A Mixed Bag
It has been a hot minute since the release of Ubisoft Blue Byte's city builder Anno 1800. Since release earlier this year, it has become the fastest-selling entry in the long-running franchise. It's an addictive mix of managing your production lines and trade routes to fulfill the many demands of an ever-growing populace. Our very own Dan Hodges liked it, too, calling Anno 1800 a return to form for the franchise.
It's clear that developer Blue Byte came out swinging, but what about the two expansions released since then? The first one, titled Sunken Treasures, adds a new map with a few new mechanics around salvaging. The second one, titled Botanica, gives prospective colonists a bunch of new features to design beautiful botanical gardens for your islands.
A Song of Cities and Salvage
Released a mere three months after Anno 1800, Sunken Treasures sees players travel to a new European region called Cape Trelawney. In many ways, it is exactly like the starting region with one major difference. The little intro campaign to the expansion has you settle an island so vast it can house multiple islands worth of people. If you feel like the starter islands were a bit lacking in size, you'll find that Cape Trelawney has more than enough space to build a megacity. The island comes built-in with a ton of resources allowing you to quickly build up a rough outline of what will at some point become your crown achievement as a colonial architect.
Sunken Treasures also introduces the character of Old Nate to you. Nate is a resident of Cape Trelawny and mainly survives off the things dredged up from the seafloor. It is through him that you acquire a salvager that can dive on certain spots on the map. Doing so nets you a bunch of scrap. Exchanging scrap at Nate's island is a great way to get a variety of powerful items.
The salvaging itself is rather boring. It mainly consists of you ordering your ship to go to a diving spot after which you press a button to make it look for stuff to salvage. It's a pretty uninvolved mechanic when it comes down to it, and it didn't really add much to the experience for me.
The main draw is definitely the big island. Because of its sheer size, it's gonna take you a while to build it up and get it running. That alone is worth the price of admission if you ask me. This comes with a caveat, though. Having another map on top of the maps already in the game means you'll be staring at the trade route interface a lot. Being trade savvy in the late game is already a must, and Sunken Treasures definitely increases the workload. This can be a net positive if you really like to micromanage your import and export. It does become overwhelming at a certain point, so casual players might have some difficulty keeping up. Still, there are many hours of potential playtime and fun waiting in Cape Trelawney.
Flowers, Seeds, and Weeds
And then we have Botanica, the second expansion, centered mostly around building and expanding beautiful botanical gardens. This DLC is more for those who want to want more ways to beautify their cities. The plants you put in these gardens make your city extra attractive to tourists who flock to your islands with purse in hand. Beyond boosts to attractiveness, collecting sets nets you more rewards like improved fertility on your islands.
In all honesty, the new mechanics added in Botanica aren't really new. They're more of a repackaged version of features that were already present in Anno 1800. The modules for your gardens do have beautiful designs, but that doesn't make for a meaningful addition on the gameplay side.
You mostly gain these plants based on which quests and expeditions you take up. Quests trigger randomly and can give you the plants you need if you're lucky. You can send your ship on more reliably rewarding horticultural expeditions, but you need the World's Fair for that. In addition to this, you also need 5000 citizens of Anno 1800's highest tier. This means that getting everything can take pretty long. This wouldn't be much of a problem if the botanical gardens unlocked earlier on, but most of this expansion's content centers around the end game. The AI may carry some in their inventory, but that decision comes at random. You can pay to reroll their inventory, but sitting there and playing it like a slot machine isn't very fun or efficient.
Another gripe I have with this expansion is the lack of variety present in the new modules for the gardens. Most of them are just glasshouses that are exactly alike, bar some exceptions. There has to be a better implementation than this. Right now it's just a bit of a time sink that has relatively little payoff.
The new decor pieces are a welcome addition. Mechanically, however, this expansion lacks anything that really adds meaningful in terms of progression. What it does add is a time sink that becomes somewhat of a necessity in the late end game. The added attractiveness the gardens provide lead to an increase in tourism, which brings with them a revenue stream you kind of need to keep your empire afloat. Filling in your collection also nets you gameplay advantages like improved fertility on your islands.
This update also patches in the much-requested day/night cycle that was conspicuously absent from the game at release. It's a minor addition that has a huge impact on your cities' looks. It's an entirely optional feature, though. You can freeze time at any moment, so if you want to build under an eternal night, you can do so! What's more, everyone who owns Anno 1800 is getting the day/night cycle regardless of you owning the season pass or not.
Anno 1800: Sunken Treasures and Botanica | Final Thoughts
Both expansions do relatively little to build on the base game. Despite this, I really enjoyed Sunken Treasures even if it was just more of the same. The possibilities for expansion are great and that alone is a lot of fun to play around with. I'm not sure Botanica stands on its own as part of a paid expansion. Botanica is also more of the same, but the gameplay loop just isn't very engaging. It has potential, but as it is right now it's just a little more tedious than it should be.
At the end of the day, Sunken Treasures is definitely worth the price of admission. Botanica, unfortunately, would've done better as part of a free update.
TechRaptor covered Anno 1800, Sunken Treasures, and Botanica on PC via UPlay with codes provided by the publisher.