Colonizing new lands and building a vast civilization from nothingness requires careful planning and management of resources to ensure a delicate balance is maintained to help your society grow and succeed.
While well-known games like SimCity and City Life have all but perfected the formula, the extreme level of detail and complexity that comes with running a fledgling civilization as it expands and changes can be a bit overwhelming for some players. Dawn of Discovery, a Wii adaptation of the Anno series on PC, takes a more gentle approach to creating and maintaining a prosperous virtual realm without sacrificing depth.
Despite a cartoonish delivery and distinct character design that makes it easily mistakable for a Disney-movie spinoff, Dawn of Discovery is very much the real deal. Its disarmingly kid-friendly appearance belies a complex economic system that fits together like an intertwining puzzle. Many other city-building simulations drop you into the fray with tons of options from the start and require you to play through numerous tutorials to grasp all of the necessary concepts. Dawn of Discovery plays like one big tutorial from the start, layering in new levels of detail only after you’ve had a chance to properly digest the previous course.
The game takes place in 1404, just as King George’s land is being ravaged by devastating droughts. With his citizens starving, he summons his two sons to explore outward into the realm beyond and seek the resources needed to save the people. As William, the more benevolent of the king’s two sons, you’ll seek a peaceful resolution to the problem and work to gain the friendship of cultures beyond your borders – an approach that contrasts sharply with the conniving, war-happy attitude of his brother Edward. Allying with foreign societies opens up tremendous opportunities for your people and helps you expand your empire. Meanwhile, you’ll also have to pick up your sibling’s slack, send resources to the homeland, and tackle new obstacles as they arise.
When embarking on the main, story-driven campaign, earlier chapters introduce you to the basics of constructing important buildings, their function in the game’s economy, and how to create the balance needed to make your towns thrive. All this is done while pursuing specific objectives that give you goals to strive for as you implement the suggestions dished out by your advisors. As you progress, more structures are unlocked and additional tasks are added on for you to manage. The first settlers to move in to your colonies only require housing, food, and a few other material resources, but more advanced resources and goods are needed to grow your settlement, entice wealthier residents to move in, and keeping everyone happy. With the right combination of food, crafts, education, sanitation, and building materials, your settlers will advance in their cultural level and fill your coffers with more gold – assuming you’ve taken care in the placement of your buildings.
Instead of populating large continents, all of the settling in Dawn of Discovery happens across small islands littering the ocean. Some islands offer varying levels of fertility for different resources, and all of the mini-colonies you form provide for your civilization as a whole. Building shipyards and vessels to travel between islands lets you claim new territories, hunt for sunken treasure, and eventually engage in limited warfare. New areas of the ocean can be unlocked to provide additional opportunities for exploration, by reaching certain achievements and uncovering treasure maps. The focus remains almost solely on building your settlements, pursuing objectives to advance to new chapters, and keeping your economy balanced. Combat doesn’t crop up until the later portion of the game and is mainly limited to building a small number of troops to defend your ports or shipping them out in boats to take over enemy shorelines. The “better late than never” approach doesn’t really fit very cohesively. The battling element seems almost unnecessary, since the other endeavors are absorbing on their own.
Whether cultivating the land or adventuring at sea, your advisors guide you every step of the way – to the point where you’ll want to throttle them before things are over. The handholding is incessant throughout the entire story mode, making it feel like a glorified tutorial. It’s helpful to have direction in moments of confusion, but being constantly reminded of what to do, how to do it, and where to go every 30 seconds eventually becomes tiresome as you get used to how everything works.
That said, the gameplay is very satisfying and enjoyable, even though the watchful advisors never let you out of their sight for more than a minute. Another nagging quibble crops up in the form of a curious vagueness in regards to certain crucial resources. For example, you never really know exactly how much food you have at any given moment; you’re only informed when there’s note enough to feed your citizens because they freak out. This nebulousness carries over into several other resources – something that might easily go unnoticed by newer players but is bound to bother RTS city building veterans.
All of the characters’ personalities are enhanced by good voice work done in mostly-believable accents. Aside from the repetitiveness of certain instructions that quickly devolve into irritating mantras, the audio dialogue in Dawn of Discovery saves the storybook-style cutscenes from being too simple and otherwise enhances the vividly-drawn character design that carries over into the pleasant look of the island countryside.
A much tougher continuous play mode nicely balances out the training wheels saddled onto the story mode. Additionally, a second player can direct a pointer around the map, place decorative bushes, and make fireworks shoot out from rooftops, but calling this limited interaction a two-player mode is a joke. Dawn of Discovery’s flaws are generally minor ones that won’t cause much of an issue for players attracted to the civilization simulation genre for the first time by the game’s all-ages friendly presentation. Looking past the concessions made to streamline the series for the Wii, the particular flavor of economy management this game provides is one you’ll want to keep going back for.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Delightfully designed buildings and scenery match the strong characters. 3.9 Control
The Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo make expansion effortless, thanks to a copy-paste building function, but jumping around between islands is a little unwieldy. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Pleasant voice work that grows grating the more it’s repeated. 4.2
Hand-holding aside, the story mode is really enjoyable and prepares you for the rigors of continuous play.
4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.