Review – Anno 1800

After Anno 2070 and Anno 2205, the general consensus was that the series had run its course. Both games had some interesting ideas, but they were forgotten among the uncalled for removal of the series’ staple features and the unnecessary streamlining of what was left. The sudden futuristic turn for a series that prided itself on its historical settings didn’t do the games any favors either.

However, in a surprise turn of events, Ubisoft and Blue Byte announced that not only was a new Anno coming, but that it would be developed in tandem with the community in order to regain that classic Anno feeling. Dubbed the “Anno Union”, the idea was that it would be an open forum for direct communication between the players and the developers. While that sounds like a nightmare in practice, the product of this partnership, Anno 1800, instead shows that sometimes great things can happen when a passionate community and a dedicated development team come together.

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The start of all empires, the peasant village.

Three things have always set Anno apart from other mainstream strategy franchises. First, is approachability. Anno’s slower pace and variable difficulty allows for a wider audience than many other games in the genre. Second, is its devotion to history, not just though factual accuracy like Total War, but through aesthetic and atmosphere. You really feel like you’re making your mark on this stage of history, not just reliving someone else’s. Finally, the blend of real-time city construction, large scale empire building, and Civilization styled diplomacy and trade makes for a truly unique experience. Anno 1800 takes all of these concepts and executes them flawlessly.

Many people doubt the importance of approachability in the strategy genre, yet there’s a reason Civilization remains one of the popular franchises in PC gaming. Your core gameplay loop needs to be simple with complexity added only as needed, not merely tossed on to make players feel smart for figuring out some austere mechanics. This may be a trap many games in this genre fall into, but Anno 1800 neatly side-steps it. Through a large variety of highly customizable difficulty options, easy to understand core building mechanics, and different levels of play, there’s something for everyone to play regardless of skill level.

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Only two modes sure, but only two are needed.

The best place to start is the campaign. Unlike the series’ last few attempts, 1800’s is well-written, well-voiced acted, and aids in teaching the game instead of just getting in the way. It gives you a step by step walk through of the general mechanics of the game, but in a way that doesn’t feel condescending. There’s plenty of leeway to play your way and allows mistakes to be made so you can actually learn. It may just be a very fancy tutorial, but it’s one that actually has a decent amount of replay value. When’s the last time a strategy game had a decent tutorial, let alone one you replayed for fun?

Once you finish the campaign’s main quest line, you are then given the choice to either convert your story cities over to Sandbox mode or start over in a brand new world. Sandbox mode is Anno’s main attraction, where you are tossed into the randomly generated world and given full freedom to build your future. This is even more true this time around, with more viable ways to play than ever. If you want to play it as a pure city-builder, pretty much ignoring trade, diplomacy, and colonization, then you are free to do so. If you wish to rely on stock city planning on the other hand and spend your time using the trade system to exploit the resources of the rest of the world, then you can do that too. All of the systems here function just as well separately as they do together, and it’s up to you the degree you interact with them.

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Never before has a game enchanted me with water ripples as much as this one did. I’m not even a huge fan of water…….

A lot of people say graphics aren’t everything, especially in the strategy genre where actual strategy mechanics are king. While those people are certainly right, Anno 1800’s visuals are most certainly extra points in its favor. I simply haven’t seen another game that looks this good. From panning over the gorgeous seas filled with boats sailing this way and that, to walking along the streets of your city in the first-person mode just watching the crowds go about their business, everything looks unbelievable. The loving care that was put into every detail is plain to see and makes building something feel worthwhile. It’s a real place, one you can actually explore, and looks so fantastic that you want to do so. No other city-builder comes close.

It’s not all smooth sailing however, as there are a few issues. Chief among them is the missing co-op. Blue Byte is currently working on it, with the beta release to be soon, but not launching with a core feature like that is disappointing. Similarly, there’s a few QoL adjustments needed, such as the lack of dedicated statistics screens for social services, that are in the pipeline but with no definitive roadmap for release. Then there’s the usual AI quibbles and bugs that simply can’t be avoided in a project of this magnitude. There’s nothing wrong that can really effect enjoyment (at least once Co-Op is released), but it’s still not perfect. It is very, very, very, close though.

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At the end of the day, owning the bank is the ultimate status symbol.

Anno 1800 is the game no one had any right to expect, but desperately needed. Though not without a few lingering issues, the variable gameplay, quality campaign experience, and astounding graphics more than make up for them. What began as a joint passion project between Blue Byte and the Anno Union, using AAA resources to deliver a game catered to player feedback, ended up an example of strategy gaming at its best.

Graphics: 10

One of the best looking games I’ve seen and by far the highest fidelity strategy game currently on the market. The textures are of the highest quality, the water is breathtakingly perfect, and the size and variety of crowds wandering your city complete the look.

Gameplay: 9.0

While the core gameplay is simply sublime, the perfect blend of casual macro and complex micro, the currently missing co-op, lack of a dedicated statistics screen, some questionable AI, and a few minor bugs ever so slightly mar the experience.

Sound: 8.0

Anno soundtracks used to be the benchmark for strategy game music and Anno 1800 brings back that trend. You’ll actually want to listen to this soundtrack, instead of simply replacing it with your own.

Fun Factor: 9.5

There’s something special about Anno done right, and it’s arguably never been done better then this. All skill levels are accommodated, campaign is well voiced and written, and Sandbox Mode is larger and more varied than ever.

Final Verdict: 9.5

Anno 1800 is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Anno 1800 was provided by the publisher.

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