Anno 1800 is a gorgeous and extremely demanding beast of a strategy game

Trying to start a review for Anno 1800 is a daunting task. Having come into it with a slight experience playing strategy/city building games like Sid Meier’s Civilization V and SimCity, I quickly realized I was way out of my league when stepping into the complex web of tasks and responsibilities that Blue Byte’s seventh Anno title is built upon. Similarly to its predecessors, Anno 1800 is a game about the many layers of maintaining a civilization, not only focusing on just building vast cities or taking over territory, but the entire process of keeping your community alive, by having you set up trade routes, worker and farmer balancing, as well as defending your riches from the clutches of pirates and rival companies.

Anno 1800 is a beast of a game. There’s no two ways around it. If you come into it like me, with little to no experience with the previous entries in the franchise, it’s quite natural to feel slightly overwhelmed from the very get go, and it’s not surprising. Compared to a Civilization, Anno is much more involved. Sure, the same concepts are there, that is, thinking about which structures to construct at first, where to focus your production, and how to best exploit the areas around your settlement, but where the more recent Civs streamline the process by easing the burden and only have you make, say, one structure type a title and have its inner workings sorted out automatically, Anno 1800 puts you in control of every single step of the process.

The sea is your life blood in Anno 1800. No wonder it’s so beautiful!

Imagine wanting to produce a certain type of resource, like wood. It’s not only a matter of building a sawmill or dragging lumberjacks to the trees next to town. In Anno, you have to think about how far that spot is from town, whether or not you can get your resources to the production structures you own, or if that can reach your port in order to ship it out. But before even having to worry about all those problems, you first have to have enough people in your city that are capable of handling the job. 1800 splits the workforce between farmers and workers, and that balance is paramount in order to keep your production line flowing. Having too much of either will tip things and collapse the entire system, and that is directly related to the houses you built at the beginning, if there are enough of them to support the workforce you’re stocking up to. Biting more than you can chew at the outset is a surefire way to sink your economy, and if your base isn’t firm, you’ll have one hell of a time moving ahead in the game.

That’s only one layer of the brick of a cake that Anno 1800 is. Every single aspect about the game seems to be steeped with little details to tweak, like keeping track of your imports and exports in real-time, allowing you to stop sending out some items in order to benefit your internal spendure, and later distributing it to your citizens as needed, or the opposite, or even cutting down on their income in order to up the profits, plummeting their satisfaction values in the process. The inner workings of Anno are like an antique clock’s, which can work to its favor since it keeps players on their toes at all times, but it’s also quite intimidating to newcomers not keen on the fact of just how minute some of the details can get. All in all, it’s exciting to think that there’s a game like this around in this day and age, a stark contrast to all the one-click-to-play mobile sims of there.

A smart production line begins with careful structural placement.

These specific problems are addressed in Anno 1800’s excellent story mode, which works double shift as both the bulk of the single player content in the game and as its cleverly hidden tutorial, somewhat easing you into the MANY aspects that come into play simultaneously within the game. You step into the shoes of a heir long gone just returning home when you’re summoned by your sister, who’s calling you back after your father suddenly passes away under mysterious circumstances. It doesn’t take long before your mean uncle starts harassing you for the money he spent in the funeral, so you and your sister decide to buy a plot of land far away and start your own company in order to get that cash and make a living for yourselves in the 1800s, the dawn of the industrial age.

There’s an undeniable charm to that time in human history, and developer Blue Byte has done a tremendous job translating it to Anno 1800. From the architectural style of the time down to the ships and other vehicles, Anno 1800 looks spectacular. Add to that the beautiful work done with environmental detailing and weather effects. The water simulation in particular is one of the best I’ve seen in an isometric game, and it’s quite a sight, especially considering you’ll be spending a lot of the game out on sea, having such gorgeous water is a treat to the eyes. There’s also a whole lot of human character models that are very well made and animated, and every time there’s a bit of dialogue to be delivered, the voice acting is really convincing. I’ve been playing through the story for hours now and have yet to get tired by my sister’s ongoing series of lectures as I continually mismanage our business, so there’s a lot to be said about the quality of Anno 1800’s script as well.

All work and no play makes for some very stressed out citizens. Make sure you keep them entertained by building parks, for instance.

I’ve always been quite curious when it comes to simulation games like Anno, but utterly terrified about the prospect of being hopelessly sucked into it. Thankfully, Anno eased me in quite well, even though I’m far from being proficient at it. I’m still miles away from having a functional enterprise thanks to my broad stroke approach at the start. I lack the long term vision that is key to a game like this. I hope to develop it the more I play Anno, but from the hours that I’ve spent so far, having not played (but owning some of) the older games, I’m positive that the time I’m investing will be well worth it. I absolutely love watch gears move within a complex system like Anno 1800, and that only makes me more excited to keep at it. I remember feeling like this about Civilization, and look where that led me, taking plucky Poland and turning it into a world superpower. If that can happen, my company Krakatua Ltd. in Anno will certainly thrive, right?  

While that doesn’t happen, however, I could easily recommend Anno 1800 to anyone with a lot of patience to slowly make progress. It’s a rewarding experience learning just how deep of a hole you can get into while messing with a game like this, and boy, it’s just as easy getting lost at it as it is getting frustrated. The interface can be quite confusing, I admit, but that’s only an odd stone on your way. I assure you, it’s well worth the time spent. Anno 1800 is an absolutely beautiful game that will draw you in hard.

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