Review: Dawn of Discovery (Nintendo Wii)

Dawn of Discovery
Developer: Keen Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: City Building, Real Time Strategy
Release Date: 06/23/09

Dawn of Discovery. You know, I actually pitched Dawn of Discovery as a WB teen drama ten years ago. It starred Robin Tunney as Dawn Pennywhistle, assistant to the public defender. She was in charge of sorting through all of the prosecution’s evidence against their client prior to the trials. Man, it was going to be so good. But then Earl Holliman backed out to make Nightman, and the whole thing just fell apart.

Keen Entertainment has obviously stolen my intellectual property, and tried to hide this blatant fact by throwing in some pirates. FOR SHAME!

1. Story/ Modes

Story, story. . . Let’s read the manual and see what that says:

“Avast! Well matey, how “Ëœbout that, a land lubber tryin’ t’ soon set sail. Ya think you can manage? How “Ëœbout me showin’ ya some basics, hey. Someone has t’ take care o’ ya.”

Dear God, no. Let’s never read a manual again. Never.

In Dawn of Discovery you play as King George”Ëœs son. The year is 1404, and your kingdom is low on food. The king sends you and your prickish brother out to settle some of the uninhabited islands, set up a colony with a food surplus, and send some food to him. To aid you on your quest, Georgey-boy saddles you with a bean-counting fop, addled by motion-sickness, and who seems to derive sexual pleasure through taxation. Right away, you also meet up with a somewhat populist lady explorer. These two would seem to fulfill the roles of devil on shoulder/ angel on shoulder, except that they usually advise the exact same thing (albeit for differing reasons). Once you pay the king his tribute in food, he’s going to want a tribute in hemp. I guess the kingdom ran low on the sticky-icky.

As those of you who have read If you give a Pig a Pancake already expect, soon this king starts running low on supplies left and right. Your loudmouth jerk of a brother brags about how fast his civilization is growing, and how big his tributes are. Your own character whines something about the good of the people.

It was at that point I realized two things.

1) I hate all these characters and their stupid faces.

and

2) The story mode is an interminable training level and an endless and frustrating guide on how to play the game. It’s one of those things where half of your denizens’ houses burn down, and your “advisors” question why you didn’t build a fire station earlier.

Well, jerks, you wouldn’t let me build a fire station earlier. You only let me build lumberjack huts and grain farms and such.

All in all, the story mode is virtually no fun. It’s work. You’ve got people constantly telling you what to do, subjects whining about needing a chapel or a dairy or some such nonsense, and a dill hole brother bragging about his aristocrats. It’s like some sort of nightmare office job, except you don’t get paid and you don’t get to go to Dave and Buster’s when Maryanne from the Accounts Payable department decides to take that job in Utica to be closer to her invalid step-sister.

As an atheist with libertarian leanings, the last thing I want to do is build a goldurn chapel for a bunch of slack-jawed peasants. How can you let your house catch on fire? You live next to the ocean!

Thankfully, you can skip the story mode altogether and just use the continuous play mode. With continuous play, you can play around with your settings before you build your colony. For instance, you can dictate to some extent how much money with which you start, the size of the islands, the fertility of the islands, the amount of disasters you will face, the amount of pirates(?!) in the seas, the size of the world itself, who your rival is going to be, and so forth. Keen has even included a random button if you would like to leave such things up to chance.

2. Graphics

As a whole, the Dawn of Discovery‘s graphics would be slightly above average were it a ten year old PC game. The game’s cut scenes tend to be static 2-D cartoons with moving camera work. The artwork of the characters is clean and pleasant and evocative of a more serious version of a Don Bluth movie. The designs are competent, though far from being unique, memorable, or remarkable.

Since we view most of the gameplay from a godlike position in the heavens, nothing is particularly impressive. Overhead view rarely are. Thankfully, different buildings are distinct, such that one can easily tell a hemp farm from an herb farm and a church from a chapel.

In a strategy game, you don’t need much more.

Though I will share this quibble. The game lacks a sense of scale. Sections uninhabited by people tend to have animals running around. All of the game’s animals look to be about the same size, whether they be raccoons or cows. I don’t want my people living on an island with giant procyonids running around.
dawn-of-discovery-wii-02

3. Sound/ Music

The music is pleasant, though sometimes absent. I can remember bits and pieces of the game’s theme, but it is far from an earworm.

Dawn of Discovery contains a decent amount of sound effects. Markets and quarries sound as they should. The citizens moan when you raise taxes and “ah” when taxes are lowered.

The voice acting is adequate. Were your daughter in a junior high production of Into the Woods you wouldn’t be embarrassed by line reading this adequate. It is full of adequacity. It’s only mostly annoying.

4. Control / Gameplay

This is basically a point-and-click style game. It should be an easy control scheme with which to work, yet some problems exist. First and foremost, most of the button configuration is counter-intuitive, or poorly conceived. To scroll from one section of a colony to another, you are supposed to hold “A” to plant your hand on the map, and move the map in the opposite direction of where you want to go. While this may or may not make sense, moving the map becomes quite difficult in that there are things all over this map that can be clicked on by means of pressing, you guessed it, “A”. You want to look at the east side of the island, but the game keeps telling you that your dairy farm is running at 85% capacity.

Now, say you want to save your game. What would you press first? Me, I think “+”. Nope, that zooms in and “-“ zooms out. So, next try one of the menus. Nope, not in the management menu. Not in the logbook. Hmm. Trial and error eventually revealed that the button in question is “2”, which will open the pause menu and allow for saving the game.

Really? “2”?

Pressing “B” opens the construction menu. If your cursor is over a building, road, or what have you, pressing “B” copies that which you are over. You want to open the construction menu to demolish a chapel? Too bad, you just copied a public bath and accidentally placed it over half of your logging area. Good work, dipstick.

Copying has other problems as well. Most of the times that I tried to copy a road, I ended up copying what was near the road. The gloved hand that functions as the cursor doesn’t actually point to things with its tip of the pointer finger, but rather the first knuckle.

Even the menus tend to be counterintuitive. Menus are often unclear as to meaning, and often illogical in terms of content. Without playing very far in the story mode, I decided to try the infinitely more interesting continuous play mode. I inhabit an island with the proverbial gold in them thar hills. So I look in my various construction menus to see how to build a gold mine.

Nothing.

I see an Ore mining option, so I try to build one of these on my golden mountain. No dice. Hours and hours of gameplay later I find out in which menu I can find my gold mine. Garments.

Garments.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

As for the gameplay itself, it is quite a lot of fun, provided you don’t have your heart set on actually playing anything. The entire game is strategy, set-up, and wait and see. You found a colony, and build some houses for pioneers. If you provide for the pioneers, they level up and become settlers. Settlers need more stuff, but pay more taxes. If the settlers are taken care of, they become citizens, who need even more stuff. If the citizens get their spices and pottery and all that junk, they will level up to be patricians. Patrician are an even bigger pain in the buttocks. You need to build them parks and such if you want them to evolve into the aristocrats. The aristocrats want theatres and parks and are always performing lewd acts with their families and dogs.

I often found myself keeping spice off my island so that my citizens couldn’t become obnoxious patricians. I felt bad about being “the man” keeping these poor people down, but such is the cross to bear when you are “Whitey”.

Your city levels up as well. You start off as a fishing village at level 0. At level 1, you advance to being a sea port. Level 2 is a trading town. 3 is a cultural center. 4 is a capital city (My home sweet swinging home!). Finally, level 5 is a metropolis.

Each time your city levels up a man from “the orient” offers you a prize. Though early prizes can be a bit underwhelming with such offers as establishing trade routes to the orient or learning how to build a teahouse.

dawn-of-discovery-wii-03

The game also offers a military mode, wherein you can build barracks to protect your island, or build battleships to attack the neighbors. Generally speaking, you will be too busy making sure that there are enough rat catchers around and that the locals get enough herbs to have time to be an awesome pirate.

Man, that’s sad.

5. Replayabilty

I’ve been hard on this game so far, but it does offer quite a lot in terms of replayability. There are countless islands on which to explore and build. There are numerous ways to customize your experience from adjusting the amount of money you start with, to tweaking the location of your date farm. It is easy to get lost in making up a new world , and there are multiple avatars and four save slots per avatar to save these worlds and come back to them later.

6. Balance

The game coaches you a lot on how to play it. In fact, the whole story mode is basically just a tutorial. Sadly, the unintuitive control scheme and often overly complex gameplay requires such a thing. If you don’t have a lot of strategy experience, you can expect to lose a lot of pioneers to fires, faming and the plague.

But in a general sense, the learning curve is smooth. The more your civilization advances, the more difficult the game becomes. It’s quite rewarding then, to advance even further.

7. Originality

This game is a sequel (of Anno 1701) in a well tread genre. City-simulation games have been around since 1982’s Utopia. I dare you to go to Target, swing a dead cat in the PC game section and not hit a city simulation (or similar) game. You know, before security hauls you off or you catch some sort of dead kitty disease like distemper.

8. Addictiveness

It is easy, ridiculously easy, to lose three hours to this game. I can build up an island, see how I could’ve done things better, start again from scratch, layout a different grid system, maximize the position of my church, and so on. It’s the sort of situation that when things are running smoothly, I just want to keep the game running, while I go make a sandwich or do other things.

You know, playing Dawn of Discovery is sort of like watching an infant. You set it up, and keep an eye on it to make sure nothing bad happens, but it doesn’t really demand your undivided attention.

9. Appeal Factor

The box art makes this game look like those weird, vaguely European, action figures that you find in those uppity, vaguely European, toy stores. You know, like the sort of toys a private school teacher would buy for her kids?

Is that appealing?

10. Miscellaneous

Problems aside, the game can be strangely addictive. There are a ton of different things you can do, and a world of customizability. Walmart and Deep Discount sell this game for under 20 bucks. There is definitely 20 dollars worth of game here. Especially when compared to the $50 PC version of Dawn of Discovery that contains the dreaded DRM.

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Below: Mediocre
Sound: Enjoyable
Control/Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Good
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Dawn of Discovery has a lot to do with taxes.
– Hey, I got an uncle lives in Taxes.
No, I’m talking about taxes – money, dollars!
– Dollars! There’s-a where my uncle lives! Dollars, Taxes!
This game is far from perfect, but fans of the genre should be able to find their $20 worth here.

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