The German games industry is still renowned by many for city builders and trading games, which stems from the domination of these genres in Germany during the 90s (Die Hanse, the Patrician series etc.) The Anno series keeps this sentiment alive to this day and Anno 1404 Gold represents a major highlight in the world of city building and management games.
All parts of the game play fit together just perfectly:
- An exploration hunt for fertile grounds in two culture zones (occidental and oriental), neutral "npc factions" of unique character and last but not least room for your people - all of this in a picturesque island world that's very nice to look at (thus the game offers you the postcard view introduced with Anno 1701 again)
- A complex, but not complicated system of production chains, challenging you to plan ahead according to what your settlement's populace wants next. Watch your people climb the ranks from peasantry to nobility when well supplied. Shortly into a sandbox game you'll even unlock a parallel society to develop from desert nomads to oriental envoys.
- A highly customizable sandbox mode, allowing you to either play completely alone in a huge area, concentrating on building the ultimate city of splendour or duking it out with aggressive AIs in an unforgiving world of limited resources. You can even choose the victory condition, be it about economy or survival - or none at all.
- AI factions with character. Some are generally friendly, others far less so. Even the AIs of medium difficulty level are fairly hard to keep up with. In that respect the balance seems to be a bit off, at least for sandbox games.
- A quest system. Fulfill many tasks from rescuing castaways and hunting for wanted people in your city to escort and attack missions. These earn you, among gold and honour,...
- ...many special items to collect. Enlarge your warehouse's stores, increase your ships' speed and/or sight range and/or repair capability, introduce new seed to an isle which normally couldn't grow it and more.
There's always something to do in this game, be it optimising your industries and logistics, running errands (even for AI factions in a sandbox game - good for your diplomatic relations) or waging war on sea, land (though with limited complexity - this is NOT an RTS!) and in the shadows as introduced with the Venice Addon. That Addon also introduced multiplayer capability in the game, though according to personal experience it is advisable to use LAN via VPN rather than the "Gate to the world" introduced by Ubisoft when playing over the Net with your buddies.
Presentation may be a bit cartoonish for some, especially in the facial animations of the different faction leaders and their speech, but it's not quite as "bad" as Anno 1701, the quality is excellent. A well developed settlement is a beautiful sight in this game - but that will have to be earned. Get this game, and you might forget to look at the clock for hours...