Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery Review

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The DS has already become a platform with too many great games. By ‘too many’ I mean to highlight the personal and ultimately trivial tragedy that there are a lot of fantastic games on the DS that I will never play. This is made all the worse for a game like Anno 1701, which has slipped under the radar and is likely to be missed by a great many gamers who would definitely enjoy it. Like with Theme Park, Age of Empires & Sim City, Anno is a game originally released for a computer that has been ported to DS. Similar to Age of Empires, Anno has undergone some significant changes to fit on the handheld resulting in a well put together and entertaining game.

Despite having never played the original game on the PC, I was intrigued when Anno popped up on the DS release calendar. After getting more details on the game, I had pencilled it mentally for a look when released. As ‘Dawn of Discovery’ along with the year 1701 suggests, Anno is an empire building game set in the early 18th century. The object of the game is to settle islands around the Americas, build up civilisations, fend off attacks and ultimately come to dominate the new world. It takes elements from many games in similar genres, from economic management, military organisation, exploration and to some extent: political manoeuvring. The meat of the game however is all in building up towns, farms and mines and growing the populous while keeping everyone safe and happy.

Anno has three main modes – there is the story-driven mode involving several scenarios, a continuous play mode, and a wireless multiplayer mode. The story mode also acts as a tutorial for learning the basics and as you progress you will have to build new civilisations in different situations, while following a simple but still relevant story in which your queen competes with a rival monarch. During this time you are asked to do many different things from finding missing settlements to fending off pirates, all the while aiming to cement your dominance in the different areas for queen and country. The continuous play mode allows you to continue on one map and this is where experienced players can put all their work into building up a mighty civilisation.

Anno 1701 is played almost entirely through the touch screen with the only exceptions being for assigning and using hot keys or for pausing, saving and exiting. It is clear that a lot of effort has been put into making the game work on the DS. There is a sidebar allowing quick access to building menus, zoom functions and an over world map. The top screen is devoted to resource management, story events and other information related to your progress and objectives. Clicking and dragging comes into play a lot and without annoyances. Diagnosing problems with buildings or other issues is as simple as pointing the stylus and more detailed information is only ever one more click a way. Placing buildings involves selecting one from the side bar and moving the stylus to a desired spot and clicking an icon. Buildings can be duplicated quickly by selecting the same one and then the corresponding button. These are just some basics and it will almost definitely take some learning to get used to everything. Any experienced fans of the genre should have little problem learning to play, however.

As your civilisation expands and progresses, more and more options and gameplay elements are introduced. This is partially revealed through requests that your people make early on. When you start out, all they really seem to want is a church and food but as you progress they will want taverns, schools, and more and more luxuries as their tastes mature with their civilisation. All this should be followed to make them happy but you can also raise tax, demolish buildings and abandon settlements as you go. Exploration becomes a major part of the game but also has you encountering other settlements whether they are rival European colonists or natives wanting goods or to leave them alone. Building up a military is also important though it is a disappointingly simplistic part of the game involving filling soldiers into buildings and clicking to attack when your settlements are in danger.

Though this based on a recent PC game, no DS user should need reminding that the graphics and sound quality are nowhere near that level. The game is 2D and presented from a birds-eye perspective. There are some nice character animations in the cut scenes, with neat facial animations of characters and advisors. The buildings and landscapes have a decent amount of detail and your civilisation generally looks alive and busy with carts going up and down your roads, sheep moving around and either a happy or extremely agitated crowd at your town hall. The music suits the setting and is varied enough to suit different situations and scenarios. Anno is visually and audibly a step above most Game Boy Advance games and although nothing in particular stands out, nothing looks or sounds bad either.

The story mode isn’t particularly long and the multiplayer probably won’t interest too many but the game should last any fan of the genre a decent amount of time. It can be quickly stopped and resumed which is a significant advantage for a handheld game focused on extended play. I also found it fun but never too addictive which is another advantage that avoids tempting players to miss bus stops to continue their conquest. The continuous play mode is perhaps the best place for most to spend their time as there are multiple variables available to change to the type of play along with the difficulty.

Anno is a great little title that should (at the very least) build up a small but adoring community of fans. If you want to see an alternative reason why the DS is a great handheld; give Anno 1701 a look and a touch.

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