Strategy is a genre of games that have fascinated me since I started gaming. Micromanaging structures and units, managing build queues, constructing more structures, all while attacking the enemy used to be one of my favorite pass times, till responsibilities struck hard. City-building games are a sub-genre of the strategy and simulation genres and have titles revolving around both the parents. Quite a few titles managed to make their mark in the gigantic sub-genre of city-building, and one of those prominent titles is Anno. Starting with Anno 1602, the Anno series of city building has come a long way, with the latest iteration of the series being Anno 1800.
Anno 1800 is a real-time strategy, city building game developed by Blue Byte and published by Ubisoft for the PC. Announced at Gamescom 2017, Anno 1800 is the seventh title in the series. The game has a release date of February 26, 2019.
Anno 1800 is a return to the old Anno model that supports both singleplayer and multiplayer after taking a tough break in Anno 2205, which was primarily singleplayer. Needless to say, fans of the series didn’t like the exclusion of multiplayer in Anno 2205, so it’s inclusion in Anno 1800 makes sense.
The singleplayer mode has the Story mode, pitting you, the head of a reputed company developed following the discovery of the utility of coal as the backbone of an industrial economy, and the invention of the assembly line. The story also has references to colonization, with companies trying to find a market for their products in newer continents discovered by explorers, or in the context of Anno 1800, seizing control of uncharted islands entirely for themselves.
The game’s best offering is the return of the “Skirmish” mode, or as it is known to Anno players, “Continuous” mode. Called Sandbox mode in Anno 1800, the game pits you against AI opponents, and you’re tasked with achieving some particular conditions to achieve victory. A sandbox mode is a way for people to play around in a map with little restrictions which makes it so popular, also providing people a means to explore the Industrial Era by evolving their islands gradually. Blue Byte listens to user feedback, and it’s a good thing.
Anno 1800 has changed a lot of in-game mechanics to ease on the micromanagement while maintaining the overall complexity so that it feels like a decent addition to the Anno series for the original fans of the series while trying to bring in new players. In a way, the game feels like a throwback to Anno 1404, but with new additions to make a player’s transition to the Industrial Era from the Medieval Era really worth it.
A player’s prized possession is their population. The people living on the islands colonized by the player’s company pay taxes, which sustain the economy. Of course, no development can be carried out without money, so it is important to keep the people happy and their needs satisfied. The taxes paid by citizens are the most important source of income, and disgruntled citizens don’t pay taxes. Worst case scenario, you might have them set fire to the industrial or farming structures that form the backbone of your company.
One interesting change in Anno 1800 is that you cannot change the amount of tax levied on citizens, which was a feature both in Anno 1404 as well as in Anno 2070. Citizens pay tax based on their satisfaction – the happier the citizens, the more filled your coffers are. To increase the immersion, Blue Byte decided to vary the amount paid by different strata of society. For instance, workers pay more taxes than farmers. This is a recurring feature from previous Anno games, but the Industrial Era setting adds extra depth to it. The game also shows the number of members of each stratum – as members of one stratum cannot do jobs for the other. Farmers cannot work in mines or factories, while workers cannot work on farms and ranches, and so on.
Higher strata of society have higher demands than lower strata, and satisfying that will need some setup. For instance, farmers tend to be more rustic, going to pubs to have a good time with their fellow men, while workers tend to be more organized, having a habit of praying at churches and having a sense of hygiene. With each stratum comes their own challenges which the player must solve in order to reap the rewards.
Industrial era farms tend to be bigger in size to keep up production as compared to the farms of past Anno games (with the exception of Anno 2205). Most farms, like wheat and potato farms, can have quite a large number of fields attached to them for increased productivity. Ranches for rearing pigs or sheep, tend to be much smaller. This is another decent design idea where animals required for optimum production are generally much lesser. However, this does mean farms require more open space and have to be built away from the cities and hamlets on the island.
There is a new concept of “age transition”, is something new, and seems to be have been inspired by the likes of Tropico 5. There are other games with age transition, with Age of Empires and Age of Mythology being some of the most prominent strategy titles utilizing it. Unlike other titles, the transition to a higher tier of technology happens automatically when a certain population threshold is reached. This makes choices for progression much more difficult and requires careful planning since space on an island is limited. The basic rule is that citizens move in if their needs are satisfied, and more citizens pay more taxes.
There’s a plethora of goods to produce, which in turn can be used for the production of advanced goods. Anno 1800 sports a greater variety of buildings than its predecessors, resembling Anno 2205 closely. The only limitation seems to be the presence of enemies, and the needs of the citizens. Other than that, the player can design the island as they like, letting their creative juices flow and do the job for them. Farms, ranches, mines, factories – every possible building is available to fully exploit the natural resources of the islands under the rule of the company.
Players can track the supply chain while zoomed down, as in-game citizens move goods from production buildings to warehouses and the trading post (and vice versa). There’s an occasional bug that makes supply chains get stuck, which slows down the entire economy because essential goods can’t be moved, which is pretty annoying. There’s also a whole lot of activity of people moving to and fro between their houses, visiting certain buildings to fulfil their needs. Being a rich magnate, getting to design your city from high above, building and demolishing as you please has its perks.
Sounds and Music
Anno 1800 adds subtitles to every NPC’s words besides adding a description of how they are feeling. Subtitles allow players to keep up with the words of the NPC’s, so there’s no chance of missing out on important conversations. This is a definitive improvement over Anno 1404 and Anno 2070, which used to only display how the NPC was feeling. There’s a common bug that displays the wrong NPC during a conversation, which can be a bit annoying. Apart from some minor glitches, Blue Byte seems to have done a fine job with the game’s audio.
The game’s music sadly doesn’t have the “Industrial Era” touch to it, which I expected it to have, considering how historically accurate some of the features of the game are, but it doesn’t really manage to be distracting.
Graphics and Performance
The game fails to adhere to the high graphics shown off in trailers. Anno 1800 is no doubt an extremely pretty looking game, but it fails to compete with Anno 2205’s glorious visuals. Some of the game’s textures have a greater resemblance to Anno 1404, which is likely to cut down performance costs for a small decrease in graphical fidelity. Unfortunately, the downgrade is quite visible.
The game was tested on the following specifications:-
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2600
GPU: GTX 1080
RAM: 16 GB DDR4
The game slows down quite a lot when it tries to render a lot of buildings of the screen, which makes the experience unpleasant. I had to drop settings to maintain a stable framerate when the city on the island had blossomed into a burgeoning metropolis. The game’s optimization needs work, something which I hope Blue Byte looks into and fixes with an update in the future. The game also crashes to desktop everytime I quit it, so that’s an issue that needs fixing, too.
Anno 1800 is a welcome entry to the franchise, coming with lots of new features to make it a worthwhile purchase for both Anno fans as well as new players willing to make their own mark in a world rapidly changing due to industrial and technological progress. Other than the optimization issue, and a few bugs here and there (including a bug which stops the entire supply chain from working), the game is worth the purchase.