ANNO 1404 – DAWN OF DISCOVERY: A Historical Stop for City-Building Game Lovers (REVIEW)

Anno 1404 – Dawn of Discovery is a city-building PC game published by Ubisoft (the publisher of Far Cry and Assassins’ Creeds) and released in 2009. This city building game belongs to Anno game series.

Nowadays, games on PlayStation, Xbox, and other game consoles are quite popular. However, if you want to experience some games of good graphics and stories on PC, you should definitely try Anno 1404.

While Anno 2070 features futuristic megacities, this 1404 and 1404: Venice version concentrates on old-time medieval and renaissance designs and concepts. These include the Crusades, the Corsairs, and so on. If you like city simulation games and love to see historical medieval buildings, this game is for you.

A flag ship at Lord Northburgh’s harbor (real game scene, not an art)
A flag ship at Lord Northburgh’s harbor (real game scene, not an art)

1. Anno 1404

  • Game genres: city-building simulation, strategy
  • Platform: PC
  • Network connection: required in multiplayer mode
  • Multiplayer: Only with the Venice expansion
  • Minimum system requirements: minimum Windows XP, processor Pentium 4 3GHz or comparable, graphics  DirectX9-compatible graphics adapter with 128 MB RAM.
  • Age rating: 7+
  • Easy to play: the tutorial system is not so good. It may be difficult for a beginner to figure out how things work in the game.

If you have a good graphics card and powerful computer, the game graphics will look more breathtaking. However, if your computer is not strong enough, settings graphics to Medium will increase the performance.

2. Anno 1404: Game Plot

The game opens up a busy world with markets and harbors trading. The concepts of Anno 1404 can be understood in three perspectives:

A City-building Strategy Game

You are a king who builds up an empire by acquiring different islands and constructing architectures. Also, you need to build a prosper society that delights your citizens.

Like any other building games, you have to build citizen houses, public services (such as fire stations and churches), different kind of farms and factories to provide food and drinks, army buildings, and so on.

Interestingly, you need to find spaces to build the necessary buildings. So, you have to acquire more than one island and make sure they are big enough!

An Economic Simulation Strategy Game

Though your citizens, you can get Gold from Tax.

The higher social class the citizens are, the more Tax they will give you.

Also, the happier the citizens are, the more Tax they are willing to pay.

A game screenshot from Anno 1404 in bird-eye view: Peasants move in because they are happy.
A game screenshot from Anno 1404 in bird-eye view: Peasants move in because they are happy.

On the other side, if the citizens are of high social rank, you have to provide them more luxury items in order to keep them happy. But, you also have to pay more to produce those expensive items.

This game requires you to calculate a lot in order to stay balanced. You need to make sure that the Gold you generate can pay for the buildings you are having. Simple saying, income has to outweigh expenses. When you see that there is a minus from your balance sheet, you are in trouble.

A Quest-based Strategy Game

An easy scenario’s winning criteria
An easy scenario’s winning criteria

Win or lose, based on the criteria of each game scene. With different game scenes, you have different tactics to win.

For example, if the game scene requires raising more than 2,000 Noblemen, you need to concentrate on your economic with medieval cities. But, if the winning criteria are set on Envoys, you need to promote the Oriental society.

Likewise, if the game scene concentrates on army combat, you need to have different strategies to promote your own armies and maintain the relationship with your neighboring kingdoms until you have enough power to be against them.

3. Parties Involved in Anno 1404

The Citizens

Your citizens are people who live in your islands (both Medieval and Oriental islands).

In the Medieval society, the people are separated into different social ranks. They are  Peasants (lowest), Citizens, Patricians, and Noblemen (highest).

You will start the game with Peasants. Then, they can be upgraded to Citizens, then Patricians and Noblemen if you provide enough what they need and make them happy. Only happy citizens move up the social rank.

The same principle goes to Oriental islands with two ranks: Nomads and Envoys.

The Beggars

Time to time, there will be a ship of beggars approaching your islands asking for food and shelter. Your citizens don’t like them, but they will help you to acquire more citizenship upgrades. They require as much food and drink as Peasants, but don’t give you any Gold directly.

If you don’t host them, they will become bandits later and attack your islands.

Also, you can build them an Alm’s house that they don’t need to beg for money on the street.

The Orient (Grand Vivier Al Zahir) and Lord Northburgh

They are your first trading partners, and they are always kind and helpful. They will be forever your partner and never attack you. Additionally, they always provide you quests that give you some Gold or items in exchange.

You can buy items from them. But, some items are only sold by one party and the prices are also different.

The Corsairs

They are Pirates that navigate on the ocean sinking other ships and demanding money. Their leader is Hasan Ben Sahid.

When you accidentally find their islands on the ocean, they will start demand Gold from you every 30 minutes. You can pay, or you don’t.

If you choose not to pay, the Corsairs ships will fire at your ships every time they see you (and of course you have to fire back if your ship has cannons). However, after shooting down their ships 30 times, they will offer you a quest. When you complete the quest, the Corsairs will never demand money nor fire at your ships anymore.

However, the Corsairs can also be an Ally. If you agree to pay, you can trade with them. After 30 times of payment, they will offer you the last quest and then become your Ally forever.

The Neighboring Kingdoms – Friends or Foes

Anno 1404 NPCs (non-player characters) are pretty interesting. They are computer players with different characteristics. Some always like to have war while the other prefers to live in peace.

Additionally, players like Guy Forcas and Baronessa Zanchi are always unpredictable. Although they are on a bad side, you never know when they declare war against you or when they start demanding money to maintain Peace.

List of Anno 1404’s NPCs

Trading partners:

  • Lord Northburgh
  • Grand Vivier Al Zahir
  • Giacomo Garibaldi (Anno 1404: Venice)

Pirates:

  • Hassan ben Sahid

Other kingdom’s leaders:

  • Leif Jorgensen (easy)
  • Hildegard von Lewenstein (easy)
  • Willem van der Mark (easy)
  • Marie d’Artois (medium)
  • Sir Gavin Langton (medium)
  • Helena Flores (medium)
  • Guy Forcas (medium)
  • Baronessa Constanza Zanchi (hard)
  • Cardinal Lucius (hard)
  • Giovanni di Mercante (hard)

4. Navigation on the Ocean

A harbor in Anno 1404
A harbor in Anno 1404

You can have as many ships as you can afford. There are three main types of ships:

  • Flag Ship: the first ship that Lord Northburgh gives you to be able to navigate on the Ocean and find the first suitable island to settle on.
  • Cargo/Trading Ships: ships that carry goods and special items. These ships mostly travel back and forth among your islands to bring special goods to the production factories. Cargo Ships can’t fire at other ships and will drop flotsam after they are destroyed.
  • War Ships: ships that are equipped with Cannons. They are mostly used for escorting Cargo Ships or completing quests that require sinking other ships.

You can upgrade your ship (for example Speed) with items bought from Lord Northburgh with Honor (the prize you got after reaching a milestone in developing your cities, or after finishing a quest).

After setting up routes for the Cargo Ships, they will automatically navigate among your islands. So, you don’t need to manually tell them what to do every time.

5. Quests

Time to time, you will receive quests by your Allies Kingdoms, or by your citizens in exchange for Gold or items, and Honor. Every quest has a deadline time (usually 30 minutes). If you don’t finish the quest in the given time, that quest will disappear. That also means you don’t get anything even if you complete it later.

Some common quests are:

Find a person/ many persons on your island

This quest requires you to zoom in the city and observe carefully. Once you find a person with a blue border, click on him/her and that person will be transferred to your Storehouse. Then, you have to bring them back to whoever requested that person.

Pickup Flotsams

Flotsams are the cargo crates that dropped from wreckage ships. They float on the ocean and contain certain commodities. Very often, your allies will ask you to pick several Flotsams for them.

On other hands, if you travel on the ocean and find a flotsam, you can pick up and have the commodities for yourself.

Sink a Ship

On the map, there is an enemy ship that you need to destroy. If you don’t see the location, just hover your mouse on the quest again. Then, a blinking point will appear to shows you exactly the position of the ship you need to sink. Simple navigate there and shoot them down.

After that, a flotsam contains a white flag will drop to the ocean from the enemy ship. You need to bring that flotsam back to the quest owner as a proof of quest completion.

Just a small note: remember to approach the enemy ships with your warships, or else it will fire you down.

Escort Friendly Cargo Ships

Often, you will be requested to escort a friendly ship to travel on the ocean safely.

On the way, there will be enemy ships approaching and try to fire the cargo ships down. You have to protect the ships by shooting the enemies. However, you don’t need to destroy the enemy ships, just need to fire them to a level that they are in such a heavy damage that they move slowlier. That way, they never catch up with the speed of the cargo ship.

When the cargo ship safely goes out of the map vision, there will be a flotsam that you need to pick up and bring back to the quest owner as an evidence of quest completion.

And there are more interesting quests that you can explore when playing the game.

6. Armies and Combats

The game focuses more on city building, economic stability and growth, so in my opinion, their combat system is quite strange and hard to master.

You might find yourself in the situation of attacking (or defending) against other kingdoms when there is a conflict between you and an NPC. This relationship is also one of the best features in Anno 1404.

A sea battle in Anno 1404.
A sea battle. Photo source: Anno 1404 Wiki

So, if you are confident that you don’t get war (for example in Easy Mode), there is no need to build up armies. However, if you are in Difficult Level, having a strong and powerful army is important.

To have an army, you need to generate a good income of Gold to support that. Then, you need to have powerful warships, ground troops, and other war buildings. It is better that you prepare those first before declaring wars with other people. After declaring war, both sides will be able to attack each other.

The first time I declared war against other people, at once all my maps blinked with red points informing that I was under attack. It was a quite frustrating yet interesting experience.

7. Anno 1404: Venice

Anno 1404: Venice is an add-on/expansion pack to the game. The story plot, quests, and characters are the same. Additionally, in this add-on, there are short quizzes that you can finish in a shorter time (maybe Ubisoft afraid that people spend too much time playing the game?). In this expansion pack, players are able to perform some political actions such as spying on other kingdoms or buying seats to gain ruling rights in other player’s islands.

Venetian city in Anno 1404: Venice.

Also, this version introduces Venetian culture and their landlord Giacomo Garibaldi. Giacomo Garibaldi is another trading partner that will always be friend with you besides Lord Northburgh and Al Zahir.

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