The Anno series is back and shifts its attention back to history for the first time in about a decade. Blue Byte’s at the helm once again, with Ubisoft taking care of the publishing duties.
When I think Blue Byte, I automatically think of The Settlers and the Anno series, two strategy franchises that I’ve been enjoying for many years now. In that sense, 2019 is shaping up to be a great year, because in a few months there will also be a new Settlers reboot to play. But while Settlers is more akin to a classic real time strategy/base building experience, Anno is about city building and economics.
After recently playing the latest Tropico, the difference with Anno is instantly clear – Blue Byte’s series takes itself far more seriously. This is further strengthened by the fact that Anno now no longer has a sci-fi theme to it as Anno 1800 focuses firmly on the industrial age. It’s a big shift in gameplay (coming from 2205), but the game still feels very much like an Anno title. The sandbox mode is still front and center, and the campaign mode still feels more like an extended tutorial rather than a main attraction.
For those who enjoy a more objective-based approach to their games, this has always been a bit of a weak point in the Anno series – though besides scenario-based play I can’t think of many city builders that have nailed it. Anno 1800’s story campaign is narrative-driven and although it doesn’t do much with character development (you’re honoring your father’s legacy) it’s a great showcase for the game’s beautiful visuals.
Easily one of the most gorgeous strategy titles so far, Blue Byte’s latest brings the industrial age to life not only through its many housing developments and factories, but also through the people that inhabit the world. Everything feels alive and vibrant, although all this splendor does come at a bit of a cost – Anno 1800 is quite the system hog and the game’s performance isn’t stable as the frame rate can dip when scenes get exceedingly busy.
Where Anno 2205 scratched that technology and exploration itch, 1800 is all about production, economies of scale and managing your resources. This doesn’t just mean plenty of source materials coming in and having plenty of storage space in your warehouse(s), it also means carefully planning your city so that it attracts the kind of people you need to keep all the machinery running. From a production crew to a talented engineer, needs differ and you need to account for that by, for instance, upgrading the housing that’s available to them.
As you progress, the international aspects of business also grow to be more important – making sure (unique or cheaper) resources keep coming in from abroad. Colonization and expansion were driving forces between the real life industrial revolution, and they are very much so here as well. Trading’s crucial as well, as it always has been in Anno – so don’t expect to be entirely self-supporting and get ready to embrace your relationships with several computer-controlled civilizations as well. And although a lot of your international trade is water-based, the oceans are also the sole source of military conflict in Anno 1800. Unfortunately these battles (as they tend to do in an Anno game) feel a bit like an afterthought, and military strategy never feels impactful enough to give you the sense that it really matters in the grand scheme of things.
Having said that, this is plenty of complexity left in Anno 1800 to make sure this is another title in the series where it’s easy to sink weeks of game time into it. The game would certainly benefit from more scenario-driven gameplay options and could use a few optimization patches on the technical front, but it’s a strong return to a historical focus for the series that long term fans will certainly appreciate.