I have just discovered my new favorite game. Dawn of Discovery, or Anno 1404 as it’s called in Europe, is a 15th century city sim game, and it is beautiful! Just look at some of these screen shots:
There is so much to this game, describing it will be difficult, but here it goes: Every map is an archipelago. You start off on an island with the rest of the map hidden except your “boss” island. Your boss island is inhabited by
“Lord Richard Northburgh” who claims to be the close cousin of “the emperor”. He is your basic in game advice guy who will give you tips along the way. You can also trade with him and buy needed items that might not be on your island starting out. There is also a host of other NPCs who are all comical knock offs of actual historical figures. (bonus points if you can name who they are based of off)
There is one big problem with the game that will become evident as I describe the features: the difficulty curve, it’s as steep as a castle wall. There is so many options and things you need to keep track of in this game, it’s taken me over 40 hours of play to finally start to wrap my head around it. There is no tutorial other than the campaign, but even that leaves a lot of things out.
The main focus of the game is managing your town’s economy so that it grows. You start of with peasants who have X needs. Once X needs are met, they will advance to citizens. Citizens allow you to build more buildings to further expand your settlement, but they also have Y needs. Once all of a citizen’s needs are met, they can advance to patricians, who again bring a whole new set of building options along with more needs. Then from patricians come nobles, again, more building options, more needs. This may seem simple, but it’s immensely complicated.
Not all of the raw materials you need to satisfy a class’ needs can be found on your starting island. Thus you must colonize other islands. Not every island will be fertile to every crop you want to plant. Often you have to buy the seeds from either the orient or your boss if that island doesn’t support X farm. (And you can only plant a certain number of foreign seeds per island) Once you colonize an island you have to set up trade routes with ships to carry the goods. (And don’t forget building escort ships if you’re at war) On top of managing trade routes, you have to set the buy/sell prices of goods at your markets. Oh, and don’t forget fiddling with the tax levels for each class! You can’t just build anywhere on an island either, you need to be within a certain radius of a market or storage building.
Building placement is also key in the game. Each production facility will tell you at what % efficiency it is working at, same goes for trade ships. You have to link up roads as best you can and then wait for market carts to pick up the goods and take them to the store house. You can also upgrade the roads to make them go faster.
There is also the matter of the Orient. On top of managing your city, somewhere on the map is another small island where there is an Ottoman outpost. A certain percentage of the islands will be desert climates, and to settle these you need technologies from the orient. To get these you must befriend the Ottoman outpost. To do this you need to bring gifts which you buy from your boss island with “honor” points. (Lost yet?) Honor points can be gained through reaching new civilization levels or completing quests. Just like there are different class levels within your island, there are different class levels within the orient. Once you settle there you use “nomads” instead of peasants, and they advance to “envoys” instead of “citizens”. Effectively you’re playing two games at once. You can’t neglect the orient because some goods that your patricians and nobles demand only come from there.
While the game focuses mainly on economy, there is a little bit of military action, but if you’re mainly into the “build em up” games and not fighting, don’t let this deter you. Military only comes into play when you reach patrician level or higher. You can build a castle and from there you can train army groups which come in pre-assembled camps. They move around on ships or land and set up camp. From that camp they take over any building within their affect radius after a 3 minute timer. That’s all there is to it. Other enemy camps can set up right next to yours and then it’s a game of odds, but the fighting is pretty straight forward and limited.
So the huge array of things you must keep track of and manage aside, the true charm of the game is in the details. The loading bar for instance! Normally you’d just expect to see a blank bar with a color filling up, letting you know how close the game is to loading, or maybe the name of the files being accessed as the game loads, not with Dawn of Discovery! The game developers said “Hey, why have a boring bar? Why tell the player what files are loading? It doesn’t matter that they know “map seed 33179 is loading plant textures”, lets put something fun there! So they did. I just loaded up the game and the loading bar says stuff like: “Fill ocean, add salt to the water, plant trees, release the animals, bury the treasure, hide the orient, invite computer players, tidy up warehouse, launch ships, and finish the witches’ make-up!”
Another great touch are the animations. Normally in most computer games, the little NPC people have a small set of animations they do, over and over again. Nothing is really specific to what they’re doing and it’s rather bland. Not in Dawn of Discovery! There are hundreds of animations for each sim, and it’s constantly changing. What really took my breath away was the tournaments. You can build a jousting tournament ground and hold faires to gain honor points. I set up a tournament and zoomed in on the NPC knights jousting. To my amazement, instead of just the same animation over and over again, it differed. Sometimes one knight would strike the other, sometimes they’d miss. It was all randomized and effected the outcome of the tournament! (You got points either way, but it was just fun to watch) Also, the fog of war has a fun little twist on it. Instead of just a boring blank grey or black emptiness showing unexplored parts of the map, they laid out a cool little cartography effect:
Lastly, the game has this built in feature that reminds you every two hours that you’ve been playing for two hours and Lord Northburgh suggests “How about a coffee?” in his British accent. It’s a nice feature for helping you keep track of the time and to remember to take breaks, and you’re going to need it because the game is addictive.
In conclusion, the game is extremely difficult to wrap your head around when first starting out, but you’ll find that although it’s complicated, you’re still having loads of fun. I didn’t get my first patricians until almost a full solid day of playing. Despite this the came is constantly fun and there are so many thing you’re always working on to improve your settlement. The beauty and wonderful music score to the game only adds to it. All the minute attention to detail really give the game character. I’ve only been playing for three-four days and I’m sure there is plenty I have yet to discover. Go check this game out!