IGN Review of Dawn of Discovery
Dawn of Discovery is a real-time city-building simulator in the same vein as SimCity, set in the year 1404 and revolving around the expansion of a kingdom beset by drought and famine. In an effort to save his people from slow and certain death, King George sends his two sons to explore fertile new territories around the nation's island neighbors. As Prince William, players take full control of this territorial expansion, managing everything from resource gathering to taxes to the training and deployment of military troops. There's a surprising amount of depth considering the title's kid-friendly art style and packaging, offering enough complexity and strategy for anyone seeking a quality simulation for Nintendo's dual-screened handheld.
Fortunately for new players, Dawn of Discovery's various complexities and hidden depths are more than adequately explained through an extensive tutorial, cleverly disguised as the title's Story Mode. Throughout seven chapters spanning several individual parts each, the developers at Keen Entertainment and Blue Byte Software have essentially created a 10 hour mechanics lesson, guiding players along from the earliest settlement to the juggling match of culture, production and military might necessary to be successful later on in the game.
There are only a few issues with the Story Mode, though they're substantial enough to warrant mention. The first is that some of the more complex mechanics, especially ones concerning resources like the shared resource stockpile and surplus stock meters, aren't explained well enough early on, forcing players to proceed blindly until they teach themselves or their colonies fall apart under the weight of objectives requiring specific skills and understanding. The second annoying design choice revolves around the artificial restriction of technological and city level advancement in the game's Story Mode, basing player progression on objective completion rather than meeting the advancement's actual in-game requirements. This is a minor beef, to be sure, but it's frustrating when you've worked for fifteen minutes to gather enough resources for a citizen upgrade, only to be denied that development simply because the game doesn't want to give you access to it until the next chapter.
After completing the nearly ten-hour narrative within Story Mode, Dawn of Discovery offers players a complete Continuous Play mode for a theoretically endless replay value. While a 10 hour tutorial seems excessive (and in some cases it is), it at least ensures players will be more than ready to dive headfirst into the relatively restriction-free environment of Continuous Play mode, allowing players to fully savor the deep and rewarding gameplay mechanics Dawn of Discovery offers.
Ultimately, it's those mechanics that make Dawn of Discovery so appealing. Keen Entertainment and Blue Byte Software have taken this traditionally hardcore PC strategy title and streamlined it for the Nintendo audience. Micromanagement is kept to a minimum, normal city advancement (when not being artificially restricted by Story Mode conditions) is brisk and full of small, easily attainable short-term goals, and in-game advisors provide constant feedback and advice whenever necessary. These changes strike a near perfect balance between being too conservative and oversimplification, the result of which is a title that will challenge players without overwhelming them.
One area in which the DS version trails its console cousin is in the visuals department. Dawn of Discovery's Wii version is one of the best recent example of how to do art direction right on that specific platform, so it's too bad that the DS version is essentially a less animated, lower quality rendering of the console version. The visuals certainly aren't bad or anything, they just don't take advantage of the DS' specific strengths in the same way that the Wii version manages to, which is really a shame considering how much of that version's appeal stems from the amazing stylized art. Zooming in to the cities alleviates some of these issues and really highlights the care that was put into each respective building unit, but the small screen of the Nintendo DS makes actually playing at this magnification ultimately inefficient.
Another area in which the DS version suffers is in the lousy implementation of camera controls. Dawn of Discovery is presented in an isometric perspective and forces players to "drag" the camera across expanses of land using the stylus, a practice that is both inefficient and obtrusive to actual gameplay. Why camera movement couldn't be relegated to the D-pad I have no idea, especially considering the shortcuts mapped to the up, down, left and right buttons are an exact mirror of the shortcuts mapped to the respective face buttons.
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