Buy now

Review: Anno 1800 (PC)

8.5

Great

The turn of the 19th century was a time of great things: The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, with many crafts moving from hand-produced items to mechanised factory fabrication. Wood gave way to iron and steel, and massive factories shot up, belching smoke from tall chimneys.

In Anno 1800, you play as the eldest of the Goode children, fighting to repair the damage done to your family’s reputation. Your father was arrested for treason and before his hearing, died in his cell. His brother took most of the inheritance, leaving you with the debt and the tarnished name. While building houses, farms and factories the single-player campaign takes you on a journey of conspiracy, grand plots, rebellion and redemption as you work to clear your name and get to the truth.

The campaign is focussed on a single island in the old world, and one island in the New World. While you can claim other islands like in previous games, the biggest change here is that both the New World and Old World are running simultaneously. There is no loading screen between the two, letting you hot swap and add a few buildings, deal with a crisis or bump up production of an import. The added pressure is that you have to keep track of both as pirates, fires, illness and more occur on each map, forcing you to swap between the two at a moment’s notice. If you enjoyed building in another zone then coming back a while later to deal with issues, this might feel a bit frantic at first. The tradeoff is that you can switch so seamlessly, without staring at a loading screen, letting you make small changes without feeling like you need to stop what you are doing now to load up another map and play around with another settlement or island or two. Dealing with several islands having buildings on fire, pirates attacking your trading routes and your income dropping drastically because you outgrew your supply of rum in your most affluent settlement all happening at once can make it feel like you are spinning plates, which makes you try to plan better so that it doesn’t happen again.

Everything happening at once can make it feel like you are spinning plates, which makes you try to plan better so that it doesn’t happen again.

Finishing the campaign switches the game to sandbox mode, but you can start a sandbox game from scratch, complete with world seeds and a multitude of options to tailor the game to your fancy. From choosing the victory conditions (or turning them off to just build forever), picking the NPCs that will inhabit the world with you and more, you can create a peaceful trader’s paradise or a cutthroat world to build in.

Building for efficiency

Buildings are back in charge of their wagons, which is a big relief after a few games where warehouses controlled what happens. Instead of a warehouse having a set number of wagons to send out, there are now a set number of loading bays where drop off and pick up occur. It is possible to overload a warehouse by having too many industries nearby, but if you plan properly, you can have buildings send their inventory directly to the correct industry, saving time and loading bay space. Suddenly creating a space with all of your wheat fields and windmills together doesn’t just make aesthetic sense, but you can keep a lot of the load off of your warehouses.

All buildings tell you how long it takes to create 1 resource from 1 or more other resources, but it doesn’t help when you are looking at your warehouse trying to work out if you are close to running out of something. If you build a supply system that uses up everything made in a minute, you will never have an overflow into your warehouse of surplus goods. Then if suddenly your people are consuming that good faster than what you make in a minute, there is a big knock on effect as your taxes and even population count take a serious downward turn. The answer would appear to be making surplus of everything and then noting which numbers are dropping every now and then in the warehouse, but I can’t help but wish to get Anno 2205’s resources used per tick system back, which let you tell at a glance that you used more of X than you made in the same amount of time, including trades too.

Without that, you basically have to be a hawk and make some gut decisions based on your trade routes. How long will it take for a round trip to get 50 of an import? Do you need extra ships on the route? Can you even produce 50 of the item in the time it takes the ships to make a full voyage? The game doesn’t help you work this out or give a rough estimate of the time it will take to cross the oceans, so you might want to keep track of things or get some trading to supplement your most precious resources.

Controlling revolution

Anno 1800 puts a strong focus on the Industrial Revolution and puts a lot of control in the player’s hands. In previous games the number of citizens in your city grew exponentially with each new tier, in this each tier only adds 10 more spaces to a house, making employee numbers manageable as well as easy to try and plan expansion. With the Industrial Revolution having a strong focus on workforce, the game has tried to emulate this by always showing you available workers by category. Having lots of farms will, quite obviously, require a lot of farmers, meaning you will need many extra farmhouses built before you can upgrade a few into the next tier. It feels a lot more structured and gives an understanding of why you need so many of a specific tier, rather than the game just deciding you need X number of a specific tier.

The other change is how many people work in the factories. Factories can take hundreds of staff to produce the raw materials your company needs. If you really want to produce a surplus or enough to trade, you are going to need a large population to support that, probably large enough that you will want other islands bringing in certain resources so that you don’t have those jobs eating into your available workforce, as well as the land it would take up. It feels real enough that your cities will eventually look like actual cities instead of just random buildings plonked together.

It feels real enough that your cities will eventually look like actual cities instead of just random buildings plonked together.

To help with all of this, the game now has a blueprint mode, which lets you plan out as much as you want without using up materials or starting up the maintenance costs of those expensive factories. Get the most out of a piece of land or check that everything fits in the available space before you commit your resources, or leave a blueprint for a building you can’t afford or need just yet so that the next time you visit that island, you have a reminder that you booked space for a certain building.

When not patrolling for pirates or keeping other companies off your back, you can send your ships out on expeditions. You load them up with some rations and other items that will help them on their journey and off they go, with an old sea salt reporting back every so often. These expeditions are narrative based choices that you can sometimes solve by having the right special crewmember or item on board. Your ship can get robbed in port, ambushed while exploring foriegn lands, attacked by the mighty Kraken and much more. But surviving the trip means coming back with treasures, like new animals to display in your zoo, or relics to put in your museum.

I loved spending time in the Industrial Revolution, a time I was worried would be dull and dirty and ugly, but the Ubisoft Blue Byte team has done a wonderful job of breathing life and colour into the scenes and buildings. While there is still a lot of brown in the palette, the smaller details that have been captured really make the buildings and farms a pleasure to look at as you go about building your empire. Farms that allow for single tile placement are especially beautiful when you create massive farmlands to support your empire, acres of wheat or potatoes stretching into the distance. Using oil and big factories leaves a terrible smog in the air and will upset nearby residents and put a damper on your tourism rating, so players will have to balance natural beauty versus the siren’s call of industrial profit. Maybe there is space somewhere for a beautiful island, but I hear the call of industry, thudding machines and burning oil.

Good

  • Great music
  • Lots to learn and tweak for peak efficiency
  • Combat and building back in a single map
  • Hot swapping between regions
  • Planning mode

Bad

  • Graphic slowdown on bigger islands
  • Combat ship AI
  • If you don't like brown...
  • Planning for oil's train tracks can be hard

Summary

Anno might have gone backwards in time, but don't let that fool you. This is a step forward in terms of management and keeping players thinking and responding to multiple issues all at once. Settlements look vibrant and alive, with the music helping you while away the hours (until the narrator reminds you it might be time for a break)
8.5

Great

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

Lost Password

Sign Up