If you’re into historically-based city building games, the best series in that (admittedly small) genre is back with a bang. After two forays into futurism, with Anno 2070 and 2205, Anno is settling back into its roots again with Anno 1800.
The series has now covered every century from 1400-1800, but not in that order. That means that if the last game you played was Anno 1404, which released in 2009, you would get the biggest possible jump in time scale and setting for the series within the real-world games. Added to that is the fact that the aforementioned title was released a full 10 years ago, and you can throw in the technical and graphical progression as even more reasons to bring you back.
…think of this game like Sim City or City: Skylines, but with a historical setting and focus…
For those who might to be new to the franchise, think of this game like Sim City or City: Skylines, but with a historical setting and focus, and a campaign to play through. If you think it looks similar to an RTS like Age of Empires, what really sets it apart is the focus – in something like Age of Empires, your goal is to build units that you control, and then use those units to destroy your enemy. In Anno, your focus is rather the city itself. You build, design, layout and expand your city in various ways, and by doing so, you keep the inhabitants of the city prosperous and happy, although you have very little direct control over them individually.
When I was growing up, the gold standard of this genre was always the Sim City games, but where I think Anno is better as a series is that Sim City took the route of making the newer games simpler and simpler each time. With Anno, it feels like very little is lost from the previous entries in the franchise, and what works great is expanded upon and made even better.
For instance: The setting of Anno 1800 is the period of the Industrial Revolution, and that theme really carries through a lot to gameplay mechanics. You have 5 social classes of citizen, (farmer, workers, artisans, engineers and investors). Only the first three were available to me in this preview, so I couldn’t play around with the end-game tiers, but what becomes apparent even with the first three is that each of them is far more individual than before. They have different needs and desires to be happy that must be balanced against each other, and therefore you must strike a balance between advancing too far one way, and maybe making your farmers unhappy and unproductive, and advancing too slowly, which slows down overall production. In this way, the conflicts between social classes of the real historical period are explored.
With Anno, it feels like very little is lost from the previous entries in the franchise, and what works great is expanded upon and made even better.
Also, for the first time, you do not need to have your citizens be happy to advance them. You can only fulfil their needs to achieve the same, which leads me to picture my city being a more realistic place, as I construct my totalitarian capitalist dictatorship. There is also a new tourism setting, which has people visiting your city based on how attractive it is, and as you get to the later stages of the game, and perhaps build too many huge smoke billowing factories, you will see that your citizens get sicker and your overall city attractiveness goes down to visitors. On the other hand, you can make your city more attractive in interesting ways. I haven’t played them myself in the preview edition, but I have seen them in action in other official material. These include building a World’s Fair, and also possibly a Museum or Zoo, all of which can be modular. What this means is that the character and design of your Zoo are decided by you. And in fact, you must track down the animals to put in it, either by discovering them yourselves or by buying them from other colonies or cities that have them available. You might even receive one as a gift.
That brings me to the next section – the exploration and social aspects of the game. There is multiplayer, which is not available yet and which I have not yet played, but I mean the AI interaction. You will find that your own city does not have enough resources past a point, and to move forward, you will need to go out and either find empty land to settle, or another land to colonize. You cannot just click a button and get all you need, you will need to actively settle the new land. You can be hostile or diplomatic with other groups you find, and you can establish trade routes and other such ties.
There is also an additional exploration feature, where you can send ships out, and get told what happens to them, with choices to be made. For instance, your ship might tell you they encountered a native tribe, and you must decide what you do with them, which will change what additional benefits you receive. There is a South American element to the game, with the tribes that you meet, even though Africa might have been more appropriate to the time period. But I think that even a detached historian like myself would have found it hitting too close to home to have make-believe cartoon colonialism in Africa in my video game, being that I live here and all. So, it’s a choice for the better I think, on average.
…it’s the small touches there that can really make you love your city…
The final thing I want to talk about now is the graphics. Your icons for important people show them to be stylized but not cartoony, and I actually quite like the aesthetic. What I really like is the small details on buildings. When you construct your city, you will see it come to life as it grows. Small children will play in the school, people will hang out in the pub. Citizens will have little interactions as they enter and exit important social hubs. It’s nothing that you control and it’s purely additional, but it’s the small touches there that can really make you love your city in the end.
When the final version is of Anno 1800 out, I would be able to explore and comment on the campaign, end game content, and things like the multiplayer. Until then, this remains a scoreless preview, but what I can say for now is that if you are a fan of city building and history, you can’t go wrong with Anno 1800.
Also, you can now build bridges over rivers. I have heard that this is a big deal for some people.
This article is based on a preview edition of Anno 1800 and did not contain all features or elements of the final game. Anno 1800 is set for a full release on 26 February 2019.