Anno 1800 is an engrossing and fantastic mix of city building, economic simulation, and real-time strategy. It’s so easy to get sucked in to the whole affair, as the hours fly by and your empire slowly expands. Granted, there’s much micro-management required, and the game strongly favors those of us with a patient dedication to detail. Still, there’s a soothing rhythm to it all if you can find the groove hiding within the various complex systems.
What is Anno Gameplay?
If you’ve never played an Anno game before, let me try to summarize what you actually do. Starting with an empty island, you place houses and production buildings thereupon, connecting everything together with roads. As your population grows their needs increase, which are fulfilled by newly unlocked buildings.
After fulfilling all the current needs of your populace, you can upgrade their houses to unlock even more needs. Anno is basically a game of ever-expanding needs fulfillment—they once longed for fish and schnapps but soon will require sausage, bread, beer, and oh so much more!
Eventually you’ll have to expand to new islands because your people will demand more goods not available on your first location. This leads to the need for ships and trade routes, and soon enough you’ll have a huge fleet all for the purpose of meeting those pesky population needs.
There’s a pleasant ebb and flow to Anno. At times you’re perplexed as to your people’s desires, trying to set up new production chains and deliver the goods. Then a short while later everyone is content, and you can sit back and watch the gold roll in. Of course you can’t relax for long because there’s others who also are trying to seize islands and produce goods—the rival players, be they actual humans in the multiplayer mode or AI characters.
The complex interaction between building up your cities, producing goods, and dealing with other characters leads to an intense and intellectual challenge that has defined the Anno series for over two decades. Speaking of the series, let me explain the history of the Anno franchise because learning is fun!
An Anno Anthology
Anno began in the year 1602. Wait, no. What I mean to say is the first game in the series was called Anno 1602 and came out way back in 1998, created by a now-defunct company called Max Design. It was a 2D isometric city-builder with goods-based management systems and some real-time strategy elements, and it became quite popular, especially in its home region of Austria/Germany.
The inevitable sequel, Anno 1503, was released in 2003, also created by Max Design. It, too, was well-received even if it was very similar to the first game. 2006 saw a big jump in the series with Anno 1701, featuring charming 3D graphics and excellent gameplay depth, winning over many new fans the world over. This new generation of Anno was created by Related Designs, a German studio new to the series. They would go on to develop all the rest of the main Anno games, although they were merged into Ubisoft Blue Byte a while back.
Three years later saw the culmination of years of fine-tuning with Anno 1404. Many consider this 2009 game to be the pinnacle of the series (at least until now, debatably). It was (and is) a brilliant mix of charm and complexity merged with polished 3D graphics, excellent gameplay, and much replayability.
Then developers opted to go where no Anno game had gone before: the future. 2011 saw Anno 2070, and 2015 saw Anno 2205. Confused yet? Both titles were disappointments to long-time Anno fans. It wasn’t the futuristic setting that was the problem per se—it was the dumbing down of the gameplay and extreme cuts to content.
Both futuristic titles saw traditional story campaigns mostly cut out. Proper AI enemies were lacking. Combat was contrived, and trading was overly-simplified. The games felt a bit soulless. Oh, and the games became “always online” and “games as a service” through Ubisoft’s frustrating Uplay system and other DRM schemes. In short, Anno’s future was a big letdown!
Anno in 2019: Copy & Paste
The prior history of Anno is necessary to understand Anno 1800. It’s an intentional return to the roots of the series: charming historical simulation with robust gameplay features. If you read between the lines of the marketing, the message has been clear: Anno 1800 is a good Anno game again with a story, proper AI, and all the beloved features from the Anno’s of old!
And they’re not kidding about this game including the features of the old games. They’ve recreated Anno 1404’s gameplay to such an extreme degree. Seriously, this game plays identically to Anno 1404 in all the significant elements. It’s not a stretch to say it’s basically the same game as the ten-year-old Anno 1404, and this is the game’s biggest strength and disappointment.
Being an Anno 1404 clone is wonderful because, as noted, the 2009 Anno is charming, expansive, and a joy to play, even to this day. However, it’s disappointing because long-time Anno fans have already been there and done that since 2009.
Therefore, your feelings on Anno 1800 will largely be guided by your experience with the series. If you’ve never played Anno 1404 then you’re likely to be quite mesmerized by Anno 1800’s creative spirit and whimsical world, never knowing it was already done in the same fashion a decade ago.
For me, though, I have played Anno 1404, and I’m honestly uncertain if I’d rather play the new, shiny Anno 1800 or the tried and true (and very inexpensive) Anno 1404. Read on to find out why I’m torn.
My Anno Experience
I began playing Anno with Anno 1701, but it was Anno 1404 that made me fall in love with the series. I spent several years putting over 400 hours into Anno 1404, and I even made the unofficial patch for the game, which fixes literally thousands of issues (it took a lot of effort!). In fact, the developers even contacted me years ago about including my fixes in a planned new version of the game, but that project was canceled sadly.
Back on topic, besides playing extensively I have a serious understanding of how these games work under the hood. This is why I was taken aback to see this modern Anno 1800 be programmed to function in virtually the same way as Anno 1404, including some of the same UI issues and quest bugs!
Hence, I found it fairly amusing to read some of the developer blogs about AI, supply chains, and other gameplay features. They’d talk about creating the systems for this game, and I couldn’t help but chuckle because the systems are copied from Anno 1404!
I guess it’s not stealing if you’re stealing from your own prior game…but let’s not act like this stuff is new! Although Anno 1800 does include new features, to be fair. Let’s discuss the new stuff.
Anno 1800’s New Features
This latest entry does provide some excellent additions to the Anno formula, including concepts such as Workforce, Influence, Propaganda, Expeditions, and Electricity. We’ll tackle each one in turn.
Workforce requires you to carefully balance your population between a pyramid of classes, starting with Farmers and Workers, and moving up to Artisans and Engineers and beyond. The trick is only certain population classes can perform certain jobs, and managing this system is a rewarding challenge.
Influence is a new (and controversial) feature that grows with your population and must be used for various tasks such as military and trade expansion. It’s not explained well in the game, sadly. However, after understanding the system, it does feel like a nice addition to the game to guide you into specializations based on your gameplay goals.
Propaganda is controlled by your newspaper, which is pops up every so often in your game, requiring you to choose to spend Influence to alter the news (‘alternative’ facts). It’s a fun system that adds a bit of flavor to the game experience, helping you see recent events or issues in your game world. Although, after playing for dozens of hours it becomes a bit of a chore to have to review the newspaper over and over. An option to auto-select certain Propaganda would been nice.
Expeditions are Anno 1800’s take on text-based ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories. You send out ships on long journeys, and if you equip the right supplies and items and fortune favors you, you might survive long enough to find treasures and return home safely. It’s a fun system to be sure, and it helps break up the typical gameplay loop. I really enjoyed finding all the different options and results from the various text-stories presented.
Electricity is a wonderful historical addition, given the industrial revolution setting of the game. After many hours of playing and building your empire, you’ll eventually unlock the potential to generate electricity to turbo-boost your production capabilities and allow you to attract the most lucrative population class to your cities. Figuring out how to lay railroad and manage your power grid is a challenging but fun late-game activity.
Building Culture: Museums and Zoos
Do you like collecting animals and artifacts? Of course you do! Anno 1800 knows this and includes two extremely enjoyable new module-style buildings: the museum and zoo. Both give nice benefits to your city, such as helping to attract visitors. There’s a very strong ‘gotta collect ’em all’ impulse that makes this gameplay element very addictive.
How do you get these fascinating animals and artifacts, you ask? Several ways! Expeditions are a great source, but later you’ll get help from the World’s Fair. Speaking of which…
End-Game Fun: World’s Fair Exhibitions!
Another new and excellent addition is the ultimate end-game goal: building and operating a world’s fair. This is a very cool historical theme since the first world’s fair was held in 1851 in real life. Reaching this point is basically the equivalent of a raid or bonus dungeon in other games—it’s the final end-game goal.
To put it into perspective, it took me about 80 hours to finally build the World’s Fair, and it felt really good to finally hold the biggest and best world’s fair ‘exhibition’ possible after about 90 hours of hard work building my empire. The reason this review is so late is because I wanted to ensure I’d experienced this final goal, and I can report to you that it’s gloriously good times!
The Rest of the Review: Issues
I really do love Anno 1800. However, the game does have a lot of issues. Much of my frustration is that they copied Anno 1404 so much but didn’t go the extra step of solving some of the problems the series has had for so many years. Hence, the rest of this review is going to be a whole bunch of criticisms and problems with the game, even though I do love playing it.
The Campaign: Weak!
I’ve gone this far in the review and haven’t even mentioned the campaign. I suppose that’s fitting because the campaign is nothing more than a glorified tutorial that plays out over some 8 to 10 hours (longer on higher difficulties).
The storytelling is weak but semi-adequate, giving a modest investment in characters and happenings. However, the story ends very abruptly and without much resolution. I also experienced a glitch wherein the final battle failed to happen and I won without completing the final quests, which was anticlimactic.
Also unfortunate is the lack of tutorial quests for certain key features. The game never bothers to explain trade routes, despite these being absolutely essential to grow your civilization and finish the campaign. A bizarre oversight.
Overall, the campaign is lame. It needed to go on a lot longer, with a proper plot and resolution.
Questing & Bugs
Anno 1800 features a virtually identical quest system from Anno 1404, although a few new types of quests have been added. Random residents will offer various quests from time to time. Trading partners and NPCs will also give quests such as escort, destroy, deliver, and photograph. Overall, there’s hundreds of these.
Sadly some of these quest types that are as maddening as they were 10 years ago, such as puzzle quests where you have to find and click on very tiny little objects in your massive cities. Then again, you can delete any non-story quest at any time.
Unfortunately, a fair amount of quests are bugged. I find this pretty funny since many of the quest issues are literally the exact same XML programming errors that I fixed all those years ago in Anno 1404. Maybe they’ll fix the issues in future patches…of course they never did for Anno 1404 (see my unofficial patch for that game).
Old World, New World Blues
Another gameplay change from Anno 1404 is the two distinct world spaces. In Anno 1404, you played a single world space with the upper half representing Europe (Occident) and the lower half representing the Middle/Far East (Orient). In Anno 1800, the game splits the spaces into two unique “sessions” (Old World, New World).
It’s true that it’s more realistic to have separate spaces for the different geography, and the concept is excellent. However, the execution gets a bit obnoxious and invasive to the play experience.
The simple fact is we humans can only focus on one screen at a time, so having two different game maps playing out with one always hidden means constant interruptions and unknown events occurring. Fighting a war on two different screens, for example, simply isn’t fun.
This is very much like trying to play two games of speed-chess at the same time. It sounds interesting in theory, but unless you’re a strategy god, the split-attention results in a lesser experience on both sides.
A Huge Fail: Missing Profile Tracking
One hallmark of the Anno series is robust tracking of your game accomplishments tied to your universal player profile. Anno 1404 is the gold standard in this regard. It features over 300+ tracked accomplishments and 25 special medals. Moreover, there were very fun unlocks as you progressed, letting you get new city ornaments, portraits, titles, and more. A huge joy for fans (called Annoholics) was to slowly make progress toward the fabled 100% complete player profile. It was a badge of honor to know and share your profile progress.
Anno 1800 lacks all of this. All you get is barely 40 Uplay achievements, and some boring ‘Club rewards’ you spend Uplay points to unlock. This is very unfortunate since the game has literally all the same features as Anno 1404 that beg to be recorded and bragged about.
Also strange is how there’s a photograph feature in the game, but it’s only used for quests. There is no photo gallery or showcase or anything like that. This is another missed opportunity to let players showcase their cities in a more permanent player profile fashion.
In regard to quests, there are many extensive multi-part quests, but unlike Anno 1404, Anno 1800 doesn’t have any tracking system to prove you’ve befriended the AI and learned their back stories. And the new Expeditions feature would be perfect for tracking all the different outcomes. But alas, the developers couldn’t be bothered with all this.
To summarize, for a game that copies Anno 1404 in nearly every single way, it’s an epic fail to remove the amazingly fun tracking system that kept players motivated for hundreds of hours across dozens of playthroughs and scenarios. Bad developers!
Where are the Scenarios?
Speaking of scenarios, another totally absent feature in this modern game is custom challenges, known as scenarios in Anno 1404. In that game you could take on special modes requiring you to build a monument in so many hours or begin in great debt on a unique island.
Anno 1800 has zero scenarios and only has one game mode: the sandbox. I say this because even the story campaign takes place in a sandbox environment, opening up to an unguided sandbox mode after only about 10 hours.
So let’s review. Anno 1800 copies Anno 1404’s gameplay in nearly every way, but it removes all scenarios, which added dozens and dozens of hours of diverse gameplay challenges. Epic fail.
DirectX 12 Crashing!
Note that many players, including myself, get constant crashes when using the DX12 renderer. I had dozens of crashes and two hard locks requiring a manual restart of my computer. Even after two patches, the crashes still occur. Fortunately, switching to DX11 completely eliminated the crashes for me, but the framerate is slower—a sad but necessary tradeoff.
Ubisoft Store, Epic Store, No Steam
There’s also the controversy with the way the game is sold. It was yet another title to be yanked off Steam shortly before its release. Now you can only buy it from Ubisoft directly or from the Epic Store (possibly). The good news is Anno 1404 is on Steam (it goes by ‘Dawn of Discovery’ in North America).
Other Various Concerns
The gameplay UI is great in some ways but horrible in others. The trade routes interface is especially obnoxious, with the ‘delete’ button overlapping other buttons at times. Some UI buttons simply don’t work, such as some ‘jump to event’ notifications. Overall, the UI is very workable, but it’s not ideal.
The game also features an Attractiveness system for each city. Honestly though, I mostly ignored it all because the game doesn’t do enough to show you the benefits of the system.
Despite a robust keyboard customization menu, certain commands can’t be bound to keys for no apparent reason. It would have been nice to have quick shortcuts for every building option, much like how most Windows applications have shortcuts to open Edit->Cut and this type of thing.
There’s also an unfortunate lack of statistics and charts to help you understand where you money is going and how to more efficiently manage your empire. Fortunately, the developers have promised to add a building in a future patch (first featured in the Anno 1404 expansion from 2010, ironically), so hopefully soon we’ll have more tools to manage our empire.
Conclusion: A Gorgeous, Great Game
I loved playing Anno 1800. Yes, the core gameplay is in many cases identical to Anno 1404, but an updated version of such a beloved Anno game isn’t a bad thing. The same engrossing ‘just one more hour’ gameplay draws the player into the world, testing the dedication, intellect, and patience of the player through cunning planning and strategies.
It’s an easy game to pick up and play, making some progress each gameplay session. Soon enough the narrator will say, ‘Warning: you’ve been playing for two hours,’ and you won’t even realize the time has flown by. Over weeks and months you can watch your empire expand, eventually reaching the end-game and proving your Anno-worth.
It’s too bad they’ve ripped out nearly all the player profile tracking and failed to include special gameplay scenarios. It’s also unfortunate online co-op isn’t ready yet and may take many more months to be included. The bugs and other issues also drag down the experience.
Ultimately, Anno 1800 is the smoothest Anno experience available, with some excellent new features to keep you hooked for a long while. So if you want to play the latest and semi-greatest, go for Anno 1800.
However, picking up Anno 1404 Gold Edition for super-cheap is also a very viable and excellent choice since it gives you the same fundamentally excellent gameplay with more actual content. …Just make sure you use my unofficial patch if you do play Anno 1404. And no, I ain’t going to make one for Anno 1800. The developers should have learned to fix their own darn Anno bugs by now!
- Gorgeous city building
- Engrossing management
- Soothing ebb and flow
- Expedition diversions
- Museums and zoos
- Late-game electricity
- End-game world’s fair
- Old/New world concept
- Lame, short campaign
- No scenarios (sandbox only)
- Few achievements/tracking
- Quest bugs, UI issues
- DX12 crashes, locks
- Lacks statistics/charts
- So much like Anno 1404
- Old/New world execution
Playtime: 100 hours total. Nick spent 10 hours finishing the story (tutorial). Another 10 hours were spent reaching 20,000 inhabitants. Another 20 hours allowed Nick to reach the ‘Engineer’ population level, with two nicely built cities. Then 10 hours was spent wiping out the remaining AI players and seizing their lands. So at 50 hours in, Nick had conquered all and could begin building his perfect empire, free from distractions. It took another 15 hours to reach ‘Investors,’ the game’s highest population level. At 80 hours, Nick ultimately reached his objective of unlocking all buildings and providing all goods to his people, with a final population count of 90,000. Many world’s fair exhibitions were held. The galaxy was at peace.
Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using an Intel i7-3930k CPU, 32GB of memory, and a nVidia GTX 980 Ti graphics card.
Also read the Anno 1800 PC Performance Analysis.