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Every so often I fall into a funk with my regular repertoire of games. I just get sick of blasting zombies in Left 4 Dead or I grow weary from kicking the red coats out of the States in Empire: Total War. When I fall into one of theses episodes I look for a game that offers a unique experience that no other game I’m playing fills. Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery just happens to fit that bill.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Anno series (1404 is the third following 1701 and 1602), it’s a real-time strategy game with a heavy focus on city building and economy management. As the name suggests the game takes place in 1404. Players are tasked with taking a single ship, loaded with all the essentials to start a colony, and finding a suitable island to build a settlement. Once a simple colony is established, gamers have to start generating goods to satisfy the colonialists’ needs as well as satisfy the colony’s need for income from trade.  Some examples of goods include lumber, stone, ore, cider, fish, clothes, etc.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, one thing that throws a wrench into the mix is that each island can only grow certain types of goods. For example, desert islands provide for good date production, where as richly forested areas are good for producing cider or wheat. In order to satisfy all the colonists’ needs, the player must establish several expansions on different islands and set up trade routes. This is easier than it seems thanks to Dawn of Discovery‘s nifty trade interface. Just click a button and the map appears. Then all you have to do is select a ship and tell it to trade X goods at X port and voila!, the game will do the rest.

Another thing that complicates the player’s job is managing citizens. Players make money by taxing colonialists; however, in order to keep your population happy you need to provide a steady stream of goods. When you first start building houses, your population will consist solely of peasants. They don’t have a lot of money, so it’s hard to tax them. As you start to provide the peasants with what they request  (food, clothes, entertainment, religion, ect.), they will eventually level up to citizens. Citizens have more exotic demands. Instead of just fish for food, they’ll also want luxury items like dates, or cider. This kind of cycle continues throughout the game. In total, there are four levels of colonialists: peasants, citizens, patricians and nobles.

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Another interesting thing about colonialists is that they help you unlock new buildings. Rather than having a tech tree similar to something like Starcraft, players unlock new buildings by having X amount of pleased peasants/citizens/patricians/nobles. This forces the player to think about how he or she is laying out the colony because you need to squeeze as many colonialists onto the islands to make decent tax revenue.

The first thing you are probably going to notice about Anno 1404 is the graphics. I can honestly say that I’ve never been more impressed by water in a game than in Anno. Everything from the forests to the colonialists are detailed with the utmost care. Sometimes I would just sit back and marvel at how beautiful my colonies were.  Very few strategy games are as visually impressive as Anno 1404.

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There are three game modes in Dawn of Discovery, the single-player campaign, scenario mode and a never-ending mode. Unfortunately there is no multiplayer. The single-player campaign tells a tale rife with deception, evil religious figures and child abuse, all told through beautifully animated cut scenes that look like a watercolor has come to life.

In terms of gameplay, there are eight levels, each of which take several hours to complete thanks to a laundry list of quests. I think I clocked in around 20 hours when I finally beat the campaign. The way each level breaks down is, you start out with an already self sufficient colony, an NPC will tell you that he or she needs x amount of x resource or protection.

You then produce enough goods/war boats and hand them over to the NPC. The only time I can remember the game straying from this pattern is in level 5, where you have to scour an island for lost goods. The game tells you to just look over the island and left click on any boxes of goods you see. What makes this difficult is that there is a dust storm on the island and visibility is almost non-existent. I was stuck on this mission for literally 4 hours.

Now some of you might take this as a sign to not buy the game. However, think of it this way; despite having to deal with a poorly designed quest, I still played the entire game and had a blast doing so. Those four hours I spent on the mission were fun, even if I wasn’t accomplishing anything. I just sat back and built my colonies up while scouring the island. Don’t let this one instance dissuade you from playing the game.

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Some of you might notice that I’ve yet to mention combat in Anno 1404. This is because it really just isn’t that important. I think in total you can make maybe 4 types war ships, and there is no real strategy to them. Just build the biggest and baddest you can and you’ll be fine.

Most combat is done to protect trade routes. One thing that complicates combat slightly is that whenever you kill an enemy ship, it will drop some “flotsam.” If you left click on these floating crates, you will be rewarded with goods, upgraded weapons, or specialty crew. This is the only way to upgrade your ships.

Once you finish the single-player campaign, you will realize that the whole ordeal was just a tutorial for the never-ending mode. Think of the never-ending mode as a skirmish in the Command & Conquer series. You are presented with a map, populated by AI. You have to make allies and establish trading routes. From here you can choose to build some warships and crush whoever is left, or you can just micromanage your colonies and try to make them as large and efficient as they can be.

If the never-ending mode doesn’t offer enough motivation or challenge for you, there are six scenarios that you can play though, each with varying difficulty and and winning conditions. I would say that each one of these scenarios can offer anywhere from 3 to 6 hours of gameplay.

As someone who isn’t super experienced with economy based real-time strategy games, I feel safe in recommending this game. There is a lot to digest in terms of game mechanics the player much learn; however, the fun and challenging tutorial campaign makes them easy to swallow. Once the campaign is over, free mode and the scenarios easily warrant the $50 price tag.

Rating Category
9.0 Presentation
Everything has a rich color and is bursting with detail. I've never been more impressed with water.
How does our scoring system work?
8.5 Gameplay
Fans of micromanagment will have a blast with this game. Those looking for intense battle should look elsewhere.
8.0 Sound
The voice acting is strong enough to keep you into the game. The Sound effects and music are fitting of the time period.
8.5 Longevity
While the campaign is a glorified tutorial, the never ending mode and scenarios are easily worth the price tag.
8.5 Overall
Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery is a must buy for any city management fans. It is approachable so new comers to the genre will have no problem picking it up, but complex enough to have even the hardcore interested.

  1. Awesome review mate, will definitely have to pick this one up, reminds me of a more AOE style version of Tropico.

  2. I remember playing Sim City 2000 on my P100 for well, thousands of hours!

  3. I was going somewhere with that…oh yea! City building games <3 <3

  4. avatar Ronnie

    In some ways, reminiscent of Knights and Merchants. (That’s a good thing!)

  5. avatar Skinner

    You can buy upgrades for ships at other ports. Naval battles are not the only way.

  6. avatar poorman

    Can anyone please explain setting up your economy ei; trade and production or wheir i can get this info Thanks.

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