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Dawn of Discovery

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, Wii
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Blue Byte / Keen
Release Date: June 23, 2009


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Wii Review - 'Dawn of Discovery'

by Dustin Chadwell on Aug. 2, 2009 @ 2:47 a.m. PDT

Set in the Orient, Dawn of Discovery offers a richness of features never before seen, bringing the ANNO series to a new level. Exploring a strange and fascinating island world in the utmost East, players will get to know the culture and technology of the ancient Orient while learning the tricks of local trade, diplomacy and economy in order to build their own metropolis.
Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery is a new real-time strategy title for the Wii, and it's a slightly different take on the PC version that was released at the same time.  It's also a pretty unique and interesting RTS, though it's not particularly comparable to other like-minded titles, like the Civilization series.  The game is also available on the DS, and although I've played a bit of it, I prefer the Wii iteration the best (having not played the PC title yet), and since the system is nearly devoid of RTS titles, it's definitely worth checking out.

Dawn of Discovery on the Wii drops the ultrarealistic renderings from the PC iteration in favor of a slightly more colorful and cartoonish aesthetic, but one that works well on the Wii hardware.  It certainly does a great job of masking any hardware deficiencies that might stem from the system, with easily identifiable units, buildings, and menu options; this takes away any need for guesswork as to what you're trying to look at or manipulate on-screen.

The Wii Remote acts as your mouse, and it's entirely possible to play the game without the Nunchuk accessory attached, but I wouldn't really suggest it.  The Nunchuk allows you to navigate the map much more easily than with just the Remote, which requires you to drag the screen along by holding down a button, as opposed to the simple scroll function that the Nunchuk allows. 

As the game begins, you'll notice that you have two modes available: story mode and another that basically acts as a free play mode.  I highly suggest doing the story mode, which is really prolonged tutorial; although it is a bit on the lengthy side, once you're done, you'll know everything you need to know about the game mechanics and how to make everything work.  Dawn of Discovery is a pretty involved title on the Wii, and don't let the cartoon style of the characters and world deceive you into thinking that it's not.  If you played the console versions of Sid Meier's Civilization, you might be in for a bit of a shock because although the art style is reminiscent of that title, the gameplay feels far more involved.

The title has a decent enough plot, featuring events from 1404, with King George being worried that his people are going to starve to death.  He sends out his two sons to cultivate islands to the south in the hopes of rebuilding his food reserves. You take on the role of one of the brothers, but you're always assigned to being the nice one, which is a slight disappointment.  I think it would have been interesting to take on the role of either brother, as I imagine both scenarios could have been different enough to make them worth replaying.  Basically, as the game progresses, the other brother becomes more antagonistic, far more unruly, petty and overall greedy than the kind-hearted soul who you control. 

You're introduced to more advisors and aides than you could possibly hope to use within a single game, and they all have pretty distinct roles to provide some assistance.  They'll also chime in at times with suggestions to improve your citizens' well-being, along with various goals that need to be finished before you can move on to the next chapter. 

As far as gameplay goes, Dawn of Discovery is heavily focused on building up a society and keeping your people happy, which is where my constant Civilization name-dropping comes into play.  At the outset, you'll have a small number of settlers to help you cultivate the land, along with some limited resources in the form of wood and stone.  From there, you'll start to build structures, usually beginning with your warehouse, which is generally provided at the beginning, a woodcutting facility, and a few basic needs for your settlers to stay happy, like food.  For the story mode, you'll have a supply of gold from the King, and if you happen to do a particularly bad job of managing it, you'll get more after some time, but in free play mode, you'll need to be more frugal so that you're not spending faster than you're earning. 

You can resupply gold through taxes, and you can simply hop into a menu screen to increase the tax level of your population, which is divided into the types of citizens you have.  The happier the citizen, the more you can tax, so you'll want to take a close look at their needs and make sure that they're being met.  Most citizens also have optional needs, and working on these ensures that you'll be able to keep your tax rate high without any form of revolt.  As you meet the needs of your citizens, they'll start to evolve into other class types, eventually ending up as aristocrats, who you can tax to high heaven to make a fair amount of cash. However, they're also a dastardly lot to keep happy, requiring an almost obscene number of elements in play before their basic needs are even met.

Dawn of Discovery's only real fault is that it's almost too complex in comparison to most titles on the system, and I think it'll have a difficult time finding an install base on the system, despite the low price point.  There's a lot of menu navigation, and things aren't always labeled or noticeable if you don't use them on a constant basis.  In particular, the build menu seems to involve some trial and error when it comes to remembering which house or structure is under a certain sub-menu, and even some basic things, like ensuring your citizens' well-being and managing taxes, tend to get bogged down in the menu design.  One other complaint comes from navigating the map, even with the Nunchuk attached.  Once you want to populate other islands and need to deploy ships, there's no easy way to have them automatically search out new land, and there's a lot of handholding involved from getting your ship from point A to point B.  They offer a waypoint system, where you can place a marker for a ship to follow, but you can't seem to focus on doing something else while the ship is in transit. The camera will always focus on the ship, which seems to negate the need for having the marker system in the first place.

Aside from those minor quibbles, I really enjoyed Dawn of Discovery, but keep in mind that if you're not already a fan of real-time strategy games, this game might not be the one to suck you in, especially not on a console.  It's certainly well-adapted, but the difficulty curve is pretty high, and I'm not sure that people will have the patience to go through the tutorial that's masked as a story mode.  However, if you're willing to stick it out, there's a ton of depth here that can keep you busy for hours on end, and it's a great value at $30.

Score: 8.5/10

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