Back in Time is Back To Form
After a couple of trips to the future, Ubisoft Blue Byte's city-building series finally returns to its historical roots. Set at the beginning of a radical industrial age full of social unrest, Anno 1800 is very much rooted in its 19th century setting. Tasking you with running a city in one of history’s most turbulent periods, the latest entry in the long-running series offers a challenging and refined experience. History buffs and strategy fans alike will have a blast trying to solve the social issues of the period.
Introductions to Anno 1800
If - like me - you’re new to the series, Anno 1800 serves as a pretty good introduction. The onboarding is hardly perfect, but the story mode works as a solid enough tutorial. It takes things slow, establishing the rules of its complex systems. Occasionally, a head-scratching lack of clarity will emerge. However, carefully following instructions and engaging in some good old-fashioned trial and error helps you through it. Expect this massive game to take dozens of hours to fully understand.
The campaign tells the story of you and your sister leaving your homeland in search of a fresh start. Following your father’s untimely and suspicious demise, your unscrupulous and power-hungry uncle takes power. As you'd imagine, he immediately makes your life hell. After settling on an empty island, you begin building a new civilization. You're also attempting to uncover the truth behind your father’s death. The tale is entertaining enough, but it mostly just serves to establish a complex web of systems and mechanics.
Getting a Grip on Anno 1800's Gameplay
At its core, Anno 1800 is a city-builder. Your primary objective is to construct a city from scratch and attend to the needs of your growing population. Balancing economic growth with your people’s happiness is the primary challenge. Elements of the 4X genre are also prevalent. Exploring the world, expanding your civilization, and trading with other civilizations. These are all important ways to ensure you stay on top of the economic food chain. Real-time strategy aspects are present, too. You build ships, create control groups, and cruise the high seas to engage in combat where necessary.
If all of that sounds like a lot, that’s because it absolutely is. Anno 1800 is extremely dense. It possesses three games worth of ideas and can get quite overwhelming. Although the campaign covers the basics, the explanations of how the many systems work could use some expansion. Although the basics of building and maintaining your settlement are made clear, much of the minutiae is left unexplained. While it can be fun to unravel the inner workings, it becomes frustrating to parse the endless web of systems.
For example, there’s a quest system that plays a big part in your financial and diplomatic well-being. The various factions with whom you share the world play a big part in your global standing. It behooves you to get on their good side early (or not, if you’re looking to be more aggressive). Building relationships and negotiating trade agreements will help you out in the long-term. You can pick up quests from your fellow leaders, which reward you with chunks of change for completing typically menial tasks. Your success hinges on whether you engage with these systems, so it becomes even more frustrating that they're highlighted so poorly. You'll find detailed explanations for trading and diplomacy sorely lacking.
It’s essential then that under all the near-nauseating depth lies a satisfying loop. The core of establishing a civilization from nothing and growing it into something spectacular is a lot of fun. Although it can be difficult to fully comprehend everything, the systems are rich with potential and hugely rewarding to tinker with. There’s a gratifying sense of accomplishment that comes with evolving and expanding your settlement, from village to town to city.
New Mechanics in Anno 1800
Among the new ideas 1800 brings to the table, Blueprinting is the stand-out. This handy little feature makes planning your construction much easier. It allows you to put down silhouetted “blueprints” of buildings when you can’t afford them. It costs nothing to pop them down and you can simply produce the building at your own convenience. You'll greatly appreciate the ability to deploy reminders, especially with all the multitasking you'll be doing. It’s an essential quality-of-life feature that other city-builders should adopt. However, it’d be nice if there was a way to view all of your blueprinted buildings. It can be a nightmare to find them in the dense maze of your city.
Tourism is another of the new ideas present here. Tourists will begin to flock from around the world once your city grows impressive enough. Of course, they’ll only come if you give them a reason to. This is where the concept of your city’s Attractiveness comes in. A densely populated city shrouded by pollution and inhabited by hideous factories and crime will be marred by a poor Attractiveness rating. If you want tourists to liven up your city, you’ll need to balance. Mix in essential industries with nice scenery, culture, and a content population. You'll want to strike a good balance since tourists bring plenty of disposable income with them. It’s a neat system that rewards you for making your city look nice, as well as perform efficiently.
Anno 1800's Delicate Balancing Act
The endless push-and-pull of industry exists at the center of everything in Anno 1800. Every factory you build bolsters your economy but reduces happiness and increases pollution. Produce too much industry and your agriculture begins to dwindle. Even the very act of producing and managing your workforce comes with its own balancing act. You produce Factory workers by upgrading agricultural farmers, meaning that gaining 10 workers also leaves you with 10 fewer farmers. Both kinds of workers are essential, so your city will only thrive if their numbers are balanced.
Anno 1800 is more emphatic than I expected. The art style is solid, presenting a variety of sharp caricature characters. They look suitably cartoony for their over-the-top characterizations. Getting up close and personal with your population is a fun time. You'll find an expressive bunch of British folks that remind me of Fable. The buildings, roads, and environments feature impressive detail. The music is similarly effective. It sounds suitably bombastic and epic, blending an interesting mix of instruments to create a powerful soundscape. It's perfect for building a civilization.
Anno 1800 Review | Final Thoughts
Ultimately, Anno 1800 represents a return to classic Anno form for the city-building giant. There’s a huge amount of depth embedded in the intense myriad of systems. They're either going to be a complete turn-off or an open invitation. Does the idea of getting lost in a sprawling strategy epic sound like your idea of a good time? If so, Blue Byte’s latest stab at the series is likely to be your jam.
TechRaptor reviewed Anno 1800 on PC via Uplay with a copy provided by the publisher. It's also available on the Epic Games Store.
- Deep and Rewarding City-Builder
- Huge Amount of Depth
- Blueprinting Mechanic Is A Great Addition
- Inspiring And Bombastic Soundtrack
- Tutorials Could Be Clearer And More Detailed