Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery Review

Written by Joe Martin

June 12, 2009 // 9:19 a.m.

Tags: #blue-byte #historical #rts #strategy

Companies: #ubisoft

Dawn of Gameplay

Unfortunately, if the campaign mode doesn’t appeal to you as much as it did to us then you’re likely to be stuck until you figure out the controls and intricacies of the game for yourself. There’s no real tutorial for you to consult about how to best plan a trade route and the manual which came with our review copy of the game was about as helpful as throwing a drowning man both ends of a rope.

In effect then, the campaign mode really is the tutorial for the game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that on the face of it, but in reality not everybody will want to play through an entire singleplayer game just to learn the intricacies of the diplomacy system.

Nor does the campaign always explain everything in great detail. You’ll have to trawl through your quest log to get an explanation of how you might go about building a rope yard, for example, and the only clue you’ll be given is that you don’t have enough citizens yet – but there’ll be no tips on how you go about upgrading your peasants. This isn’t a hypothetical example either by the way; we got stuck at that point for at least two hours and couldn’t upgrade our population despite maxing out all their satisfaction bars and giving them plenty of everything.

Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery Review Anno 1404: Dawn of Gameplay
The viewpoint is fully customisable

Lack of tutorial aside though, Anno 1404 isn’t fundamentally different from any other strategy game that puts the focus much more on economic management than on combat – which doesn’t show up until relatively late in the campaign mode. The basic route to success in Anno 1404 doesn’t usually come from crushing your foes with fleets of warships, but more from creating a large, stable and satisfied population.

Creating supply routes and establishing a thriving economy is far more important than having a huge army in Anno 1404, especially in the early stages of any game, so being able to read the terrain and choose the right sites for your cities is crucial – doubly so since you can only have one warehouse on an island. Seafront warehouses are one of the most important structures at your disposal as it’s from here that you’ll control your entire economy. Civilians will both stock and receive their food, clothes, tools and goods there and it’s also where your ships will pick up and deposit their wares. Positioning it correctly is crucial.

Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery Review Anno 1404: Dawn of Gameplay
Combat plays a relatively minor role compared to other strategy games

Luckily, this is one area of the game where Anno 1404 has been excellently put together, with even new players being able to quickly scan the terrain and figure out what lays before them. Not only do the lush graphics make the maps incredibly detailed and varied but icons float over resource sites too and let you know exactly how much of what is left where.

This system of floating icons helps you lay your cities out correctly obviously, but it also means you can monitor how much quartz might be left in a mine, for example, so you can have new income sources ready when it runs dry.

When it comes to designing your cities though, it’s really hard to go wrong once you’ve laid down the first few buildings, as there’s a firm chain of dependency built into your construction choices and which limits what you can put where. Often it works quite sensibly and obviously – like only letting you seed hemp fields in places where the land is suitably fertile, but in other cases it’ll be perhaps a touch too restrictive for those who want a strategy game without the safety rail.

The clearest example of this comes right at the start of every game, when you start trying to lay down peasant houses and realise that you can only position them within a certain radius of a marketplace. We know that beggars can’t ride, but surely they should be able to walk more than a couple of inches across the screen instead of making us drop more markets than a merchant banker?
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