City building games are making a comeback in 2019! Yay! (“Insert random words in my mind to express joy here”) But seriously. 2019 is shaping up to be quite a year for strategy and simulation fans, with a plethora of titles to treat old fans of the genre and make new ones. If you ask me to name one famous franchise coming back this year, my answer would definitely be Anno. Anno 1800, being the seventh game in the franchise , definitely has a lot to live up to.
Story & Narrative
The singleplayer mode has the player move through a gripping story consisting of several shades of revenge, betrayal and true friendship. The player plays the role of the son of the now-deceased owner of Goode and Sons. Assisted by sister Hannah and trustworthy friend Aarhant, the player sets out to find out the truth about his father’s death, going as far as the New World to search for him. The death of the patriarch of a British aristocratic family under peculiar circumstances reveals a mystery far more sinister.
The campaign seemed pretty well made, though with a major drawback. You have to continue playing through chapters while having only one save at your disposal. That is very inconvenient and stressing as there is little scope for failure with no chance of a “RESET”. The game’s mechanics might make it a bit hard to understand at first, and it feels punishing to start afresh from scratch because of a single error. A mission selection screen where you can start a mission afresh would definitely have been good.
‘Skirmish’ or Sandbox
The singleplayer also allows the player to play random maps in ‘Skirmish’ against AI opponents. The random map mode was a feature sorely missed by players in its predecessor. If there’s any sign that Blue Byte takes player feedback seriously, it definitely is this. The AI opponents are smarter than before, if not more aggressive. A zerg rush might not always be the best way to take down your opponents (err… wrong reference). Forging intricate diplomacies while working on how to improve the status of one’s company is all the rage in this game mode. Just like old times. Just like Anno 1404 (and to some extent, Anno 2070), in the flesh.
The multiplayer mode is basically ‘Skirmish’ mode with human opponents, allowing up to 4 players to combat for establishing a company that survives the test of time. Witness the 19th century corporate rat race established by the European nations for securing trade routes to different parts of the world.
Multiplayer does have connectivity issues occasionally, which Ubisoft really needs to work on. I mean come on, why would I need to come back to the desktop to open a browser window and check if I am connected or not every alternate moment? That too in 2019.
Start off humbly, and grow an overseas business empire from there.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Anno 1800 heads back in time to an era where Anno was one of the crowning jewels of the simulation genre. This I mean literally, because if I know any Maths, 2205 is definitely greater than 1800? The Old World and New World distinctions look just like the Occident and the Orient, and that isn’t the only part where similarities can be spotted. Anno 1800 seems to re-invent some of the popular mechanics, while pacing it properly to ensure new fans get to stay back and witness the glory of the franchise.
One big strategic change that you can see in Anno 1800 is that it models citizens as the best “resources” for the company. You can mine any amount of iron and coal, smelt any amount of steel, produce any amount of wheat, ham or peppers, but in the end, you are bound to exchange them for shinies. Sovereigns make the world go round, and the distinction between manual production and mass production is fast kicking in. In order to maintain your buildings as well as pay for more, you need money – which is paid by the loyal citizens (or workers) of the company.
Forge a business empire and rule the European continent.
Citizens are the biggest resource one can have, and their satisfaction is the key to victory. Disgruntled citizens do not pay taxes, and may take to the streets with placards, or even try burning buildings down if the issue is left unaddressed. Citizens living in the city can be of multiple tiers, and each have their own needs that has to be addressed. Farmers, for instance, only want fish, some cheap clothing and tons of alcohol to gouge themselves in after a hard day’s work, while Workers need bread, meat, soaps, better clothing, and a place to confess their sins.
While needs expand dramatically across tiers, the amount of taxes paid increase too. However, meeting this needs while keeping a positive inflow of cash to the company’s treasury can be extremely challenging.
The economic systems of Anno 1800 start from being overtly simple to ritualistically complex once the island progresses though the tiers of humans. Having access to a greater population of a particular tier unlocks more production chains as the citizens demand more and more from the company. Anno 1800’s production chains link and overlap at points, needing a resource that can be worked upon by lower tier of citizens. For example, the glass production chain requires wood, which is also required by the production chain for planks. The other big issue is that you need citizens of a particular type working on particular types of buildings. For instance, farmers always go to work at the farms, fisheries, distilleries, lumber mills and windmills while workers will tend to work in factories and mines.
Maintaining a proper number of buildings does help resolve the issue of overlapping production chains, though a fragile balance needs to be found between upkeep, resource structures and citizen needs if you wish to continue as the CEO of your company (and not go bankrupt, scam millions and flee to the New World). Similarly, you cannot upgrade your entire workforce to high tiers, since low tier people are always required for proper functioning of you precious production chains. There always is the option to downgrade to add to the workforce of a lower tier, but that harms the tax inflow severely.
When the cultists of the Fire God attack your homeland.
The big twist comes when you progress to the tier of Artisans and beyond. Being men and women of culture, they demand resources that aren’t even anywhere on the islands near you! The only way to get them is to send expeditions to the New World and fetch the resources from there. The captains and the sailors need to be prepared for pirates, cultists believing in the Fire God (Spoiler ALERT!) and other dangers as one gets ready for a voyage to the New World, just to bring back resources like rum which does not grow in Europe.
Imagine being forced to work overtime with no extra wages, face off pirates, storms and monsters just so that you can bring back “traditional” farming items from the New World for some rich crocks. Well, atleast it’s historically accurate.
You have not unlocked the New World yet….err..
The New World
The New World functions totally differently from the Old World. Being separated from the scientific changes happening in Europe means that production chains need to be more traditional and have to depend on Nature to survive. However, the New World has access to fertilities that are not available in the New World. Shipping resources back and forth can be painful for the sailors, but a very rewarding and satisfying task for you as the owner of an enterprise spanning across to the New World. Creating trade routes shipping resources between the two worlds can almost feel like interdimensional space travel – the ideological differences can feel that drastic. This system was present in Anno 1404, where you needed to the lands of the Orient to get access to production chains to please the aristocrats back home. The only difference here is that you need to make a voyage to discover the New World, unlike in Anno 1404, where you can just buy a trading license off the Sultan.
Set the sails! We’re leaving harbor!
Naval combat is back, and in a big way. Production chains for ships have been made easier to allow the player to progress reliably. What usually took a quarter of a game in Anno 2070 is made available within the first few tiers of citizens in Anno 1800. Ships are a major part of the economy – shipping resources, fighting off brigands, privateers and cultists and any company who decide to pick a bone with you. Naval defences and production structures aid in the defence of the trading posts so crucial to the survival of the company. Nobody is going to mess with the Queen’s favourites, now!
Trade routes are back, with some interesting features to make them more welcoming. For shipping resources between island, you need not allocate ships – on the creation of a trade route, a ship auto-created by the game will start shipping your resources. This does cost the treasury, but it is definitely an efficient way of ensuring your production chains are well fed with resources, and your people with food. It is also an interesting way to exchange resources between islands where fertilities for particular crops or availability of particular ores might be lacking. Ship your extra production off to trade partners who will gladly buy them for gold, further adding to the treasury.
A text based adventure game within the game? COOL!
Expeditions are an interesting take on the voyages which made the 1800s an “Age of Scientific Discovery”. With technological growth, companies in Europe were in a rat race to find markets in new parts of the world. The voyage needs resources, and every bit of morale the sailors can gather against unknown dangers.
I felt intrigued by the text-based adventure game they implemented, which resolves the outcome of a voyage with the click of a button. That’s pretty well made! (except occasionally when you succeed even when the odds are like 5%? Eh, who likes losing anyways?)
The game has discovered a strategic depth which has not been seen in previous Anno games. Take proper care of your citizens, else they will riot and stop all work on your islands. Happy citizens feed the treasury the energy it needs to supports projects like shipping resources to the New World and back. Develop production chains maintaining the delicate balance between cash upkeep and citizen needs. Even the AI needs appeasement for them to leave you alone. One wrong move, and you are looking at war. Move resources between islands, and specialize them in production of particular types of resources to boost your economy. Engage in naval warfare, destroying the ports of enemies and sinking their ships.
One feature that Anno 1800 could introduce in a future update could be a better way to monitor several aspects of the economy like average happiness and satisfaction, chance of riots, utilization of public services, amount of resources shipped in trade routes, the functioning of industries, and especially the amount of cash inflows and outflows. The amount of data available in the game is too less, and the only way to run your business empire is to make well-calculated guesses about the economy. When you’re running contracts for Her Majesty, this certainly should not have been the case. While playing, I had to personally see why particular production lines weren’t producing properly, which led to a riot. Gladly, there’s nothing Imperial Era bobbies cannot handle.
Sounds and Music
The game’s sounds are tuned to be realistic. Zoom down into the sawmills, you can hear the sound of wood being cut. Visit the harbour, and you can hear the seagulls. The town centres are bustling centres of livelihood and citizen chatter can be heard all the time. Zoom down into the steel mills, and you can hear the sound of a hammer banging the on iron. Hear the sound of cattle near the farms. The environment feels living and enriched, though the feeling is awkwardly broken when you hear an AI making a remark at the slightest actions that are taking places. Yes, Madam Ying, no one needs to know that you disapprove of the fact that I print propaganda in my papers!
The game’s soundtracks are okayish at best. I really enjoyed the Anno 1404 theme, and while Anno 1800 brought back old-school Anno in terms of mechanics, it failed to prove a decent track for it.
When your empire’s media is sold out. Meanwhile Ying – “No they’re not!”
Graphics and Performance
The game boasts of pretty good artistic design. All buildings are painstakingly designed to make them look akin to Industrial Era buildings, at a time of transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy on a typical Western European (or more prominently, British) island. The bustle at street level can be seen, with people walking to and from work. The game’s adjustable draw distance does allow you to look at your people from close. I liked Anno 2205’s graphics and while Anno 1800 does not live up to the same standards, it definitely did a pretty good job on it. Well, I can still follow a cart collecting goods from a farm or mine to deliver it to the storehouses, so I’m fine.
The game was tested on :
CPU : AMD Ryzen 5 2600
GPU : GTX 1080
RAM : 16 GB DDR4
The game’s performance is still horrible even after the Day 1 patch. The dedicated NVIDIA drivers do ease the pain a bit, but the performance hit still seems to be pretty erratic and horrible. This is one area that Blue Byte seemed to have neglected from the beta. Atleast in the beta I could look at my own expanding settlement without having my frames drop like anything. The game still has that memory leak where a large number of buildings slow it down considerably. Expand that settlement even more, and you’re looking at the “Oops! Anno 1800 has crashed” screen. Blue Byte, fix this!
The game does live up to the standards of an Anno game. Anno 1800 builds up from where Anno 2070 and Anno 1404 left off, and adds even more features to make it a brilliant successor (Anno 2205, no one is going to miss you). If you can live with the performance issues, and want to experience what Anno is all about, just go and hit the Buy button on…..Uplay? Yes, Uplay.