It’s a time of poverty and misery. The people are discontent and their leaders confused and depressed. No, it's not a scene from your average capitalist country in these recessionary times, but rather the fictional medieval setting of ANNO: Create a New World.
You see, King George's once prosperous domain is now in the grip of a crisis; a particularly harsh winter and a mercilessly dry summer have ravaged the crops and his people are naturally feeling a bit famished.
In order to avert complete disaster, the elderly monarch decides to send out his two sons to locate new territory and hopefully bring back resources that will help his people to weather their situation.
This is where you come in. Stepping into the leather boots of George's beloved son William (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Sawyer from the TV series Lost, but with an unfortunate proclivity for chainmail and leggings), you're tasked with sailing off into the sunset and discovering exciting new lands to conquer – if you don't fall of the edge of the world, that is.
Your slimy brother Edward is asked to do the same, although as the game progresses he becomes more of a hindrance than an ally. Ambitious, selfish and self-serving, Prince Edward has his heart set on gaining his father's favour – at your expense if necessary.
Despite this fleshed-out storyline (which comes complete with well-presented and fully-voiced cut scenes) ANNO: Create a New World will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played an entry from this popular series in the past.
The game is focused on establishing a settlement, making it self-sufficient and then improving it until it becomes as profitable and productive as possible.
For example, to built things you require wood and stone, so you have to ensure you have lumberjacks and stonemasons at the ready. Buildings usually attract inhabitants and they require creature comforts such as food, clothing, security and a nearby church in which to pray.
To fulfil all of these needs you'll have to construct farms, mills, chapels and fire stations. To make things even more complex, many of these buildings need to be linked by a road network so that their produce can be transported to your warehouse or marketplaces, where it's then distributed to the masses.
When you've amassed enough stock, you can ship it back to your father to alleviate the suffering of your country folk, or you can trade it to gain more gold. Taxes are another vital source of revenue, but finding the correct balance is vital. Charge too much and your settlers will leave; ask for too little and you'll find yourself in hot water as your expenses outstrip your income.
If it all sounds a little overwhelming then that's because it is. However, the game showcases a helpful tutorial system which effortlessly guides you through the many complexities of running a successful colony. Handy hints and subtle pointers are drip-feed through as you wrestle with the myriad possibilities contained with the game.
Although the screen is often awash with detail, the intuitive touchscreen interface makes short work of skipping between the various options available. It builds on the excellent work seen in its predecessor, ANNO: 1701: Dawn of Discovery, only this time it's even more refined and vindicates the developer's decision to build this version for the DS from the ground up.
However, while ANNO: Create a New World is unquestionably polished and benefits greatly from being programming with the host hardware in mind, the core game mechanics will hold few surprises for veterans of the franchise.
There's very little in the way of innovation here; in fact, the experience has been streamlined in places in what we assume is an effort to expand the appeal of the title on a platform that is predominately owned by young children.
This assumption is further supported by the fact that the importance of combat has been downgraded. The developer has intentionally shied away from large-scale depictions of bloody warfare in ANNO: Create a New World, and this fact alone is sure to have purists spitting feathers. As the game's title suggests, the primary focus here is expansion through creativity rather than aggression, which is rather at odds with historical fact.
While this more light-hearted and family-friendly approach is commendable and may even succeed in opening up the series to a new audience, it's likely to be a huge turn-off for those who have cut their teeth on the brutally uncompromising PC iterations.
Despite these shortcomings the game remains a very solid proposition and is undeniably suited for the DS. Mission-length is pitched perfectly, with each task divided into separate assignments which take minutes rather than hours to complete, and this naturally makes the game perfect for portable play.
While it's not quite as accomplished as ANNO 1701: Dawn of Discovery, this latest instalment arguably has a better chance of finding mainstream acceptance thanks to its streamlined game engine, stronger plot and more appealing visual sheen. It's just a shame that die-hard fans – previously the franchise's core focus – are likely to come away feeling distinctly short-changed.