Anno 1800 preview – Raising or razing empires, depending on your management

6 min read
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It all started with me using dynamite to catch some fish.

While trawling off a faraway coast, I received an urgent letter to come home. The old man is dead. His brother has taken over, and my sister and I decide to bail. We are presented with our very own island. A place where we can grow, mine, and produce and trade our cut of the Industrial Revolution.

Welcome to Anno 1800.

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The island is randomly generated, and is vast and bountiful, providing reserves of natural resources from coal, iron and oil, to clay and limestone. Fertile lands for a specific selection of goods. The building blocks of a future, thriving metropolis. But that’s later down the cobbled road. The game renders a pristine environment that is beautifully detailed when gazed upon up close. You see where the water breaks on the shore and the wildlife that wanders freely around. It is a pleasant and attractive place to start your settlement.

And attraction is a key necessity to your success here. Unlike previous games in the franchise, settlers will be drawn to your island provided you keep it aesthetically pleasing. This proved a great challenge at first because if you want that wood chopped and lumbered, the first item on your list, you need a substantial workforce. Constructing a massive number of farmers houses, I am careful to plant some trees and not squeeze buildings together to ensure they don’t look like labour camps. Another new feature is the blueprint function, which allows me to map where I want to place structures before I even have the resources to construct them.

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The blueprints are also helpful for mapping out your individual production processes. Every resource you grow or mine requires its own collection of buildings, from butcheries to kilns. These then need access to a warehouse to store all the goods. Each warehouse has its own horse and carriage to retrieve produce and they are all interconnected. No need to worry about distance. Your red peppers will appear in the warehouse next to your market, wherever that may be.

With my community expanding, I have a need for some workers. Those who can work the mines and the less basic of tasks like herding sheep. Upgrading a residence of ten farmers gives me twenty workers, but therein lies a problem. I still need to replace those ten farmers and these new workers have greater needs. They want sausages. And education. The tiers of your settlement are comprehensive. You need to balance their numbers and make sure that each industry has enough of each. Opening up a steel mill alone requires at least 200 workers that then have to be sourced from somewhere!

They each have their own collection of requirements whose fulfillment will result in their satisfaction and happiness. They will even throw festivals for you to celebrate your leadership. I have noticed that this happens when you build your first brewery. The tiers are built on one another and the speed at which you expand your settlement is heavily dependent on this. The wrong speed can result in either too few goods or too few hands producing them.

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Anno 1800 takes patience. One cannot expect instant gratification in a sandbox this extensive. There is an emphasis on planning. Though with that said, I did speed up time once in a while when I was waiting on farmers to arrive.

The local press looks on and reports on your progress. They are honest with their reporting in the face of a potential collapse of society, but you can correct that by paying for a few edits. Nothing gets you and your workforce in an upbeat mood better than some good ‘ol propaganda (writers note: those edits had me grinning broadly).

The population is growing, and the island sports all that one may need in an urban world. I have a church and several schools. There is a giant cloud of smog that hangs over my steel mill and that does impact my beautification but needs must. Several fires break out (accidents?), but my fire brigades take care of them. The mill randomly exploded twice, and I had to rebuild. My ships are susceptible to pirates, so I fit a few cannons to the harbour and keep a warship on standby. And while all this is happening, I continue to haemorrhage money. I burnt through my starting amount quite quickly and it is difficult to determine where the losses are coming from within your industries. I eventually started making a profit and all seemed well.

I even started exploring. Contained in your map are several other islands and their residents, with whom diplomatic ties and trade routes can be established, and even side quests to be completed. One of them involved me bombing another island’s ship, so you may want to think about all the variables before going ahead with that one. With this in mind, Anno 1800’s multiplayer will surely be interesting in terms of testing diplomacy and friendship.

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Anno is all about micro-managing an empire and all its facets. It takes time, and the needs of the tiers are extensive. But a point can be reached where your well-oiled machine is a testament to the era. And who is to say that your workforce does not reap the rewards of their toils! Ascending from simple farmers to artisans to prominent investors.

But it can all come crashing down. So interconnected are the work chains and production lines of the settlement that the failure of one element, usually the result of too-rapid expansion or downright greed (a strategy like any other, and still fitting for the time period), means that the entire system is compromised. A compromised system means an unhappy populace. An unhappy populace means that that uprising that has been whispered about since day one, may very well come to fruition. They’ll start preaching atop that soapbox instead of packing soap into it. You can imagine where this all will lead to.

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Capitalism. A fragile enterprise.

By session’s end, I had an abundance of wood, and was in business with the Chinese empress on the isle next door. Meanwhile in the campaign, I had cozied up to the Queen’s envoy who in turn helped me keep my annoying uncle at bay.

1800 encapsulates a living and operating experience that excels above previous Anno titles, in that the changing times means that living is not so simple anymore. While it remains to be seen what that living looks like when we add electricity and railways into the mix, it delivers on a starting point where anything is possible. Where your leadership choices matter.

Last Updated: January 25, 2019

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