Anno 1800 Review – We Built This City
Anno 180016th April, 2019
There seems to be a trend now that games have expanded a little too far, seemingly can't look any further outwards and they're going back to their roots. They're polishing these up and making them the best, most absorbent, roots in the history of roots. It's with these roots that series are hoping to capture the past glories that made them fan-favourites, that brought them the fame and success and essentially made them the series' we know today. I'm not talking about a forest of trees, but there's certainly some sort of analogy to be found in the spreading of roots to the spreading of your settlement(s) in Anno 1800.
Every first and third Sunday of a month, I'm going to review an older game or one we weren't able to cover on release. If there's any particular title you want to see reviewed, give it a mention in the comments section and any that are particularly popular, I'll just have to play them, won't I?
As much as I've had cause to praise the recent Anno games, such as Anno 2070 and 2205, there was just something about them that felt off. From what was essentially hyper-streamlining, to the relegation of combat to what was essentially an afterthought. I had issues with the relegation of combat back when I reviewed 2205, but I did praise the streamlining at the time. Over time, and especially with the hindsight after playing copious amounts of Anno 1800 (and more of other city builders) there's always something to be said for good city-planning and the joy of seeing pieces just fit together like the most erotic of jigsaw puzzles.
What was I talking about again?
Anno 1800, that's the one. As I very strangely said, one of the best feelings when playing a city-building game is seeing how every piece can fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Seeing the overlap of city services such as police or fire stations supporting the local area, which in turn houses the residents that fuel the business, bringing in money and resources. The money of which in turn funds the expansion of your city as well as the city services, while the resources head to your ports to trade out for extra income, resources you can't make yourself or just to increase your influence.
It's the creation of the seamless chains that make these resources that makes Anno yet another of those games where, before you realise it, you've wasted away. What was a Thor-like figure of a man now looks like Jack Skellington, all through that inability to get over that enjoyment as your city expands in size, wealth and the level and quality of what's available to it. Starting from something as simple as potatoes to make Schnapps, to eventually having more complex chains to make cars or... gramophones? The smug sense of self-worth you get from optimising the living hell out of your villages, towns and cities is second to none.
What makes it even better is when you can directly see the impact your planning and decision making is having on your settlements. When you see that little upgrade icon at the side of a farmers residence letting you upgrade it to a workers residence, showing you've met every requirement, the building is at capacity and the people are so happy they can see that their lot in life is improving. Granted, when it comes to meeting these needs you're going to have to start looking beyond your one island due to each island only having access to a select type of resources as a result of soil fertility and natural deposits.
Once you've started your expansion to these islands you're going to want to trade the resources, meeting the needs of everybody. The problem here comes with the trade route system, which is a bit rubbish, to say the least. Trading between your colonies, or simply chartering resources from one island to another, looks like it should be straight forward but never really is. You have to select the resources, move them between the islands, creating either a simple or more complex chain. It's niggly and irritating at the best of times, to be frank. I genuinely wish the game would allow you to automate the trading or chartering system.
For that matter, there's a bit about Anno 1800 that can be unintuitive. When it comes to your income and expenditure, the information given is barebones. It tells you how much you're earning from each worker type, gives you an expenditure amount and also other income you may be earning - for example, if you purchased shares in the island of another faction, letting you benefit from the success of the opposition. You can, if you buy all of the shares, initiate a hostile takeover too.
Looking even further beyond your initial islands is when you'll start to look into expanding and colonising the new world. Being set in the 1800's and a game about colonisation, you're going to find some representation of the new world - South America - and with this move to the new world comes even further variations on what you can plant and develop, naturally with the aim of shipping it back to the old world - Rum being a clear example here. Who doesn't like a bit of Captain Morgan's Spiced Gold?
It's getting to the new world that offers something a little different. From actually getting there and settling, to launching expeditions, there's something different on offer. When you launch an expedition, you'll find yourself going through little story-elements where you select an option. So you may be in a storm and do you pray, ride the storm using sails or start using the steam engines? Each selection has its positives and negatives on morale and the resources it uses. It can make them quite perilous if you don't think about your decisions. Naturally, setting off with better equipment and crew offers the best chances of success, with ships - much like a few buildings - having items slots to equip special items gained through trading or quests.
On the quests, you get quite a few random ones from the people living in your village, most of them seemingly around zooming in and finding either a person, a crowd of people or - what I mostly found - rounding up stray farmyard animals. Maybe leading a colonial company was easier than I thought it would be, if a lot of time was spent rounding up people’s cows and pigs, especially with the rewards you get from it. Why don't they ask for a fire station, extra workplaces, something suitable? For that matter, aside from the story quests in the campaign, even those given by other powers in the campaign and in the skirmish are pretty poor. Usually, it's a case of going to their harbour, pick something up and deliver it elsewhere. Why they didn't ship it themselves and save a load of money I'll never know, but there is a distinct lack of variety in questing.
Still, despite any complaints I may have, there's so much to like about Anno 1800. It looks fantastic. Every single building shows an exquisite amount of detail, with the people of your city also wandering the streets, animals in tow, or the cart's shipping resources from one place to the next. The game looks busy, which all adds to the atmosphere and the sense of growth that comes with moving from the lowest tier of buildings, right up to the highest, the fifth tier. The best part is just looking at what keeps the city going, from pubs and marketplaces to a zoo, piers to allow for tourists or commuting or possibly even the World's Fair. People love a good World's Fair.
The only other things I really can think to talk about is war. The fact that it's such an afterthought here probably says more than it should say because it can actually be an exciting thing to engage in. Unlike the previous few Anno games that have left combat to be more of an afterthought, even instanced, everything is part of the whole here. You build your ships and the same ships you use for trading one day could be the front-line of your fleet the next. It's not the most tactical of combat systems, though Anno never has been the most tactical, it certainly offers something more engaging than in previous iterations. It also gives you a reason to equip extra hull armour given to you as a reward because you delivered a box of sausages, or something, for a different faction.
All in all, I can't help but really enjoy Anno 1800. More than a few times the game has literally told me that I've been playing a while and it may be time for a coffee. I ignored it. It's always a good sign that I'm losing track of time because I'm enjoying a game. That's the thing about Anno 1800, thanks to a very catchy gameplay loop wrapped up in an exquisite package, this is certainly game that the management-strategy folks will enjoy. It's been great to return to the Anno of old, even though the futuristic ones were enjoyable in their own right.
Anno 1800 is a visually stunning, incredibly compelling management-strategy game. One thing of particular note is just how great and addictive the gameplay loop is, hooking you in as you watch your cities develop and expand, made all the better as you unlock and build a wide variety of buildings. There are slight issues though, with an unintuitive UI and trade system, which due to the way resources are spread around the game can be irritating. Simply put, Anno 1800 is an incredibly addictive and engaging game, with a few flaws, but nothing that stops it from being a great entry in the series.
- Visually stunning for a top-down management-strategy game, looking fantastic throughout
- Extremely satisfying game-loop as settlements grow to then offer more ways to expand and grow them
- Wide variety of building and resource types to help with expanding your city and onto other islands
- Expeditions offer a nice bit of a diversion from the building
- It can be unintuitive in areas, such as explaining finances or setting up trade routes
- Questing, beyond the core story, is too random and out-of-touch with the rest of the game