Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery
I’m not a big PC gamer, as my history of reviews may suggest. Aside from regular stints on Football Manager and the odd session with Sim City 4, I’ve never really travelled far into the depths of playing games in the lounge, instead opting for my comfy leather chair in my bedroom and the Xbox 360. Before switching over to the light side (Apple Mac) I stumbled across a budget title named Stronghold. For the princely sum of £5, players had to keep their peasants happy by building farms to provide work and food and various trades to build such structures. After laying the foundations for a settlement, you’d then step up production and begin to build your own castle, complete with huge round turrets, triple-thickness walls and hot boiling oil traps. For anyone that loves the medieval times here in good old Blighty, it was a treat, and I loved every minute of it.
Of course, for everything that is great about the Apple Mac, they don’t bode too well in the game department. With no more Stronghold I’ve been yearning for a few months now; Sid Meier’s Civilization IV was out of my league, as was Age of Empires and Rise of Nations. Was Stronghold a unique title? Almost…
I found myself drawn to perhaps the unlikeliest source; my Nintendo DS and, more importantly, Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery. I’ve never heard of the title before, and a quick Google search suggests that Anno was a big hit in Germany many times over. I’m not quite sure what bought the game to the DS, but I do believe we can be thankful as after a week laid flat out on my bed due to back problems, Anno can make a claim as the DS’s most engaging title.
“No slow down or glitches at all. None, zip, nadda.”Games of this genre are usually stripped bare for a hand-held, but as Theme Park recently showed you really can squeeze a good few options onto those tiny DS cartridges. Players are presented with 3 options in the story mode, skirmishes and multiplayer. The first option comes in a series of missions, such as upgrading citizen status from peasants to merchants, turn ports into fortified military towns and defending attack from pirates, but also serves as a rather lengthy tutorial for first time players. It’s recommended that those as unfamiliar with the series as me go through the first chapter, after that you’ve still objectives to complete but can generally run a settlement to your own devices without following a set path or route. There is a backdrop to it all and is rather fun to experience as there’s no cheesy humour or sick puns, just your simple storyline in that you’re on a quest to dethrone the queen of the lands that lay afar. According to your own queen, her competitor has become far too powerful for her own good, and you’re set sail with two other seamen to reclaim the land.
Where Anno comes into its own is the general gameplay, because despite there being quite a bit of depth and variety, everything is made easy by the fact that the entire game (besides pausing and saving/loading) is controlled with the stylus. There’s also a handy in-game help menu on every screen to explain briefly what each icon represents and how they link with other items. What’s great is that during the story mode, instead of greeting players with a huge wad of icons across the screen, they’re only added as you need them so it’s ease to familiarise yourself with each action and command. The real meat of the game is in the skirmish mode where you can set up the map as you see fit, with islands varying in numbers and size, the amount of technology available and also starting funds, to name but a few.
After a brief loading screen, you’re on your own, and appear as the commander of a ship filled with a few men and small amounts of raw materials to start off your empire. Guide the ship to land where it sets up a marketplace for goods to be traded, and you’re good to go. There’s houses to build to keep your workforce and future army sheltered, and shortly after some farms such as dairy, fisheries and arable. Such is the nature in Anno that players are encouraged to carry on improving, so soon you’ll have three or four carpenters supplying wood for buildings and more advanced trades like quarries and iron smelting. As your people settle down you’ll start to see the community grow, which has demands of its own. Besides food and shelter, these guys want places to worship and relax, so off you go to get resources for swimming baths, churches and theatres. And don’t forget the taverns either.
“Turn ports into fortified military towns and defend attacks from pirates”Once the settlement is running along smoothly, it’s likely that pirates have started sniffing around. Luckily, Anno is more than a simple survival game and lists military buildings to train vast armies such as barracks, watch towers and ship yards. Further into the game you can build the academy which unlocks more advanced troops and ships to build, allowing transport to other islands to set up camp and take advantage of more fertile soils for the more exquisite luxuries in life such as diamond mines, chocolate and spices. And so it starts all over again with new settlements springing up, soldiers being transported between islands to keep the empire strong and pirates becoming even more determined to try and thwart your cunning plan. What helps the fun and addictive nature of Anno is the clean visuals that accompany it. Whilst nothing is outstanding, there’s also little that is poor. Goods are transported by your settlers so you can see guys running around with carts to and from markets, miners carry back rocks to smelt and carpenters disappear into the wilderness in search of fresh bark. Heck, even the fishermen go out rowing in little boats and sit there with rods, occasionally pulling in their catch before heading back to shore to catch the guys with the market trolleys. Buildings change as the residents advance in levels, so your small shanty village will later become a thriving and busy trading port, and services can be upgraded to improve productivity and storage.
Sunflowers Interactive seem to have thought of pretty much everything in this game to make it such a worthwhile experience, with many options in the skirmish mode to make each game significantly different. You can base your empire on one solitary island for example or base it around numerous others in homage to Sid Meier’s Pirates in the Caribbean. Multiplayer is like classic Command and Conquer, or at least I’m guessing so as I don’t know anyone else with this game. Hey Disney, this is one of the best title available on the Nintendo DS, go advertise it! Please! As if I hadn’t praised this game enough, you’ll also experience the smoothest gameplay around; scrolling the large maps by grabbing the area with the stylus and then dragging it in any direction results in no slow down or glitches at all. None, zip, nadda. Everything comes into view as expected and you can even drag and then ‘flick’ the map to let it shoot across at its own accord for sublime viewing pleasure. There’s even a zoom option to go in close and watch your settlers in action, and is most useful for placing intricate roads and flora.
If anything could have made Anno absolutely mind-boggling essential then it would have been the inclusion of an online mode as well as the option to rotate the map or even switch to other isometric views, as at times buildings block the view of roads and other smaller structures. That’s not an inconvenience however, as when placing roads buildings flash slowly to more translucent so you can see your way. They really have thought of everything.
Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery really was a surprise for me. I’d had it about a week without delving inside, with my attention drawn to Forza 2, but what I found was an extremely engrossing, in-depth civilisation and military game with simple yet effective visuals and very smooth gameplay. Anno is certainly my sleeper hit of the year, it pretty much whipped the carpet from underneath me without warning and is sure to do the same for you too.
Buy it, play it, and tell the world.
Nine out of ten
- Clean and crisp visuals
- No slow-down or graphical glitches
- Very addictive and rewarding
- No online multiplayer
- Only one isometric view