Game Review: Anno 1404 (Dawn of Discovery)

One day I wandered into the game shop near where I live and I felt like a fiddley world-builder of sorts. After having tried Sim City 4 and just finding it too basic and dull, it was very hard to find anything that would fit, being that in the dizzy world of next generation gaming consoles that FPS are now well dominant and PC games have followed suit. One game, with very little fanfare, caught my eye.

Anno 1404 is based upon the Marco Polo-esque era of discovery between the Occident and Orient. It plays itself as an RTS, but unlike 95% of RTS’s is more concerned with trade and supplies rather than warfare. Satisfy the needs of your peasants for them to advance to citizens, from citizens to patricians and then onto nobles. On the Oriental side of things, its a fair bit more basic, but some supplies are unique and imperative for your Occident towns.

While it sounds boring, and if you’re the sort of gamer to like seeing chunks of alien flesh fly past your head every ten seconds or so, it probably is. The enjoyment lies in making good decisions regarding your trade routes, and better decisions regarding how to spend your resources. Think of it as a infininitely more complicated Tiberium collection system from the Comman and Conquer series and you’ll get the basic gyst. Different resources are on different islands, and they must be combined to create particular products. Differing products require shared resources, so allocation becomes an issue and so on. For example, salt processed from brine mines (with charcoal to assist) can be used in conjunction with pig skins to make jerkins in a tannery, or can be used to salt cow steaks for preservation and subsequent consumption for nobility.

This mechanic is sound, clever and complicated enough for you to put hours into it, if only waiting around for resources. Maintainence is often difficult, and you’ll probably find that while setting the particulars into place is fairly straighforward, balancing is not. If this is the sort of thing that you think may appeal, I suggest throwing a few dollars into renting it, or given the games rather embarrassing sell history in Australia, just buy it at a discount price.

There are some gripes for sure, but these stem mostly from a confusing system compared to others. Combat is limited and simple enough to be very dull. You only get access to three classes of warship, all of which require an extraordinary amount of resources to purchase, which in turn will almost certainly stop any zerg-like rushes by human players. Even so, the warships are fairly dull- small warships get smooshed by large warships, and oriental warships tend to be a bit faster. The fact that injured ships move slower means that they’ll almost certainly be cut down by the victor of any skirmish. Little aquirable bonuses here and there spice things up, but the same issues are involved with land-based battles. Rather than be invidiual units, army participants are large or small camps, or trebuchets. Again, they all require exorbitant resources and the combat system is slow and unimaginative (if realistic).

Another problem is the campaign. While its a shallow learning curve due to the appreciable complexity, the voice acting and dialogue is nothing short of atrocious. The villains are 100% villianous, the heroes are unwavering in their heroism (and suitably always dependant on you). It is perfectly legitimate to asses what side a character is on based on their stereotypical physical attractiveness. Weird side missions add a flavour, but an odd flavour, like buttermilk, to the veritable meaty chunks that is the trade system. Side missions include clicking on tiny characters in your own town for various reasons, or picking up flotsam to deliver to a vizier clearly far too lazy to do it himself.

All these problems are beside the point. Anno 1404 is unique and deep and interesting for any would-be world builder, and can certainly occupy an afternoon if you let it. Due to the processing times of practically any resource, you’ll find waiting around to be time consuming.

8/10

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~ by freeze43 on April 5, 2010.

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