Build a New World empire in real time -- in 1503 A.D. As the title indicates, this sequel is set 99 years before Sunflowers Interactive's original 1602 A.D., at a time when travel and trade across the open ocean promised both unknown danger and great profit. Explore islands of opportunity around the world, in four varying climate zones. Found a new city and develop it to survive and prosper, exploiting local resources and trading for foreign commodities. Then build more cities, paying careful attention to nearby resources and territory claimed by other cultures. Protect the new nation on land and sea with keen diplomacy and an able military.
Like its predecessor, 1503 A.D. blends the large-scale, long-term approach of turn-based empire-building games with the immediate battles of a real-time strategy. Cities and nations are built and improved gradually over time to maximize profit and influence, while defense and conquest take place through real-time battles on land and sea. Trade and diplomacy are primary and many kinds of deals and treaties can be struck. A variety of land and sea units allow for complex battles. In addition to an informative assortment of charts and statistics, players can often notice important situations simply by watching the main game screen, as certain conditions are represented graphically by the cities and citizens.
The game begins as the player sets sail for the New World seeking wealth, power, and the chance to found a new nation. While food and shelter are obvious necessities at first, as a city develops its citizens become more sophisticated and demand a wider variety of goods and luxuries, many of which are often only available through trade. Different natural resources become important as the game continues, since the fruits of technological advance often require new kinds of raw materials. Players may encounter as many as nine other civilizations as they explore the globe, each with its own disposition and practices. In addition to the single-player campaign, various "open-ended" and multi-player modes are also supported.
1602 A.D. was an immensely popular game in Germany, and while the real-time strategy/city builder never quite caught on with North American gamers, Electronic Arts is hoping that this time around folks on this side of the pond will see the light with the release of its prequel: 1503 A.D. The New World. Those familiar with 1602 A.D. should feel right at home with this new version, as not a whole lot has changed from the previous game. Some needed modifications to the design were made, but overall, this is the same idea with slightly better graphics and tweaked gameplay.
The game contains many single-player missions to keep you busy in the form of a linear (yet highly challenging) 12-mission campaign, several single-player scenarios, and an open-ended mode where you can simply sit back and build your empire until your heart's content. Oddly enough, multiplayer support (which was planned from the start) did not make it into the final release. A patch is in the works which should add multiplayer, but as of this writing, 1503 A.D. is strictly a single-player game.
Most missions start out by providing you with a single ship packed with goods with which you can drop anchor and found your new empire. From that humble start, you need to build a flourishing culture by trading with other nations, taking care of your people, and building structures such as fishing huts, churches, taverns, farms, and so on. In other words, it's the same idea as before (and one that you'll find in nearly every other city builder on the market).
There are several unique cultures that you have to deal with, from the Aztecs and Africans to the Mongolians and Native Americans. It's a shame that you are still stuck playing the role of the English. It would have added a new wrinkle to actually settle a Mongolian colony, for example. However, independent pirates raid the map on the tougher levels of difficulty, adding needed unpredictability to the game.
Combat is a bit rough around the edges. Sunflowers and Max Design wanted to add a more detailed combat model, and in a way, they succeeded. Combat is better than it was in 1602, but it's still a bit clunky and won't rip you away from real-time games centered on fighting anytime soon. The pathfinding AI, the Achilles' heel of many real-time games, is also very weak here, and you're also limited in that you can't issue basic waypoints. On the plus side, you have access to many more troop types than before (from pikemen to musket-carrying soldiers, as well as siege weapons like cannons and towers), and units now earn experience if they survive combat. The combat design uses a basic rock-paper-scissors model, so there really isn't one ultra-dominant unit type; each can be countered with another specifically designed to take it out.
Strangely enough, the best part about combat is that in the open-ended games it is completely optional. This is one of the better parts of the new design. If you don't build a military, neither will the computer players, so you can focus solely on building your cities and setting up trade routes. However, the moment you start to arm yourself, the computer does likewise, so it's strictly a matter of how you wish to play the game as far as aggression is concerned.
The game shines when you focus entirely on building up your cities and taking care of your people. It's a bit more complex than other games of this type (mainly due to a lack of feedback as to why certain things are happening), and it may frustrate those without the determination to stick with it. For those that do persevere through the learning curve, the guts of the game is very sound and streamlined.
1503 A.D. The New World doesn't pack quite the punch one would expect from a sequel (or prequel) to a game that shipped roughly three years ago, but it's still a fun game in its own right; not every game has to push the envelope of originality to be a good time. If you played 1602 A.D. and hated it, you'll most likely hate this version. On the other hand, if you loved the old game, and are thirsting for more of the same, then 1503 A.D. is a good choice.
People who downloaded Anno 1503: The New World have also downloaded:
ANNO 1602: Creation of a new world, 1701 A.D., Caesar 3, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Age of Mythology, Age of Empires III, American Conquest, Age of Empires
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