Ubisoft’s Anno 1800 is shaping up to be a compelling 4X title.
There’s something so satisfying about starting from nothing and building up a community around you. To take the land around you and eventually thrive in your conditions. Games centered around exploring and expanding have long been a staple of PC gaming almost since its inception. Anno 2070 and Anno 2205 were a couple of amazing 4X titles that gave a glimpse into the distant future of humanity. But now after ten years, the Anno series is returning to historic settings with Anno 1800.
Anno 1800 is styled after old-school 4X games, but it still contains modern additions that help reduce the tedium that these games sometimes fall victim to. With so many games in the 4X genre, Anno really needs to have a different flavor in order to stand out. Fortunately, it does just that, and while it’s not perfect yet, it’s definitely heading in the right direction.
"With so many games in the 4X genre, Anno really needs to have a different flavor in order to stand out. Fortunately, it does just that and while it’s not perfect yet, it’s definitely heading in the right direction."
When looking at Anno 1800’s gameplay, it’s pretty standard fare for 4X games. You land in a certain spot, then use the natural resources around you to start a community. You have tons of buildings and trades available to you, from lumber-cutting to sausage-crafting. You’ll have to settle farmers and give them tasks as well as diversions with buildings like pubs and churches. Your population’s happiness also has to be taken into account. You’re given options to reduce or increase the workload they have as well. The higher that goes, the more product you’ll have, but the less happy your townsfolk will be. When they’re the most satisfied they can be, you can upgrade them into workers, and that opens up new buildings you can make.
This is all what you would expect from a 4X game, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Anno 1800 has great presentation, and provides you with new things to learn at a pretty steady pace. I was never stuck in a certain section just waiting for enough money to accumulate or enough resources to get farmed. The initial couple hours I spent with Anno, learning the ins-and-outs of the world, were some of the most fun I had with the title.
There is a tutorial for newcomers, and it’s helpfully integrated into the experience. So instead of sitting you in a practice arena and having you jump through hoops for fifteen minutes, the tutorial prompts present themselves as quests that you need to accomplish while you’re actually creating your community. This allows players to use it for however long they need and then seamlessly turn the messages off with no loss in progress. This is a great addition, but in its current form, it’s pretty minimal. Though an effort to teach players the rules of the game is appreciated, I feel like the studio can go much further. An encyclopaedia of gameplay mechanics that the player can tab through menus to find would be much appreciated. Even with the tutorial, there are just too many buildings, trades, and gameplay mechanics to dip into that aren’t covered. Having all that information in one place for easy consumption would go a long way to giving players all the tools they need to have a fun time in Anno.
"The initial couple hours I spent with Anno, learning the ins-and-outs of the world, were some of the most fun I had with the title."
It wasn’t too long before I could start diving into the tasty new features this title has to offer. New to Anno 1800 are the Zoo and Museum buildings. These are just simple cultural diversions for your citizens, but they open up interesting expeditions where you venture out into the world in order to find new animals and artefacts for your buildings. Collecting as many things as you can is interesting- it ended up tapping into that completionist streak in me. It also adds a unique use for your ship.
Even more so than in other 4X games, the ship is an integral part of your experience. Not only will you find new islands and new resources all over the world, but you’ll also need to send your ship out in order to trade with other players. The expeditions that I mentioned before are a great addition to Anno. You select your crew and supplies and send a ship out to explore. You’ll be given some text describing your crew’s situation, and you’ll be presented with choices based on the trouble your expedition team has found itself in. Sending a team out only to have members of the crew fall in love with an indigenous people puts you in a hard place; do you tear apart lovers and bring back the loot? Do you try and convince the tribe’s king that you should take the people back to your city? It’s really interesting seeing the turns these expeditions can take.
The ships also tie into Anno 1800 in one other way: combat. Naval combat is your only combat option in this title. This turns out to be a good decision for the game, since you don’t have to concern yourself with the tedium and distraction of training units that are only suitable for war. Aside from ships, you can build guns to protect your coastline and leave the fighting out on the seas. Fighting is not a huge focus in Anno 1800, with the majority of effort being focused on the community-building. As such, while combat is fine for what it is, it’s not going to be the thing that keeps you engaged in Anno. There are also some issues with the pathfinding of ships right now, with them sometimes being unable to decide where to go, but this happens pretty infrequently.
"Fighting is not a huge focus in Anno 1800, with the majority of effort being focused on the community-building. As such, while combat is fine for what it is, it’s not going to be the thing that keeps you engaged in Anno."
While you play, you’ll either run into other players, or they’ll stumble upon you. With the easy-to-use interface, you can interact with these folk, though your interactions are fairly limited. You can compliment them for a bit of a boost in your relationship, or you can lob an insult their way to intentionally sour relations. You can also offer gifts to people you’ve met or accept quests from them. The quest system is shaping up to be a fun one, giving you tasks you need to work at in order to improve relations, instead of solely relying on bribes to keep opponents appeased.
So far, Anno 1800 is shaping up to be a really a good-looking title too. Everything has a pleasant and warm color scheme. The details given to buildings are pretty impressive as well. Seeing people scurrying about your city and chattering amongst themselves makes your community really seem lived in. There’s also a beautiful soundtrack that plays in the background that thankfully doesn’t get on your nerves over long stretches of playing. UI and presentation is also pretty clean and streamlined. Many of your most valuable tools are easily accessible from the bar menu at the bottom of the screen, and it helps to not clutter up the beautiful vistas with pop-up menus.
Now, since this is a early version of the game, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that there are a few technical issues present. One of the biggest problems that I constantly struggled with was with the overload mechanic. From the very beginning of my play sessions, carts that are supposed to take your goods from the farms and trade buildings wouldn’t ever arrive where they needed to. No matter where I moved the building, the cart just would not leave to bring goods to the warehouse. I also found myself saddled with the quick-menu prompt constantly on my screen. Even when I unlocked it and tried moving it somewhere else, I could never fully get rid of the icon. The team are aware of a few issues in the game, and did make a note to say that they were working on ironing out the kinks before the full release.
"Since this is a early version of the game, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that there are a few technical issues present."
Anno 1800 is a great time so far. During my time with the game, I was having a lot of fun learning and functioning within the game’s world. Like I said before, building up at the beginning is the most exciting part so far, but Anno 1800 is doing a lot else to keep you invested following that as well. It also looks like it’ll have unique properties that help set it apart from the Civilization titles, the Endless games, and all the other 4X experiences out there- at least when the game works the way it’s supposed to. Personally, I’m hopeful that when Anno 1800 finally releases later on this year, the bugs and balance issues won’t be along for the ride.