ANNO 1404: Dawn of Discovery - Review and Guide
I can safely say that I had never heard about any of the ANNO series games until a few days ago when Dawn of Discovery was released on Steam. I checked the screen shots on Steam and liked what I saw. I did some research and found a demo of the game through the developers website. I enjoyed the demo so much, that I kept playing it a few times after the 60 minutes ran out.
For Roadwolf's Walkthru, please visit http://www.roadwolf.ca/ANNO1404
All that aside. This looks very much like a perfect city-builder / empire builder / transportation sim that I have been waiting for. Not too long ago I wrote about how I was missing this type of game, and generally wanted a new sandbox style game in which to play. Well here it is!
At its heart the game really is a city builder. Often the point in most game modes is to reach the highest level of citizenship. That being said, using ships to trade goods is very important. In fact, it is one of the best ways to make money. In fact, in order to do anything other then city build, you must build a large city in order to produce troops and such in order to play a military style game.
Grasping the concept of the game itself is not very difficult. Small hints will pop up from time to time to hint at things you should probably do. Otherwise a lot of the game is ment to be figured out on your own, and generally it is very easy to figure out, but may take some play testing to learn. The general concept is that to advance, everything needs to be supplied, and to ensure that the items needed to advance are supplied, you need to supply more items. Some of those items you can only get from an Oriental settlement.
I find that keeping most of the raw material industries off of your main City island, and on secondary islands (relying on ships to transport the needed goods to your city) is often a cheaper and better way to do things.
That being said, I recently had a very easy time growing a city in which most of my raw materials were farmed on my main Island. I have found out that you really do not need a huge amount of houses in order to maintain a good tax income. So long as you ensure the houses keep advancing, they will continue to hold more residents with each stage of advancement. This will in turn provide you with more money.
Generally I have found that it is easier to have all production on your main island, and then have a secondary island nearby which can assist with storage. Always try to build at least a few houses on any island, even if it is only a raw material island. The citizens will help with the tax load and offset the upkeep costs of your industries.
Try to send ships out quick to search for the nearest desert island which will support spices. Claim this island ASAP. Having a nearby desert island with spices will seriously help your progress. As for desert islands, if you plan on populating the island, ensure it can support Dates. Dates will be your basic food (similar to Fish) for Nomads. Nomads wont eat Fish, and Likewise, your population will not eat Dates (as far as I know).
You will also want to ensure that you secure a island in the north with Herbs and Grapes. For my primary Island, I generally like to have Hemp, Cider, and Wheat. These will be your main consumables in early game - therefore you don't want to have to ship them to your island constantly. Ensure your primary Island has Stone, and Iron Ore. Other deposits like Copper, Salt and Coal will be useful later in the game, but will not help you in the early stages.
Shipping is important! Ensuring your trade ships are producing efficient results in their trading is a constant issue. I like to send a ship out and speed time up to ensure that it is only taking the supplies it can handle, and completes its tour properly, without any extra cargo staying on the ship.
Honestly, the shipping interface could use some work. I find it would be useful to have a option to make a ship wait at a port until a set amount of cargo is loaded onto it. Often ships will visit a port, and continue on, when they could of just waited an extra minute to get the cargo they were intended to pick up.
That aside, the shipping is alright. Ships do not really cost much to run in the long run, so you can easily have many ships running around tying up loose ends. Also, as far as I have seen, you have unlimited number of trading routes you can create, and you can assign ships to routes on the fly. You can also remove all the ships from a said route, and the route remains in your shipping interface. This is very handy, especially if a ship gets destroyed - you can easily replace it without having to worry about what route it had, and trying to rebuild the details of the route item by item.
I find that later in the game, I have to build warships in order to escort my trade ships. This can be done my simply selecting the warship and right clicking on the trade ship. This will order the warship to follow the trade ship.
City Planning - Ports:
Ports can become very busy. This port of mine was maxed out with available space, pretty much. In order to ease busy ports, there are Piers you can get later in game (during the Patrician level) which will add additional docking locations to your port.
Additionally, you can construct a Harbormasters office anywhere on the island (where there is a beach) to create a 2nd port on an island. Normally your warehouse is considered your main port, and you can only have one warehouse per island. But the Harbormasters office allows you more then one port per island. That being said, ships waiting at your main port, will not overflow to your other port if your main port is busy. They will just continue to wait. You have to actually route ships to your Harbormaster port.
This has its benefits. Lets say you have your main port on the South side of your Island, and it services all the islands to the South nicely with almost direct lines in for the ship routes. But lets say you have an Island in the North, from which a ship must travel all the way around your island to reach your main port. If you place a Harbormaster office on the North side, the ship can just dock there and save a lot of time in the process.
Filling your harbor with storehouses is also highly recommended!
City Planning: Farms
As far as farming goes, you have to actually lay out the fields yourself. At first I found this quite annoying, however I have devised ways to work around problems. One of the problems I speak of, is that fields often will be oddly shaped in relation to the farm. Plus, you need a certain number of fields per farm for 100% efficency. Therefore it is often hard to kinda wiggle the fields into the allotted space around your farm. To do this, I have figured out some patterns which make it easier to build farms. Below are a few photos of examples for various farms which I provide to assist any newcomers to the game.
Cider and Hemp farms work well in this configuration. This configuration also works well for Spice farms.
Wheat, Pig, and Goat farms work well in this layout, however, if someone finds a better one, let me know :)
I will generally tend to build my cities in blocks as opposed to building them organically as needs develop. While yes it does cost more to build this way, it is easier to find things, and it just looks nicer.
The game itself has many modes; Continuous, Campaign, and Scenario. Also the start up screen has a nifty "Previous savegame" option which will load up your most recent game you were playing last time, right in the start up screen without having to search for it in a Load menu. The reason for this is likely because the scale of this game is Epic. A single game may last 48 hours played. Every 2 hours of gameplay the game itself will tell you to take a break. The longer you play continuously, the more the game urges you to rest. I thought this concept was VERY nice in such a game, and it sure does help you notice how long you actually have been playing. I find 2 hours will go by before I even realize it. 4 Hours will surprise me when its warning comes up usually.
Continuous game mode is generally a sandbox style gameplay. You can choose all aspects of gameplay, including end-game goals (if you choose those, then I guess it isn't really continuous, but still...). Generally this is gameplay without a story line. You play and build your empire, and you defend against Corsairs and race other empires towards the good islands. Eventually I find that I will run out of land, or need a resource which is located only on land owned by another empire, and I will attack them...
The Campaign game is amazing so far. I have not finished it all, as in tradition with the rest of the game, it can be pretty epic. But the story is great, and it is very playable. You really do get into it, and feel like you are one of the characters.
Scenario games are in about the same mode as a Continuous game. Except they already have set goals and such. There are 6 scenarios ranging from very easy (named Elector) where you have to settle 5,000 Inhabitants worldwide (2,000 of those must be Noblemen), and accumulate 150k Gold; To very hard (Imperator) which requires you to be the last survivor, Secure all attainments, Build an Imperial Cathedral and a Sultan's mosque, accumulate 1 million gold, settle 10,000 Envoys, and 10,000 Noblemen worldwide, Complete 15 quests for the Sultan or Emperor.
One of the most difficult things I had to figure out was how to get my Civilians to advance to Patrician level. Therefore I made notes when it happened as to what was needed.
A bit about Ascension Levels:
Ascension levels are a interesting addition to the game. I really do enjoy the challenge they offer. They can be confusing however, and especially frustrating if you are unsure what exactly the requirements are for each level to advance. Therefore, I have compiled a list of each level I have reached so far, and what I have found the requirements to be. Note: You do require specific populations in order to advance, and there needs to be sufficient population in every level in order to advance. You can see how many slots are available to advance in the Marketplace.
To reach Civilian level, your Peasant houses must meet all the goods requirements, and be within the area of a Chapel and a Marketplace. Your tax level for Peasants must be as low as possible, causing your peasants to be "Ready to advance" or "Euphoric". Also, each house that advances, will cost 1x Wood and 1x Tools.
To reach Patrician level, your Civilian houses must meet all the goods requirements, and be within areas of influence of a Marketplace, Tavern, and Chapel. Also, your Civilian tax level must be as low as possible, in order for them to be happy enough to advance. On top of that, you need 1x Wood, 1x Tools, and 4x Stone in order to advance a single house. Not to mention your Civilian houses must be completely full population wise in order to advance.
To reach Noblemen level, your Patrician houses must meet all the supply requirements. As well as population requirements. Additionally, you must have 3xGlass, 3xStone, 1xWood, 1xTools per house. Also, your Patricians must be taxed in the lowest possible tax bracket for them to advance.
A quick note about Quests:
In this game questing seems to make sense. You will often have allies, townsfolk, the Sultan, or the King ask for your help with various matters. I try to keep one ship, usually my Flagship handy in order to respond to quests. Often then will require shipping something somewhere. Sometimes they range from treasure hunts, which you need to bring supplies in order to complete, to finding a criminal who is loose in your city and extraditing him to your allied neighbors city. Often quests will require some minor or even intense combat.
Most quests are timed, and will time out after a set time. There is no penalty for not completing them however. But as quests will give you money (often) reputation and items, they are useful to complete.
As I mentioned above, some quests deal with finding people in your city. Finding people. - in a city!.. It seems daunting to have to search for people in the city, but it really is not that hard. First of all, if you click on the quest, there should be a blip on your map which shows where it is located. If you zoom in there, just look for people with blue outlines around their character. These will be the people you need for your quest. Click on them with your mouse and they will be sent to your warehouse. From there, they are handled like cargo.
Naval battles are fairly straightforward. Send in ships to attack other ships. If you right click on the enemy ship from anywhere in the world while you are selecting your ship(s) your ships will seek out and destroy the enemy ship.
Land battles are a little more difficult. Firstly, you will need a castle. The castle is where you produce your troops. You first produce them on your island, and then you can move them into the water. Each group will create its own unarmed transport boat, and you can sail it to an enemies island.
In order to land on an island, you will sacrifice one group of troops in order to create a small castle on the edge of the water. This will act as your beachhead. From here you can deply transport ships onto the land, and troops will set up their land encampments.
Be careful not to advance too far. Fighting does take its toll on troops, and since they are kind of expensive, you do not just idly throw your troops into battle if you wish to win. Patience and strategy is best practiced. As for towers and city walls, use Trebuchet's and Canon's from as far away as possible in order to slowly take towers down. Taking a Tower down with footsoldiers is nearly impossible.
As for your foot soldier groups, I will generally pair up one or 2 small soldier groups with one large group. The small groups will be assigned to assist the larger groups. To take over buildings like warehouses, simply send your solders to encamp near it or attack it, they will then try to take it over.
Commanding your troops is not very difficult at all. Note that when a unit is defending its own position, it can not move. But if your troops are attacking, you will be able to withdraw them and move. I think the commands for troop control are simple enough to go without explaining them.
Battles can be economically very hard on your empire. Be sure to have a lot of reserve gold, and a lot of extra goods in storage. You will likely need more then one wave of troops in order to successfully take over an enemy island. Honestly, as in the real world, avoid them at all costs.
Technically, the game runs very nicely. I have an Intel Core2 Quad Q6600 @3.40GHz with 2.5 gigs of DDR3 RAM. I am using a GeForce 9800 video card. After 80 hours of play I only had one crash, and that was after a session of play where the game had not been turned off (left in pause overnight) for a good 48 hours. Remember to set your game to automatically save your game every half hour or so (this is easy to do).
The graphics are stunning. Watching a sandstorm violently blow sand against a palm tree is amazing, as is watching the wind blow over your trees and crops in giant waves. The sun gleaming off of the water is an extra nice touch as well.
Sound quality is fantastic. I often listen to the game with headphones, and while hovering over my city I hear the background noise, and actually think that there are people out on the street outside my house talking.
The only thing that I dislike, is that when you slow the game down to Slow Mode, it will slow down your mouse response and everything as well. I suppose this is so that you cant use Slow mode to an advantage in order to quickly build things, but it just seems silly.
The interface is remarkable as well. You can drag and drop items into interface locations easily. The right click menu is completely customizable as is the tally at the top of your screen on your supplies, and the toolbar at the bottom. I only wish that you could save a layout so that it gets used the same in your next game.
I often find that I will drag my Lumberjack's Hut, Cider farm and Hemp farm (along with other farms and gathering industries) into the tool bar at the bottom. You can expand this tool bar in options to make it 2 rows instead of 1. Once you drag something to the bottom toolbar - you will have access to the "Action Archive" (which can also be accessed by pressing F11) which will allow you to speed up, or slow down the game. You can also preform quick saves here and scroll through your ships and warehouses.
This is a game for those who like Epic game-play. If you are looking for a quick game, one that can be completed in half an hour or so, then this game is likely not for you. Otherwise, this is a hardcore RTS'ers dream. Some may say that combat could or should be improved, however I find that it is just right.
I would like to see the addition of a map maker / scenario editor which allows players to create whatever they want. Multiplayer mode would also be nice, but the game is fun even without it. The AI seems to actually be fairly decent.