Anno 1800 evaluation: An Industrial Revolution however not a design revolution

Bread and circuses. All we want are bread and circuses, to maintain the populace complacent. And but, attempt as I would, I can’t appear to supply sufficient bread to fulfill the calls for of the residents of Ditchwater. Am I not rising sufficient wheat? Are the millers not working quick sufficient? Do we want extra bakeries? Earlier than I can repair the issue it’s hit the pages of the native newspaper, additional stoking resentment. A riot breaks out, protesters clashing within the streets with my tiny police drive.

Concurrently, a thousand miles away and throughout the ocean, arsonists try to burn down my fledgling colony on La Isla. Chances are high they’re associated to the identical shadowy group that murdered my father and stole my inheritance—however I can’t cease them, as a result of I don’t even have sufficient bricks to construct a police station right here.

All the pieces’s going fallacious without delay, and it’s all my fault. That’s Anno 1800.

Instances are a changin’

After two Anno experiments set within the far-flung future, the collection returns to its roots as a historic city-builder-slash-strategy recreation with Anno 1800. As longtime followers can little question surmise from the title, the sport is ready within the 1800s, the interval of the commercial revolution, with distinctly Victorian Period structure and a concentrate on manufacturing facility labor.

IDG / Hayden Dingman

And in case you like Anno, it nonetheless does the Anno factor fairly rattling properly—which is to say, it’s a recreation about optimization. Certain, it seems to be like a metropolis builder, nevertheless it’s extra difficult than your common SimCity or Cities: Skylines. Cash isn’t your solely constraint, and even your major constraint. As a substitute you’re balancing a bunch of sources in opposition to the wants of your residents, or at the least making an attempt to take action.

It begins out comparatively straightforward. You want farmers, which implies you want homes for the farmers, which implies you want lumber. Even this can be a two-step course of although. To get lumber, you’ll have to handle the “Lumber Manufacturing Chain,” first constructing a lumberjack’s hut to provide logs, then supplementing with a sawmill to show the logs into usable boards to create homes.

Now you will have farmers—however the work doesn’t cease there. The farmers have wants as properly, so that you construct a dock for fishing boats, create a potato farm and a distillery, create pens for sheep and a manufacturing facility to show the wool into yarn after which rudimentary garments. All of those require labor, which implies extra homes, which implies extra farmers, which implies extra potato farms and sheep pens and factories, and so forth.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

That is the Anno loop, and it solely will get extra difficult from there. Ultimately you’ll flip a few of these farmers into staff, after which into artisans, every with totally different requirements you should provide—canned meals, stitching machines, sausages, and so forth. After which when it looks like it couldn’t probably get extra difficult, Anno 1800 introduces the New World, a second metropolis that runs parallel to the primary and seems merchandise like rum and occasional that your laborers within the Outdated World wish to buy. Get able to arrange some commerce routes.

It’ll be very acquainted to Anno veterans, particularly those that had been across the final time Anno was set in a historic interval. Many of those concepts are throwbacks to the colonial Anno 1701 and the like, simply moved ahead to the Victorian Period. The principle variations are some quality-of-life adjustments made within the future-era Annos that now map onto 1800, plus one key new “blueprinting” function that I’m actually keen on.

Most necessary, for my part, is the Transfer function. This was launched in Anno 2205, and lets you simply reorganize your cities by choosing up any construction and shifting it to a brand new space. On Anno’s customary problem you are able to do this at any second and to any construction, without spending a dime. Practical? No, nevertheless it’s a welcome addition that helps clear up the usual city-builder downside the place beginning out you construct a sawmill or a wheat farm in what finally turns into the middle of your city. Now you simply decide that sawmill up and transfer it to the outskirts once more, the place it belongs.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Anno 1800 also adds another feature to help budding urban planners: Blueprint Mode. Say you know you want to reserve a plot for your Town Hall but your factories haven’t produced enough windows yet, you can now place a silhouette of the Town Hall onto the spot in question. These blueprints won’t function until you build them properly, but it’s a nice touch for people who like to neatly lay out their cities.

Unfortunately, Anno 1800 feels like a step back in some regards from Anno 2205. I really loved that the three environments in 2205 felt varied on a minute-to-minute level. The temperate zones played like a standard city builder, but the arctic areas forced you to cluster houses around factories for heat, and the late-game lunar colonies were limited by costly life-support domes.

Anno 1800 doesn’t have that luxury, limited as it is by the scope of the Victorian Era. Aside from the unique resources, building in either zone feels interchangeable. Islands tend to be smaller in the New World, but you’re not really forced to reckon with tropical storms or anything that might fundamentally change how you play a city builder. I think there might be a slight tendency towards more diseases in the New World, but this is easily solved by the fact you unlock hospitals earlier than your Old World counterparts.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

And the hardest part of Anno is still figuring out what the hell is going wrong. I complained about the interface in Anno 2205, which pared down the old text-heavy menus into something more pleasing to the eye. 1800 is a weird hybrid though, in that the menus are more cluttered than they were in 2205 but still don’t tell the player enough.

Try figuring out why you can’t upgrade your old farmer hovels into gleaming worker apartments, for instance. To do so you’ll need to click on one of the farmer residences and see what you’re short on—let’s say worker clothes. Then you’ll need to figure out which stage of clothing production is the bottleneck. Do you not have enough sheep farms? Not enough yarn? Or just not enough clothing factories?

And there’s not really an elegant way to surface this information either. You can pore over your warehouse’s storage list to see if there’s an obvious shortfall in one or another product, but I often found it easier to find the factories in question and check step-by-step whether each process had access to enough raw materials. “Easier.” The problem’s compounded any time trade comes into the equation, trying to figure out whether you’re out of cotton or hops or what-have-you because nobody can sell you more or if there’s a boat on the way laden with the resources you need.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

It just feels cumbersome at times. Anno is fundamentally a series about micromanaging. Reviewing 2205, I wrote that Anno “often feels less like [building a] real city and more like machinery.” It’s all about managing pipelines, spinning two-dozen plates at once and all those plates have additional plates balanced on top. And if Anno has a flaw, it’s that it’s terrible at telling you when one of the plates starts to wobble.

Okay, one more flaw: It’s a game about colonialism, but it’s unwilling to engage with what that historically entailed. I’m not really sure what I expect a city builder to do in this regard, but it’s one of the thornier parts of Anno 1800 that the series avoided with the future-oriented 2070 and 2205. The history of colonialism in South America is brutal, exploiting both the region’s natural resources and labor pool. Anno has you building sugar plantations, stripping the land of gold and oil, et cetera, and doesn’t ever ask the player to think twice about the ramifications.

It’s hardly the first long-running series to encounter this issue. Civilization and Europa Universalis, for example, have run afoul of the same problem in recent years as developers and players both try to align the modern (mostly negative) connotations of colonialism with games predicated on colonialist ideas. I found myself thinking about it a lot playing Anno 1800 though, watching my sombrero-clad workers laboring on the sugarcane plantation without seemingly a care in the world.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

To its credit, Anno 1800 does try to grapple with industrialization’s impact on the populace, with every factory you add diminishing your city’s attractiveness rating. This system’s pretty thin though, with penalties applied to entire islands instead of (as in Cities: Skylines) affecting the immediate area around an industrial center. There also aren’t, from what I’ve seen, any impacts on the land or the people themselves. You can place a wheat field next to a smoke-spewing factory with no negative impact, and none of my citizens ever came down with respiratory problems or anything despite living in the shadow of the smokestacks.

That said, this is the most impressed I’ve been with an Anno game on a technical level. The buildings are incredibly detailed, down to signs and moving bits of machinery. The streets bustle with people. Sheep wander around their pens. Plantain trees wave in the wind. Your island is only one of many, as the map is populated by a bunch of AI island-cities as well, some of which (in the campaign at least) are vastly larger than your own.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

And then there’s the New World/Old World dynamic. Both run at the same time and can be switched between on-the-fly—and immediately. In 2205 I complained that switching zones required a 20-second load each time, but in Anno 1800 you can toggle Old World to New World and back again with zero load screens.

It’s incredible, really. I’m running on an Intel Core i7-5820K and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti and even so I’ve seen a bit of slowdown, but honestly with this much happening at once I’m amazed it runs at all.

Bottom line

As always, Anno 1800 is flawed but strangely engrossing. I’ve spent 15 or 20 hours constructing my little ocean-spanning empire now, and may well spend 15 or 20 more fleshing it out. Much as I miss the additional challenges posed by the environments in 2205, there’s still a satisfying loop to Anno 1800 that makes it one of the more unique city-builders, balancing two-dozen different resources, trade, diplomacy, and a rudimentary navy all at the same time.

I’d like to see Blue Byte improve the framework next time though, the structure within which that loop is contained. The menus need a complete overhaul for starters—even the non-game menus. It took me 10-plus hours to find out you can rotate buildings by clicking the middle mouse button because it’s not even listed in the settings menu. It’s only detailed in a load screen tip, and the only time you see load screens is on initial startup.

Bigger picture, I’d like to see a more daring setting next time as well. Anno 1800 returns the series to its roots after two games away, which is fine, but it does feel like playing it safe after the creatively daring 2070 and 2205. It’d be great to see another departure soon—say, an Anno starring the Phoenicians or another ancient trade empire.

But Anno 1800 will do for now. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it’s a bit rough around the edges, but Anno’s still the most fun you can have with a glorified spreadsheet. Just be sure to build lots of bakeries.

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