Starting An Industrial Revolution: Anno 1800 Review

Anno 1800 is the latest installment in the Anno series, this time placing players firmly in the time of the Industrial Revolution. The city building real-time strategy game allows you to build, expand, trade and conquer, in order to grow and run a successful empire, during this challenging period of history.

This seventh installment of Anno takes plenty of features from earlier games, such as multi-session gameplay and shippable trade goods, and combines them with new ones, including a blueprint system. It transports you to a run down island in the 19th Century and equips you with the tools to build a thriving city of industry and culture, just watch out for the rioters.

The game works in a similar way to most city building games, and features three modes of play. The story mode functions as a sandbox but with guidance and a narrative to follow when you begin. As you play through the story it will guide you through the different stages of building and growing your settlement. Story mode uses pop up boxes and quests to build a storyline, which centers around the legacy of your character’s late father. Once you've played through the narrative, anything you have built will function as a sandbox game.

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The sandbox mode allows you to build freely, without the quests and storyline, and is far more customizable than you may expect. There are three basic levels, which give you differing amounts of starting capital, minerals and levels of land fertility. You can then select up to three NPCs and customize their hostility levels. Finally you can adjust the world size and a few other aspects, such as frequency of city incidents.

The sandbox mode also offers multiple victory conditions, allowing you to set the target which best fits how you want to build your world.

Multiplayer functions exactly as sandbox mode does but pits you against other players, rather than AI opponents. You can chose to help or hinder your fellow gamers, as you race to meet the victory requirements.

Anno 1800 is a city builder at heart and it manages to be an incredibly engaging one.

As I’ve never played an Anno game before, I started with the story mode and it does guide you well, for the most part. The story is reasonably compelling and I like how there's a lot of freedom in how and what you build, with the narrative being a background to your game, rather than the main driving force.

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I chose to play with extra hints and tips on, but in some areas it did take me longer than I’d like to figure things out. The main source of confusion was the different levels of workers and types of buildings.

Anno 1800 lets you build farmers houses and then you can later upgrade these to worker houses and finally artisan housing. Each level of housing has differing requirements, and the people in them work in different industries. Basic housing hosts farmers, who simply require fish and clothes to exist, and schnapps to keep them happy. The next level of housing hosts workers and has a much lengthier needs list, which includes soap and sausages.

Figuring out which industries required which kind of worker was a challenge at first. The interface does have a tracker for the different worker types, so you can see what you are short of, and buildings are separated via tabs. However, it took me a while to figure out what was where and why.

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The interface itself is actually reasonably intuitive and very customizable, you just have to get your head around how it works. Being able to add buildings you use frequently to the empty slots is a nice touch, and one I really like. The way production chains are broken down within the menu is also helpful, especially once you get more complex industries under way.

My only other gripe about story mode is with some of the pop ups. While most of them move the story along, some of them are just plain pointless. Once you have an expanded empire, pop ups are less story driven and more about trading, reputation and diplomatic relations. They can become frequent, repetitive and just plain irritating. I wish there was a way to turn them off.

Graphically the game really surpassed my expectations. Each building has incredible attention to detail and they combine to make a beautiful city. Even the heavy industry buildings are complex and fascinating to watch. Each building is very true to its era and the overall feel of the game really does capture the Industrial Revolution. As my city expanded into a fully fledged settlement I enjoyed seeing different aspects of the thriving culture come together. You can also follow your citizens in first person mode, which is a nice touch.

In terms of the gameplay Anno 1800 can very easily make hours of your time vanish. There is a great deal to explore and the game ramps up in complexity as you play. As well as simply building a settlement with thriving industries, it offers other avenues to peruse.

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Exploration is key if you want to master all the industries available, and you’ll need to send out ships to new islands. From here you can choose to build diplomatic relations with others, or to conquer them with mighty fleets of ships. You can also settle in different places across the map, building new colonies and shipping goods back to your main island.

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I’ve already played for hours and it still feels like I merely scratched the surface of Anno 1800. This engaging city builder is a great way to spend your time. Once I got used to the interface, I found it reasonably intuitive. I also loved the new blueprint system, which allows you to place a blueprint then build the actual building later, which was a great help when planning out big areas of industry.

My only main gripe is with the pop ups, which seem irritating and unnecessarily numerous in the later game. I would also like a better and more detailed way to track money made by exporting goods, as I found myself writing things down on paper to keep track.

Overall, while there was a learning curve to the game, especially for a newcomer to the franchise, it’s enjoyable to play and a great city-builder.

A copy of Anno 1800 was purchased by TheGamer for review purposes. It is available now for PC.

Score 4 out of 5

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