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Anno 1800

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Blue Byte
Release Date: April 16, 2019

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


PC Preview - 'Anno 1800'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 23, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Welcome to the 19th Century, the dawn of the industrial age! Diplomacy, trade or warfare, choose your strategy for victory.

The Anno series has been around for two decades, and it sits atop modern strategy and city-builder games. Since the Anno franchise is an Austrian/German property, there's no better place to show it off than in Germany at Gamescom. We were able to play a 45-minute, hands-on demo that showcased both the start and the mid-game of a regular playthrough.

If you want to get deep for a moment, it's about the journey, not the destination. This may be the most accurate depiction of how German studio Blue Byte arrived at Anno 1800, the newest title in the franchise. After two futuristic iterations, 2070 and 2205, which weren't as well received, this one goes back in time to an era that has been frequently requested by the Anno community: the Industrial Revolution. It's more of a direct follow-up to Anno 1404 in that it aims to capture the essence and best features of its previous iterations, almost attempting to create a "best of" for the series. It's a fitting time, since Anno celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Regardless of whether you followed Anno in recent years, Anno 1800 starts like they all do: slowly building up your settlement on a lonely island. You start with a woodchopper, sawmills, buildings to create a farming workforce, and a small warehouse to move your goods. Creating a functioning and happy city in Anno has always been about creating effective product and supply chains that interact to grow your economy and, in turn, your civilization.

Those dependencies begin with your very first building. A plentiful workforce is the key to success, in conjunction with wood for building materials. Your settlement gradually progresses and becomes more complex until you have a flourishing city complete with several class systems such as artisans, farmers and workers. Your city and citizens can reach five tiers, but the last two are not yet known.

Anno 1800 introduces a few interesting dynamics. It enables a varied class system that may also create impasses if you don't correctly manage your citizens' happiness level. Coal- and oil-based machines will inevitably use similar resources that create dependencies that must be managed accordingly while also creating a great deal of pollution.

Every city you build will have an attractiveness level that you'll want to keep an eye on. It measures three pro (culture, festivity and nature) and three contra values (instability, pollution and vulgarity) against each other. The ratings can be influenced by a variety of things, such as special buildings or items that increase or decrease your stats accordingly. Once you've built a visitor haven, you'll get a certain amount of tourism based on that value, which can create a vital stream of income, so it's best to keep an eye on these stats.

There's more to it, with a few special buildings that are deeply rooted within that attractiveness, namely the museum and zoo. Both buildings are larger complexes with empty cells that the player must fill with historical artifacts or animals, respectively. Most of the items require you to venture out and find them, and that's where expeditions come in. Once our city is advanced enough, we can send a ship on an expedition for archaeological artifacts or other goodies. This is mostly automatic, requiring you to select a ship and crew, and your choices will affect the morale of the crew. Once they're out and about, they'll eventually find something that requires your attention in the form of randomized decision events.

In this case, our crew and the local chieftain felt a very special connection, so we took the chieftain with us and left our priest on the island. Another choice would've been to force our crew back on board and leave, which angered the local ruler so much that he killed our captain. Developer Blue Byte promises there will be a lot of randomized events in the final game, making them distinct every time you encounter them. Regardless of the outcome, our expedition eventually returns with a few rare Aztec artifacts and a pink dolphin. Putting either on display in our museum and zoo boosts our attractiveness, especially if the displayed items are rare. You don't need to go on an expedition because the goods can potentially be acquired by trade.

As our city grows and the resources on our island stretch thin, we have to find new means to sustain our economy. We can venture into the new world (which is certainly South America) and create a second city for the purpose of increasing our resources. This new settlement will most likely be used for farming and can be upgraded over two tiers as opposed to five tiers in our main metropolis. Multiple sessions aren't new, but they are easier to navigate than in previous examples; switching between them required no loading screens and is as convenient as pressing a button. We can then create trade routes and use either our own or chartered ships to carry goods back and forth.

After playing the beginning of a new savegame and taking over a more advanced session, Anno 1800 looks, feels and plays like it should, which is good news for anyone interested in the series. I haven't seen or played enough to determine how well the new setting matches or develops over the course of a more advance playthrough. The basics are as solid as ever, which is a good sign after the series' recent departures from the historic formula. There are some minor improvements, such as the previously mentioned quick swap between sessions and the possibility to downgrade your citizens (e.g., from workers to farmer) to satisfy and move your workforce as needed.

Anno 1800 played very well and without any visible signs that this is still very much a work in progress. It'll be released on Feb. 26, 2019, for PC, and I'm sure we'll get more details and information before then.

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