It's complex and daunting, but this rich game of exploring, city building, and trading is also tremendously captivating.
- Vibrant 15th-century world is an alluring setting
- Deeply customizable continuous play option
- Complex assortment of goods to produce and production flows to manage
- Hundreds of in-game achievements give you plenty of goals to strive for.
- Steep learning curve, compounded by useless manual
- A few minor bugs
- No multiplayer.
Few things stir the human imagination like the notion of exploration, and few games tap into the appeal of exploration as well as Dawn of Discovery. Here, you'll sail across seas of perfect deep blue, seeking out the next little island on which to build a proud settlement. Once discovered, you'll work the land to produce all manner of goods to make your people thrive while building new ships to forge still further into the unknown. The sheer complexity of producing many of the goods you'll need and the difficulty of taking your settlements to the highest levels of sophistication prevent Dawn of Discovery from being accessible to everyone, but the tremendous depth and terrific production values make it a no-brainer for fans of the genre.
Known as Anno 1404 outside of North America, Dawn of Discovery is the fourth entry in the Anno series of historically themed city-building and trading games. Dawn of Discovery offers both a very linear campaign and a richly customizable continuous play mode. There's so much to Dawn of Discovery that most players will want to start with the more structured campaign to become familiar with the gameplay. The campaign tells a compelling tale of religious conflict and unlikely alliances between East and West, but the structure, which sends you on an endless series of quests on behalf of other global powers, makes you feel more like an errand runner for nobles than a noble yourself. It's in the continuous play mode--where you can set your own goals for victory and chart your own course for achieving them--that Dawn of Discovery is at its best.
Regardless of the mode you're playing, the core action consists of discovering new islands, building settlements, cultivating goods, and managing the needs of your populace to advance your society. The more advanced your society is, the more gold you collect in taxes, but a bigger population doesn't guarantee richer coffers. Your people have needs for food, drink, faith, company, clothing, and amusement that become increasingly difficult to meet as your society becomes more advanced. Thus, it takes careful planning to produce goods quickly enough to meet those needs while keeping production costs to a minimum and preventing your cities from operating at a deficit. Sometimes, you'll need to put other considerations ahead of the well-being of your people by raising taxes to generate the money you need to dig yourself out of debt or denying your people certain goods as you stockpile them for an important construction project. The interface makes selecting and placing buildings, as well as managing taxes, very easy.
Unfortunately, the game never educates you on how to place your buildings for maximum production efficiency. To make matters worse, the manual that accompanies the game is utterly useless and sheds no light on how to build an efficient, profitable society. This makes the initial uphill climb considerably steeper and more frustrating. But once the pieces all come together and you're able to build a flourishing city, it's immensely rewarding.
While meeting the needs of peasants is easy, the challenge of satisfying wealthier, more refined residents is considerably more difficult because you'll need to run several production facilities to produce many of the goods they require. Producing leather jerkins, for instance, requires a source of coal, a salt mine, a salt works, and a pig farm. Ultimately, you'll have dozens of production facilities in operation; some generate such basic goods as hemp, while others combine and process those basic goods into other products. You'll also likely have ships carrying goods from island to island along trade routes that you have established, which is a breeze thanks to the intuitive routing interface. Few things can make you feel more like the ruler of an empire than seeing your ships sail the seas engaged in trade and operating autonomously while you're free to focus on other things. And you'll need that freedom because there's never any shortage of things for you to supervise. Dawn of Discovery is a multitasker's dream because you'll want to keep an eye on a myriad of production flows to make sure that things are humming along properly. This ranges from ensuring that the lumberjacks have enough trees to chop down to making sure that the land is properly irrigated for the production of goat's milk. On the flipside, those who prefer a more focused experience may find the sheer number of considerations involved here overwhelming and distracting.