Anno 1503 - The New World
by EA Games
One of the biggest selling PC titles of recent times in Europe is Anno 1602. The game is a RTS but unlike Age of Empires or Cossacks (and too many others to mention) the game did not focus on combat. Beginning with only a small ship, some food and basic materials you set sail for an island of your choice and develop a community. The goal of the game was to develop your community to the highest status. In order to do this you'd need to trade with rival players or colonise other islands that were capable of producing the goods you need. You came under attack from pirates as you sailed the seas so it was essential to equip your ships with cannons. The AI opponents constantly reacted to how you played. If you decided to be aggressive then they too would develop armies and give you a taste of your own medicine. This style of gameplay allowed you to make the game what you wanted it to be, which was probably the key to its success.
Rather than take the series forward in time, Sunflowers have gone back 99 years and given us Anno 1503. If you've followed the development of the game ever since it was announced a few years ago you'll know that the biggest difference this time around is the varied cultures that are in the game. There are nine different cultures and 6 different climatic regions. Every island is not aesthetically the same as in Anno 1602. There are Eskimo, Aztecs, Bedouins, Africans, Native Americans, Moors, Mongols Polynesians and Venetians (who replace the free traders found in Anno 1602 and roam the seas buying and selling). All of these reside in a suitable climate so the Eskimos live on snow-covered islands for instance. These cultures can also be bartered with. These cultures not only make the game more visually pleasing but also more interesting too.
In many ways the gameplay is very similar to that of Anno 1602. The basics of the gameplay that applied before still apply here. Your civilisation needs to be profitable and in order to make it profitable you'll have to enable them to develop. Your people begin as Pioneers then progress to Settlers, Citizens, Merchants and finally, Aristocrats. To progress from one level to another, your people need certain items/facilities. When you've satisfied the needs of your people, they'll take materials from your warehouse and upgrade their houses to show you that they too have moved up the social ladder. You'll find that you can't construct certain buildings until you have a certain number of people at a certain level. This development process may seem a little complicated but it's actually a very gradual process that works very well.
Of course the first job you'll have is to settle on a suitable island. Each island that you colonise is only suitable for growing certain crops and will only have a few types of ore. As the game progresses it's essential that you trade with other islands whether that involves dealing with an AI opponent or bartering with other cultures. You could even colonise multiple islands if you wish, but that means a lot of micro-management. In order to trade with your opponents you'll have to issue trade agreements. Once this is done you can setup automatic trade routes so you can get on with other important tasks.
Research plays a large part in Anno 1503. In order to carry out research you have to build a school and later build a library and university. Research helps your people in many ways. The branches of research are Weapon Production, Military Enhancements, Naval Technologies, and Civilian Research. As you can see the research stays true to the fundamentals of the gameplay in that it allows you to develop your civilisation for prosperity and for military action. Some buildings can't be built until the appropriate research has been carried out. The library is an example of a building that must be researched before it can be built.
Combat played a minimal part in Anno 1602 and indeed by playing with peaceful intentions in Anno 1503 you can keep it that way. If you choose to go for the brute force approach though, or you attempt to colonise an island that is already inhabited, you'll find yourself at war. Anno 1503's military options are improved and include ranged and close combat units as well as war machines such as cannons and catapults. Your soldiers will even gain experience too. Be warned though keeping an army is an expensive job so make sure your economy can afford the cost. If you're expecting grand battles though forget it, as Anno 1503 isn't a war game. Military action is best used as a last resort and not a first option. Out on the ocean though, there is always a threat of pirate attacks so keeping well-armed ships is always a sound policy in order to protect those lucrative trade routes.
The game comes with numerous single player modes such as an open ended game, single missions and a campaign where each scenario increases the difficulty. The longevity of this title cannot be questioned as the single player elements alone will keep you busy for many months (of course the open ended games could go on forever). Out of the box the game doesn't have a multiplayer mode but the official website states that a patch is on the way that will enable a multiplayer mode for up to eight players.
Visually the game has more much style than Anno 1602. Part of the beauty of Anno 1503 is the new cultures and climatic regions that simply didn't exist in Anno 1602. The buildings, terrain and wildlife are all more detailed than before too. The series has remained in 2D but this is one type of game that moving to 3D would probably have meant a drop in the detail of the buildings and people. That said though, a 3D card is required as the game uses 3D terrain. As before the map can be rotated through four different angles and you can zoom in or out to allow you to see what you're doing.
Provision for deaf gamers in Anno 1503 is perhaps best described as adequate. The introduction isn't subtitled and the verbal content that is given before campaign missions isn't subtitled either. Whilst the speech is being given a summary of the objectives is displayed in text. The objectives can be recalled at any time by clicking the help icon and then clicking the tick (check) mark on the tabs that appear on the help menu. Throughout the game you'll receive verbal announcements that give you information on what your people are crying out for as well as other pieces of information. These messages aren't shown in text but an icon appears at the bottom left of the screen and if you put your mouse over these icons you'll receive the necessary information in text. You also receive unit confirmations when you give orders to your scout, for instance. These are verbal only but they don't really serve a purpose so their omission for a deaf gamer is no great loss.
Anno 1503 contains many subtle refinements over Anno 1602. If you enjoyed Anno 1602 then you will love Anno 1503. Those expecting drastic changes though will be disappointed. Personally I would have liked to be able to play as the different cultures. This would have given the game much more variation. However, the game play is still hugely enjoyable and the peaceful ambience of the game is perfect when you just want to relax and play away the hours.
Game Rating: 8.4/10