no mini-map of any sort. This further contaminates a dire lack of direction in the level design. One level, you'll be placed in a bright colorful meadow which you're supposed to find a raft for Hunter, whom has broken his leg, and help him get to safety. But the weight that you'll need to retrieve to activate the ramp is put toward the middle of the level, in a location barely visible from the majority of the perimeter, which results in needless circling around with little fruit for your effort, which can very quickly lead to frustration and tedium. And things don't improve much more later on. Mind you, there is a pretty straight forward mission of delivering water buckets to save a burning building full of civilians, but shortly following that is a battle sequence where you side with someone operating a cannon to take a colossal Golem and enemy forces down, but once that's over with, instead of promptly taking you to the next mission, they leave you in the same spot, merely in the direction which you're supposed to go. This means if you decide you need to break a crystal to recover some health and quickly forget which way you were standing, you could backtrack and look for the way out futilely, as opposed to quickly reaching the next mission. It's a very lazy design choice, and there isn't much excuse for it.
Things do improve when you know where you need to go and what to do, but not by a high degree. You'll find yourself fighting a lot of unremarkable enemies that come in the swarms. Spyro and his companion both have an assortment of weak and strong attacks, and can grab enemies in their jaw and smash them. Unfortunately the combat isn't much fun, you're just smashing buttons, and worse still, these enemies take a long time to go down. The elite enemies and boss battles fare a bit better, which take more strategy to conquer but only appear ever so often. Another bright light is the amount of special abilities that Spryo and Cynder have that they can use. Spyro specializes in fire, ice, electricity, and earth. Cynder has poison, wind, shadow, and fear. Each element has a slightly different attack, ice can stun enemies and poison can slow them down while inflicting gradual damage. At some point they're even necessary to pass a certain part, you'll need to activate the fear shot to make some handles spin that will activate a bridge, which you have limited time to walk with a weight as you cannot fly. Each elemental ability is also up-gradable with experience and can in turn increase their usefulness, but many of the forgettable enemies still have a hard time taking down even with the use of these powerful moves.
While those who have been with the iconic dragon since the PSX days can certainly overlook many of these issues and still find something of a decent-but-flawed experience, even they might feel a tug of nostalgia for the way things used to be. And as for others who haven't tried their hand on the fantasy adventures presented in Spyro yet, then this is possibly the very worst place they could start. While Dawn of the Dragon does work above its frustrations at times, the complete lack of direction and guidance in an adventure with a large world seems like a lot to tolerate just to play as a childhood hero.