Dawn of Discovery Review: A Whole New World
If you have never heard of “Anno” before, you are probably a North American like yours truly. “Anno” is a series of real-time city and economic building games that was released in Europe, and although “Anno 1404″ (or for us, “Dawn of Discovery”) is the first one to be released in North America, it is actually third in the “Anno” series. Despite it’s experience in Europe, it is still part of a niche genre, and it beckons the questions: Are North Americans willing to embrace this game, and, if they are, is it worth it?
In a nutshell, “Dawn of Discovery” is a blend of City Builder and Real Time Strategy games. You’re put in charge of creating your own empire by discovering new islands, creating settlements, and then using the island’s resources to suit the needs of your subjects. At first they will start out as lowly and poor peasants, barely surviving and requiring small amounts of attention. Once their initial needs are satisfied, they will upgrade to higher societal classes, which will not only increase their needs, but also increase your wealth courtesy of higher taxes.
It may sound a bit complicated, and to some degree it is, but what makes it work so well together is the streamlined interface, and the campaign mode. The campaign serves as an overblown, and very involved tutorial. At first you’ll start with the basics such, like setting up a central market for your peasants’ houses to congregate around, and creating a lumber yard to harvest trees. As you progress through the campaign, it will slowly teach you the more advanced techniques of diplomacy, creating fleets, and establishing settlements on the southern desert islands. It may be a bit slow paced, but it is a necessity due to the numerous amount of buildings and traits this game has.
There is even a storyline tied into the campaign that mirrors the events surrounding the Crusades, although it takes place in a fictional universe. Don’t expect great writing though, as the developers gave it a very Saturday-Morning-Cartoon look where the villains are obvious at first glance, and have two-dimensional personalities to match.
One of the biggest things that makes “Dawn of Discovery” unique is the introduction of the new “faction” called The Orient. (I put faction in quotes because you don’t actually play them, but you’ll need to deal with them in order to advance your population.) By trading and increasing your diplomatic stance with the Orient, you’ll be able to create your own settlements that emulate theirs on islands in the south. Why would you do this? Because your subjects back home will eventually ask for spices, or indigo for their books, which could only be gathered in the southern islands. It adds a unique element to the game where you’ll learn to micro-manage your production housing, trade routes, and your subject’s needs.
Speaking of your subjects, the game does a great job with the interface to make you understand what is going on. Clicking on your subject’s houses will give you a “wheel of need.” Each subject has a certain need to fulfill (e.g. Faith, Food, Clothing) and when you click on that need, it shows a wheel. This wheel shows exactly what buildings/items are required to satisfy the need as well as their importance to your subject. It’s very straightforward, and a very welcome change, especially if you have played games similar to this where such information is often hidden or vague.
After you have finished the campaign, you’ll have the option of playing either a Continuous Game or Scenarios. Scenarios are very self-explanatory as they are static maps with certain objectives, while the Continuous game the heart of “Dawn of Discovery.” Here you’ll be able to set up your own objectives as well as other game settings, and these games can last indefinitely and because you control the settings, you’ll have nearly a limitless variety of games. For those looking for multiplayer, it doesn’t exist, but that’s okay, because it’s not needed considering the game’s slow pacing and complexity.
To match the game’s incredible amount of detail, the graphics in “Dawn of Discovery” are top notch. The buildings themselves are quite detailed and the animations are well-crafted. Considering this is just a city building game, a genre known to be very minimalistic with graphics, it’s definitely a step above the competition, and seeing this amount of effort put into the game is a pleasant surprise. Best of all, the game runs very smoothly, and despite the hours I put into the game, I have yet to experience a crash. This is one of the few games where you don’t need to jump through hoops just to get the game running properly.
“Dawn of Discovery” is truly a great game. Everything it does is done with efficiency; from its streamlined interface, and large scale tutorial-based campaign, to its reasonable complexity. To add another layer of greatness, the game looks great, runs well, and is one of the most stable PC games out there, making it one of the most complete city building packages on the market to date.
“Dawn of Discovery” was developed by and released by Ubisoft for the PC on June 17th 2009.