Anno 1800 is the latest instalment of the iconic city building real time strategy video game franchise. Developed by Blue Byte, and published by Ubisoft, this time around players haven’t been whisked into the future, with the game unsurprisingly set in the midst of the industrial revolution. Featuring both single and multiplayer modes – with coop planned for the future – is this a game to set sail into or revolt against? Let’s find out!
Starting out gamers only have a dock and a single ship to their name. Getting a row of houses down, farmers will start to populate the village. These farmers not only will pay tax but will be eligible to work at a small range of buildings from lumber mills to fisheries. Building, growing and upgrading a village to a town and beyond will see more farmers, then workers, artisans and more flock to the settlement. With each tier comes a new range of buildings they can work in but also a longer list of requirements for them to be pleased.
It isn’t as simple as building a pub to appease the population in Anno 1800. The gameplay for each item produced is part of a chain. Take canned goods as an example. Players will need to grow peppers (or buy them if their land is not fertile) and have a beef farm. These two goods are then combined to create goulash at an artisan kitchen. Finally, iron ore from an iron mine must be delivered along with the goulash to a canning factory. Each part has a maintenance cost, build cost and requires workers… just for some canned goods to keep the population happy. Some chains are much smaller, like logs to a lumber mill, but the logic is present throughout the game.
There are 3 main difficulty modes not only varying the starting money player receive but a whole host of tweaks to costings and the frequency of city incidents and quests. One that I have a love hate relationship is building movement costs. While it makes logical sense that moving a building would cost resources, something which isn’t the case on the easiest mode, it can be punishing if you’ve misplaced a building. This does then encourage players to utilize the blueprint building mode. Though in the heat of the moment it is painful to spend your last 2 wood to build a farmer house, only for it to be out of line of the rest, and then have to wait to pay to move it.
The storylines of strategy games are never going to win writing awards, yet Anno 1800’s is a solid entry. There is plenty to warrant fans of the series to play it through, with it being a must for those new to Anno. It does a tremendous job at stepping players slowly through the vast array of options. While generally there is a process of unlocking buildings and tiers of workers, the story puts a few artificial blockers in and the objectives focus the gameplay in a logical manor. It makes learning the game fun and rewarding for all.
Players will get a variety of quests, even outside of the storyline. Some may be from allies asking for something to be delivered and others can be at random from your townsfolk. Townsfolk quests are normally on a small scale and involve finding someone or something in your vast city. I am normally massively against these style of challenges, effectively adding in a random search or clicking fest into a game that doesn’t need it. Anno 1800 is similar to other games that have done this where I’ve despised it. Nevertheless, in Anno to infrequently stop looking at a zoomed out level, and see the people wandering the streets, singing away at pubs and the horse and carts zooming along, the game is a sight to behold.
As alluded to the cities that are built aren’t just glorious to construct and manage – they look incredible too. Each building type has a distinctive look to it. This is enough for specific buildings to be located, mostly via unique silhouettes. At the same time they all have the same era feel making it look like a harmonious city and not a hodgepodge of buildings. This is particularly impressive given the range of buildings, when even houses can have multiple visual styles based on their tier.
During the game players build up influence points. These are spent to make subtle or large changes to the newspapers that get printed with headlines about your humble town/city. Like many aspects of the game their impact can be extremely wide reaching, increasing the chances of riots, making the population pay more taxes happily and more. These aren’t too frequent, making their appearance neither interruptive nor distracting. By extension, this also means any consequences stick around for a longer period of time.
There is a lot of information available to players at all times. Thankfully, the UI keeps enough on the screen to serve as a constant reminder to players but it doesn’t clutter the screen. A number of elements are hidden until a player clicks on a related building. For example, clicking onto the different tiered houses lets players look though the needs and wants of that tier of people. This is the swiftest way of finding out why a strike might soon occur and is easily accessible without being constantly on screen.
A quick use bar is included for building, allowing players to pick what to assign to each slot. This can be extremely helpful if you find yourself often having to go in and out of the build menu to find buildings like houses. One minor annoyance on the build menu is that each tier of population comes with its own greenery/gardens. Alas, they do not combine together if you try to attach them to the quickbar. If the quickbar wasn’t enough players can also right click anywhere to pull up a click wheel like selector of specific actions – perfect for quickly upgrading a few buildings.
Players will find that it is money not warring troops that will hinder their progress. As a franchise this remains consistent across all Anno titles and is just as prevalent in 1800. Players are more than able to build up forces to go to war but you’ll need an economy that can sustain the production first. For your first few games the constant tugs at the purse strings can seem too great. Once players start to build up knowledge of the way diplomacy and trade works however there is a slight let up from the constant dips in funds.
The lack of focus on combat makes Anno 1800 much less reliant on AI opponents. While their actions can certainly impact what you can, can’t and must do it isn’t a make or break scenario. The game’s strength is in the city building, with the other AI cities faded into the background, and not just due to being on separate islands. There are a few noticeable niggles with the AI but these are more as a result of their limited responses, with the same voice lines being overused, rather than a glaring oversight.
Often in strategy titles there is the want for more. More building types, more resource types, more of everything. Anno 1800 has all of that depth from the very beginning with so many types of buildings there is an amazing balancing act to make. With chains of production to make, such as potato farms which supply schnapps brewers, there is plenty of thinking to be done. This is a game many would refer to as a time sink, yet it is one I’d happily pour hours into. The futuristic titles had lost their way somewhat, but Anno 1800 firmly steers the series back on track!
[Editor’s Note: Anno 1800 was provided to us by Ubisoft for the review.]