Anno 1800 is beguiling in its beauty and charm. At one moment you can have a perfectly manicured city and the next you’re haemorrhaging money as your metropolis burns to the ground. Developed by Blue Byte and published by Ubisoft, Anno 1800 is the seventh game in the main Anno series, a series that focuses on city management, lines of production, and trying to keep a population happy as you juggle an ever-increasing list of goods, trade routes, and diplomatic relations.
A New Start
Set in the late 19th century, Anno 1800’s campaign takes you on a journey to discover the true cause of your estranged father’s death. With little more than a fishing ship to your name, you make for your old home to discover your uncle has seized control. The only logical step is to flee with your sister, purchase an island, and begin constructing your own city while investigating the questionable death of your father and the motives of those around you.
The campaign can be played on a myriad of difficulties. Advanced players can tweak settings for some truly unforgiving limits while new players can enjoy a, slightly, more relaxed start up. Resource and fertility levels, starting income, even the allies, trading partners, and hostile players can all be adjusted to create a new experience with each playthrough.
Managing (Human) Resources
For newcomers, the campaign in Anno 1800 takes you through the various mechanics and systems of the game. As you start out, your sister will guide you through setting up a new city. Some information is offered on how buildings work and how many brick factories a clay pit can support, but after a while the game kind of assumes you have everything under control.
The progression of the waterfront port into a thriving city is based on tier levels. Your population starts out as simple farmers, tending to fields and creating simple clothes, but then extends into workers. These workers can’t tend to the fields, instead, their skillset can be put to use in different industries like mining and steelworks.
As you progress further into the game, more tiers of the class system will unlock. Balancing your population becomes an act of upgrading a farmer right up to an investor, but then replacing each tier in turn as more resources are demanded. It’s a complex system that adds an extra layer of realism and decision-making to the process.
Long-time Anno players will no doubt be able to take the ball and run, but for newcomers looking to experience what Anno has to offer, there’s not enough guidance. There’s no glossary or index, and very few icons have a mouse-over function that reveals more information. For a game that relies on micromanagement and attention to detail, very little explanation is offered, making for a very steep learning curve.
However, if you are able to penetrate the veil, you’ll be greeted with a rich experience where you constantly push yourself to higher levels of efficiency. Plonking down houses and choosing a nice shady spot for the marketplace changes into precision gridding systems where you outline the exact threshold of the marketplace’s influence before a house loses some of the positive effects.
While this is part of the fun, cities end up looking mind-numbingly similar as you figure out the most cost effective and efficient way to place your buildings. But that’s kind of the point. A lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing the machine running at peak efficiency as resources are moved from one location to another as you encroach further and further upon your opponent’s territory.
Speaking of the opponents, diplomacy can play a vital part in Anno 1800. While victory doesn’t always require dealing with others, making trade agreements and avoiding war when necessary makes the whole process a lot easier. That’s not to say diplomacy is easy. Juggling quests, offering expensive bribes, and picking the right time to flirt can be challenging, especially as the needs of your citizens grow as your reach expands.
The system through which diplomacy functions is simple on the surface. Players have the option to flirt, insult, bribe or request a mission from another NPC. An estimation of the success rate of the chosen action is shown and it’s up to you whether or not you risk forking out thousands of dollars on a move that may not work. For players looking to reach into the end-game, the diplomacy screen will become as valuable as managing trade routes.
This is good practice for the multiplayer side of Anno 1800. While it’s much the same as the single player experience, multiplayer obviously adds the element of other humans. Diplomacy and trade agreements come down to personalities and whether things feel right at the time. It’s not really a numbers-chance game in the same sense of dealing with an AI. Everything else is exactly the same as the sandbox, even down to being able to add AI players to a match.
A Beautiful World
For a game that can be incredibly stressful, it is utterly charming and serene. The beauty of the landscape is always at the forefront of the experience. While it can be easy to take a macro view of your city and see resources being ferried from one building to a warehouse, there’s a sense of pride that comes from zooming in on your wheat farm that has a snow-peaked mountain as its backdrop.
The beauty of Anno 1800 also extends to its soundtrack. Composed by Dynamedion, the entire score of the game alleviates a lot of the stress that comes with this sort of resource management and puzzle solving. Even as war brews on the extremities of your region, and even when your citizens are demanding finer luxury items, the gorgeous orchestral pieces are there to tell you everything will be okay.
The music actually evoked memories of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Lucas Pope’s Return of the Orba Dinn. Each piece ushered in a sense of adventure, of mystery, and an overwhelming feeling of being home. It has a lot of weight to carry – what with the constant pressure of potentially collapsing your entire civilization – and it does so effortlessly.
Despite the constant stress of trying to balance my reach against the happiness and budget of my city, I found a beautiful experience in Anno 1800. It has a real soul to it, as it demands the player care about not only the raw efficiency of a city layout, but the health and wellbeing of a population that wants more out of life.
This review is based on a PC digital copy provided by the publisher. Anno 1800 is available now on the Epic Games Store.
- Beautiful visuals
- Stunning soundtrack
- In-depth management systems
- Sandbox offers unlimited game variety
- Multiplayer offers endless enjoyment
- Limited help system for new players
- No glossary of terms
- No in-game tech trees to view