Review: Anno 1404 / Dawn of Discovery

Store page / Steam review unavailable

Like a lot of Anno fans now, I came at the series a bit backward, starting with 2070. It goes back quite a bit further than 1404, this one being the fourth installment of the inexplicably-named series. There’s a lot of debate over which is better, 1404 or 2070, because of how very close they cut to each other. I don’t think I’ll be settling that debate here, but I will be telling you about a wonderful little city-builder that’s easy to lose hours to.

As you might have guessed, Anno 1404 is set during a fictional period in the Renaissance, at a time of discovery, expansion, and war. In the eight-mission campaign, the Cardinal has ordered a crusade against the Orient and you become caught up in a (pretty straightforward) web of intrigue and betrayal. Each mission charges you with forming a colony across several islands, balancing residents and their needs against your industries and their costs. The campaign does an excellent job of easing you into all the aspects of the game, allowing you to tackle the challenges of each mission at your own pace.

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The core of every Anno game is supply chains, and 1404 is certainly no different. Your residences pay taxes and expect certain goods like food, drink, clothes, and so on to prosper. Those taxes pay the upkeep costs on your industries that supply these needs, as well as those that generate construction materials, warships, and more. Space on each island is limited and resources are split across different islands, so setting up automated trade routes between lands soon becomes necessary. It won’t take too long to figure out the proportions of each good needed, and you’ll soon have your islands bustling with growth and commerce.

Characters during missions may make special requests of you, and can also be traded with. There are a few hidden missions as well, found by clicking on specific buildings or citizens, but really most of your time will be consumed by organizing your islands for optimal growth. After the introductory scenarios, 1404 requires you to grow two separate communities in parallel, the Occident and the Orient. Both require resources that can only be produced by the other, so you’ll always be growing across multiple islands.

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This is the big point that cools me a little on 1404 as compared to 2070, honestly. Instead of having the choice of the Global Trust or Eden Initiative for every scenario, you’re always going to building Occident and then Orient. The supply chains in 1404 are more complex but building the same ones every game is a bit of a drag by comparison. If you’ve played a lot of 2070 then the absence of elements like the Ark, underwater development, and ecobalance will be more than a little noticeable as well. You’ll also have to make do without the council votes, daily missions, or customization options those bring.

1404 is by no means a bad game, in fact it’s still one of the more relaxing and engaging city-builders I’ve had the pleasure of playing. But it does suffer if you’ve played 2070 first, simply in lacking the same breadth of content. If you prefer the Renaissance stylings to sci-fi future then this is the title for you, because the buildings and landscapes are rendered in loving detail. The sound design is just as good too, with plenty of creaking ships and clattering carts. If you’re new to the Anno series there’s no reason not to start here, and for veterans from the future you’re still likely to find some familiar fun.

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