Anno 1404 also known as Dawn of Discovery in the US is a strategy game in the building sub-genre. So focus lies more on keeping your people happy and maintaining production chains rather than warfare, although it is still possible.
Setting & Plot Edit
Anno 1404/DoD is set in a pseudo medieval world were Europe and the Far East are made up of several isles in various sizes with both regions being strangely close to each other and every character being modeled after a historical person. The story in the campaign revolves around the Emperor, who has fallen ill with a disease. His cousin, Lord Northburgh, wants to build a cathedral to pray to God for the Emperors health, and enlists the Player's help to build a settlement to provide additional resources. All goes well until shady Guy Forcas, on the order of Cardinal Lucius, a mix between Palpatine and Pope Benedict, shows up, demanding support from Northburgh and the Player in order to prepare for a crusade against the Orient.
From then on the story becomes utterly predictable, but the plot in the campaign is less important that learning the game mechanics from it. It's essentially the tutorial.
In the beginning of a game you usually either start on an island with a full warehouse and no ship or with no island and just one ship full of wood and tools and have to find an island you find suitable. Once you have found one you start building houses to attract people and erect farms and manufactures to satisfy their ever growing needs. The happier your townspeople are, the more taxes they are willing to pay without rioting and leaving your city, plus, you need them to be happy in order to upgrade them to the next level, who will give you more money, but also want more goods and buildings in return. The more people come to your town, the more buildings you will unlock. Since one island is can not have the fertility for every crop or has all resources you have to expand to other islands and the Orient, which has unique goods that are yet desired from your people, and set up trading routes with your fleet. To access orient buildings you need to give gifts to the Grand Vizier, which will raise your diplomacy level with the Orient.
While Gold is as valuable as ever, the second "currency" is just as important, which comes in form of fame. About every character in the game will give you quests every now and then, consisting of saving castaways, providing goods, finding persons in your town "Where's Waldo?" style, and giving you goods, items and fame in return. Both Northburgh and the Vizier will have islands in the game, where you can buy and sell normal goods organized by civilization levels, as well as buying and selling items for the mentioned fame. Ships and warehouses can be equipped with items for various effects, be it e.g. regeneration or increased productivity of certain manufactures. More importantly, achievements of the Occident, Orient and the Pirates can be bought, which will increase the trading fleet of the specific faction or improve the ships you can build among others.
Besides the Occident and Orient (and Pirates, if you haven't turned them off) who will always be in every game, you can play with up to three AI players of varying difficulty. You can give or demand money, insult or suck up to them, just as you please. If all runs well trade contracts and treaties can be established, the latter being necessary for possible victory conditions or doing the quest chain of a character, or you can just declare war.
Combat is possible naturally on sea and on land. Waging war with ships works like in every RTS: selecting and attacking. On land however, combat is building based. You have to erect camps and provide them with rations to regenerate their health, while they'll shoot everything in their radius. Of course, moving camps is possible, even on to other isles, but it takes quite some time.
Aside from the campaign there are 6 scenarios (2 for each difficulty) build around various victory conditions (reaching a certain amount of people in your settlements, gaining enough gold, building monuments etc.) as well as a continuous play mode where you can fine-tune almost everything to match your personal desire for difficulty.
For those who want a challenge or who are simply bored, there is a fuckton of Achievements ala Steam or XBLA. Ranging from easy (spending two hours in total in far up close perspective, building every harbor related building in one game) to insane stuff (playing the game 500 hours in total, harboring 10000 tons of spice).
Every building is uniquely designed and comes with the usual nice to look at textures, shadows and lightning effects. Add to that really good looking water effects and your townspeople being lovingly detailed animated: they not only wander through town, but e.g. get drunk and start brawls, you can watch them work at the farms and manufactures as well. Hit F1 while playing a game and you can take a beautiful look in postcard view.
DRM controversy Edit
Anno 1404/DoD uses the TAGES copy protection and allows unlimited installs on 3 systems max. , and not just 3 installs in total. Be it of that misunderstanding or a general dislike for DRM, the game was heavily flamed just for that, despite of the actual good gameplay and reviews it got. On Amazon for example, the average rating was 2 stars out of 5, mostly coming from people who haven't even played the game.
The game was eventually cracked, although it is unknown whether the long time it took was because of the high quality of the copy protection, or because many crack groups just deemed it too niche a game to be worth their time. The long time without any working torrents lead to many proclaiming the game to be "uncrackable"
Practically, the DRM doesn't even show. You install, connect to the net, register, and period. You don't even need the CD after installing to play. If the three activations are used for whatever reason you can simply e-mail Ubisoft and the issue will be taken care of without any problems. There are reported rare cases in which the game refuses to boot though, due to mainboard incompability, since this is the part the program mostly decides on whether a machine is the same or not.
-ATI cards my face performance issues even if the PC should be able to handle it.
-You always have to take a rough stab at how well you people are supplied with goods. You have no info on the usage of them whatsoever, only the warehouse indicating whether a good is in- or decreasing in amount. And that already shows when you are just (de)loading ships.
-The influential radius of some required buildings (chapel, pub) is so small and uneven at the borders that you will have to build some relatively close to each other, making you wonder whether your people are really that lazy that they can't even walk one more street to it.
-The AI is sometimes a joke. When on the outlook for new islands to populate, enemy AI ships will seemingly stop at inhabited isles to take a gander at the nice cliff they can't land one. A whole enemy fleet might not notice that you are attacking one of it's members. Or settling on an island already inhabited by you and then being angry at you for some reason.
-Even if necessary, the quests given to you will annoy you after some time. So will the narrator telling you that one of you buildings has stopped producing. Luckily, that at least can be turned off.