A Surprisingly Deep
Historical Strategy Title
I’m a total sucker for strategy games. Turn-based strategy titles like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics are among my favorite games ever, I still enjoy RTSs like Empire Earth many years after they’ve been released. Dawn of Discovery is one of the genre’s newest releases on the DS, and if strategy games are of particular enjoyment to you, then you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
While the strategy genre encompasses a significant number of modern releases, historical strategy games in the vein of the Total War series or Empire Earth are few and far between. Civilization Revolution is the only game that comes most readily to mind when thinking of historical strategy games on the DS, and that title was lacking in more ways than one.
Dawn of Discovery is known outside North America as Anno 1701, so this is not an entirely new series; that is to say, Sunflower Interactive knows what they’re doing in terms of strategy games. Dawn of Discovery on the DS is essentially a DS version of Anno 1701, obviously scaled to fit the DS. But for the most part, the development team has done a great job here adapting a PC series to the confines of the DS.
That said, while the DS may not be the most conducive gaming platform to deep, complex strategy games, Dawn of Discovery does an excellent job of adapting to the hardware and delivering a surprisingly entertaining strategy experience. The game has its fair share of quirks and problems, but none of these really feel attributable to the DS itself.
The game starts out with a pretty clever way of acclimating you to the game: a story mode. The story is quite lengthy (it took me more than ten hours to complete) and follows the son of a king as he attempts to help revive his faltering country. The story is surprisingly charming for what is essentially a very long tutorial. The game teaches you how to play by offering up specific objectives, each of which revolves around a new gameplay implementation or else teaches you how to manage the different layers of strategy that the game provides.
After you’ve completed the story mode, you start playing “for real” – that is, you’re left to play (indefinitely, by the way), building up towns, exploring new islands, harvesting new resources, interacting with other countries, and occasionally even entering into a battle or two. The game is, in the tradition of strategy games, fairly overwhelming, but the tutorial does such a great job that by the time you’ve got an entire civilization to manage you’ll feel comfortable with the game’s mechanics.
The bulk of Dawn of Discovery lies with forming settlements and then fulfilling requirements to increase the quality of these settlements. For example, your citizens will first start as pioneers; you’ll need to fulfill certain requirements to have them “level-up” to settlers. These requirements are mostly specific resources or buildings. Once you fulfill a set of requirements, the town will improve, your citizens will become happier and wealthier, and you’ll earn more money in taxes that can be spent on accruing new resources, exploring new lands, or starting entirely new settlements.
Gathering resources and producing goods is a matter of building facilities and assigning citizens to work. You can assign them to gather certain items, and as you advance in the game and gain access to newer technologies, you can process those items into new goods which work toward the improvement of the town or city.
Obviously, each facility requires gold to upkeep, so it’s important to be mindful of the kingdom’s economic well-being. It’s easy to get caught up in constantly improving one particular city, but this strategy is not a good one because it’ll leave other settlements floundering, without resources or the cash to gather them. The combination of macro-and micromanagement is a fun and addictive element of Dawn of Discovery.
While it’s lots of fun to watch your towns increasingly improve, it’s equally fun to manage high-level settlements. The more people and buildings you have in a town, the more opportunities there are for problems to break out. Keeping everything under control by building specific facilities (a hospital to deal with disease, for example) is just as fun as building up your towns.
Additionally, resource management has a far greater role than just allowing your cities to become bigger and better; many of them are also essential in keeping your population happy. For example, keeping food production up is essential for keeping your population happy and healthy. This is also where one of the game’s biggest strategic frustrations comes in, however. For the most part, Dawn of Discovery is good in giving you the information you need to make decisions. However, when it comes to processing resources, the game tells you the percent efficiency a facility is operating at but not how many people the facility can supply. As a result, you never really know for sure if a factory is going to be able to continue to provide for an increasing population, which leads to some annoying food shortages and disease outbreaks that aren’t really the player’s fault.
While I’m on the subject of problems with the game, it’s worth noting that the camera control is quite clunky for a game that otherwise manages to be pretty easy to navigate. Instead of using the D-pad or face buttons to scroll around the map, the action is assigned to the stylus; you hold the stylus on the edge of the screen to move in that direction. As a result, you’ll occasionally end up accidentally selecting people or facilities that you didn’t mean to select. I realize this is a fairly petty nit-pick, but it’s the single control problem in an otherwise well-controlling game.
Another slight disappointment is the very shallow combat in the game. Combat is obviously not a huge focus of the game, but fighting seems inevitable in a game like this and Dawn of Discovery doesn’t do it very well. There’s only one soldier type, and only one soldier facility (the barracks). This leads to some pretty boring battles essentially devoid of strategy. You can use ships to fight as well as explore, but they’re large, unwieldy, and time-consuming, and as a result aren’t really suited to anything other than searching out new lands.
Visually, Dawn of Discovery makes the most of what it has to work with. The graphics are cartoonishly appealing, but they belie a surprisingly deep resource-management set-up. More importantly, the game never really feels cramped and you can always see what’s going on.
I’d hazard to suggest that Dawn of Discovery is the most entertaining, engaging historical strategy title on the DS. Fans of the genre should definitely check this game out. Even if a game like Civilization Revolution didn’t quite do it for you, you’re sure to satisfy any strategic craving you have with Dawn of Discovery.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
They’re not particularly pretty, but they get the job done while keeping the small screen clear and uncluttered. 3.8 Control
Creating buildings and directing citizens is a fairly intuitive process. The only real control problem is dealing with the camera. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound doesn’t play a big role in this game, aside from setting some moods and providing background noise. 4.5
This game is surprisingly deep, plus there’s the fact that you can play indefinitely – no lame time restrictions here!
4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.