City building games have a long history on the PC, and I personally have a long history of playing them, I remember fondly games such as Caesar III, Zeus and Tropico. I played these games during a time before I became enamoured with the first-person shooter, city building games were for a long time the bedrock of my gaming experience. Once I discovered more action orientated games I left behind the world of city building, I would occasionally pay a casual glance at games like Imperium Romanum, but it was no more than a fleeting glimpse of what once was.
It wasn’t until I found Anno 1404, Dawn of Discovery to you in the Americas, that I rediscovered the joys of creating my own living breathing city. Well, I may be able to create a city, but I certainly can’t create an attractive one. As ever with games like this I end up creating an absolute mish-mash of a settlement with all kinds of buildings thrown together.
This edition of Anno features a story driven campaign mode unlike its predecessor 1701 which left it out altogether relying on its expansion to fill in with a story. As such you know going in to 1404 that you will be able to follow the relatively short campaign if you so wish, or just go ahead and start one of six pre-designed scenarios or create your own continuous game.
The campaign is enjoyable enough, your mentor Lord Northburgh guides you through the early levels and is at hand to help you along when needed; he is even present in the scenarios as a constant ally. I do have a few annoyances with the campaign, namely that when you progress from mission to mission, on the same island, you buildings all get reset to an AI pattern. Useful if you created a mess of things in the first place, but it does take away from the sense that this is really your city.
As you would expect there are a few different difficulty levels in the campaign, with each level your levels of starting goods and gold differ and you will find yourself posed with more goals to complete on the higher levels. You are also able to get more goals to complete by exploring the world you inhabit in each level, if you explore the map and find more AI characters you will often find that you can take missions from them. At the end of each campaign level you receive a score based on the number of objectives completed.
This all ties in with the ‘Gateway to the World’ side of the game, this lets you create an online profile through which you can share your screenshots, stats and various achievements and medals that you accrue through the various game modes. There are quite a number, 206 achievements and 20 medals, not to mention the 53 items of bonus content you can unlock.
If you avoid conflict in the game then your main goal will be to create a massive population spread across the variety of islands you will come across. Different islands have different fertilities, so if your citizens want to drink beer you may have to find an island that will let you grow wheat which is required to start the process of making beer. In this way you will find that you create a vast trading network with boats carrying goods from your production islands to the island which holds the majority of your population.
Trading extends beyond transferring goods between your separate islands; you can trade with the other characters such as Northburgh and characters from the Orient who occupy islands in the south of any map. If you want your citizens to advance to their top levels you will have to build on these Oriental islands which are primarily desert bound, but which have vastly different fertilities to your home lands. You will only learn how to build Oriental structures after becoming friends with the Grand Vizier.
Once you have unlocked all the buildings in the game across islands in the Occident and Orient you will find yourself positively drowning in things to build. This is where an eye for town planning comes in, as you can see from my screen shots most of my settlements are a mess, though I have seen numerous players build some lovely settlements.
At its heart Anno 1404 is a lovely game, I do have some niggles with it, when you plant farms you often have to press another button to get the fields to plant. There were some other things, but they weren’t big enough to mention. The game looks very nice and has a very deep layer of resource management and town planning, there is a lot to do if you want to complete it all, you’ll have to play for at least 500 hours if you want to get all of the medals.
This is a headshot, but with a provisio, if you don’t normally play city building games then check out the demo first. If you do like them, then buy this game, it really is a bit of gem.