Anno 1800 enjoys a level of grandeur thanks to the associations of its title. The franchise is well established at this point and represents a high-quality sandbox experience. Though there have always been shortcomings levelled against each instalment. Anno 2205, though well received and a proper representative of the greater genre, was criticized for its longevity and some of its procedurally-generated elements. Not many games are up to offering what Anno is known for, and therein lies the pressure for this one to deliver. Especially given the price that Ubisoft is asking gamers to pay in order to enjoy it.
That being said, this is not a game for everyone. Anno 1800 is a civilization builder that demands attention and focus. Gamers must have a liking for politics and micro-management on a grand scale. And for a large of the package, it delivers a comprehensive and gorgeous experience that brings the franchise’s name into very good standing.
The narrative is some good ‘ol Victorian melodrama. Samuel Goode is dead. You, his son, and your trusty cohort Aarhant have rushed back from your galivants to discover your sister Hannah in distress. Your father died a ruined man, and his brother Edvard is seizing control of the island metropolis of Bright Sands. You and Hannah decide to make off to the deserted island of Ditchwater and start afresh. It is up to you to rebuild your family empire, all the while dealing with the neighbours and Edvard’s attempts to ruin you.
The story serves but one purpose, and that is to set up the motivations for discovering this new world. It’s fitting for the time period. But for those of you looking for an accurate depiction of history, this ain’t it. Anno 1800 and its people are idyllic as the common schmucks in a Hallmark movie. The only subjugation of others in this game comes from the player’s preferred approach to leadership and eventual prosperity.
You can work your farmers and engineers into the ground, but that is not without consequence. Unions do exist in this world, and they can be scary when you push them far enough. To that end, I discovered that beer, and paying off the editor of the local newspaper are essential elements to maintaining law and order which could quickly become a hellscape. Not much has changed in 200 years.
I played the alpha version of Anno 1800 back in January and at the time, the overall visuals and world did not impress me. Not in light of what what was being promoted. The viewing scale was limited to the traditional zoom and rotating functions, and that limitation resulted in a perspective that purportedly did not do this game justice. I am pleased to report that that is no longer the case. And boy, did it shock me when I first saw the final product.
Players are treated to a full 360-degree viewing scale. This allows for the land masses and their various heights to be fully visualized, and it gives a great sense of vastness to the endeavour that you are undertaking. It allows for a greater sense of distance. You can make out that the islands are packed closely together in this square of the ocean, and the conflicts that arise in those locations are the result of real proximal tension. This is all on top of a rendering that gives Anno 1800 a real shine. The coastlines are gorgeous with crystal clear water, and the mountains tower above your settlement into the clouds (and the pollution, eventually). The buildings and ships are meticulously detailed and are beautiful in colour composition and design.
I could only play the game at a high graphics setting owing to a severe decrease in RAM (a power surge this week that left me stunned). But on the right rig and on ultra settings, Anno 1800 is not only the best looking game in the franchise, but it right up there alongside other triple As in terms of visual splendor and excellence.
Though, you are at times pulled back by the ‘questionable’ animations of the on-screen NPCs. They’re not terrible, but they do look like they’re made of clay, and they stand out like wounded thumbs against the rest of the visual aesthetic.
Sandboxes can be very intimidating. The micro-managing elements of a civilization builder can be overwhelming for newcomers, and they can be compromised by an unnecessarily complicated interface. Anno 1800 tries its best to compartmentalize the components of its gameplay, especially when it comes to your workforce, their needs, and the resources they farm and the products they produce. The class system is tiered and is built on itself. Citizens can go from being mere farming grunts to artisans that grow delicious peppers. Each tier comes with its own set of resource-based items and buildings, and one has to keep track of population numbers in order to achieve a smooth expansion.
The campaign serves as an appropriate tutorial and introduction to these systems, and internal island management can turn into an easy process quickly. The game very cleverly also makes eventual cross-sea exploration and colonization a necessity. You may not have lime deposits, or a tropical climate good for growing peppers on your island, so you need to go find another island that does. But that kind of expansion is not easy. I find setting up trade routes and agreements to be a complicated and unclear task, as well as the handling of stockpiled resources in relation to those agreements.
Meanwhile, setting up your island in the first place requires players to burn through a large amount of cash, and progression further down the line may be compromised by losses which you cannot work out where they are coming from. It is a very clever class system. And like I said, the unions are there to ensure that you don’t go full Joseph Stalin. But the system can become scarily confusing over time.
It is with this concern that Anno 1800’s multiplayer can be a terrifying proposition. Matches can be played between up to four players and can be of various lengths. An enticing setup that allows for continental negotiations and tense interactions between friends. But stepping into a random lobby, you need to be at the top of your game. Otherwise, those that have religious ties to this gameplay will ruin you within minutes. Combat in Anno 1800 can get very ugly. And all that work that you put into your civilization can be destroyed very quickly.
One of Anno 1800’s new features is the blueprint mode, which allows players to map out their growing metropolis with sketches of buildings yet to be built. A convenient feature, especially when you consider what the final stages of your metropolis are expected to look like. But it is simply and frustratingly undercut by the fact that certain buildings and structures are only unlocked come the next tier of your workforce. And given the period of development that you need to go through with each tier, the mode eventually becomes redundant.
But meanwhile, the game also asks you to take additional, peripheral factors into account when building your city. Your town must be good looking. Try to minimize your carbon footprint and space your structures. You need to also keep your citizens happy. Build beerhouses and universities, dependent on their class. And as mentioned, you have a local editor who is more than keen to work with you on some high-quality propaganda.
Anno 1800 is a worthy successor in this line of period piece sandboxes. It succeeds in constructing and framing its world and gives players a decent shot at prosperity and success. Even though it may be scary looking, the multiplayer is appropriate and allows one to expand and further engage with the political and social quandaries of the time and place. It can get ahead of itself, and less familiar players may struggle down the line.
Do not scoff at the campaign and the lower levels of difficulty; they’re there for good measure. You will also very quickly mute the soundtrack as you go along. As pleasant as it sounds, it is on constant repeat, and your island may benefit from a mood reinforced by some heavy death metal. But meanwhile, go forth and reap the wonders of the natural world, blow up some ships, and swim in your piles of peppers like Scrooge McDuck does with his money.
Last Updated: April 17, 2019