Industrial revolution to revolutionize the genre?
The kind of real-time strategy on PC is not experiencing a truly rosy phase. There are only a few left, killed by changes of taste in the videogame population, as is also natural. A subgenre that however resists undaunted is that of the City Builder.
For those of you who don't know, City Builders are games that focus on building, expanding and managing a city. From the legendary Sim City, passing through Tropico, circumnavigating Cities and coming to Year. The Ubisoft series has chosen to vary the setting, always jumping from historical to historical times, even assuming a distant future. Year 1800 the period of the industrial revolution is, almost trivially, set during the 19 century. Mechanically instead, focuses its attention to a higher level, taking away much of the micromanagement of other titles and focusing more on the overall vision.
Anno 1800 offers two game modes: Campaign and Sandbox. The underlying gameplay does not change, but the campaign offers a narrative context in which to take your first steps, and then flow into the sandbox gameplay. The protagonist, represented directly by the player, finds himself interrupting his good life in the tropics to return to the old world because of his father's death. The family merchant company was immediately taken over by your uncle, and it is your job to shed light on the circumstances of death and restore a thriving civilization.
The pretext is extremely simple, the various characters have no characterization, they follow their stereotypes, the story takes expected paths. In short: in the narrative sector there is nothing more to look for than an accompaniment for the growth of your city. And in my opinion it does its job well: Anno 1800 is a particularly goal-oriented game, history simply provides more explicit ones. Great for novice players. Summing up, it's a great tutorial.
Sandbox mode is the main course. Here you can change numerous settings to generate your type challenge: map size, island types, opponents difficulty, victory conditions and many other ancillary conditions. Replayability is the master of the experience and trying to build the perfect community is the ultimate goal. It is a prospect of gameplay that must please: Anno 1800, despite its accommodating design, can do little if that desire is not already inherent in you. But it can help him make it come out, like a purgative.
Excuse me, how much do you do it per kilo?
This, generally thanks to an excellent invoice in terms of graphic interface and presentation, which unfortunately is not without flaws. What convinces is the glance: the basic information is communicated effectively, just as the design of the visual elements is sufficiently distinct to provide information on the fly. Setting up the various operations is easy and intuitive. The game also offers a planning mode, with which you can position your structures without building them, to better control the spaces. The problem arises when you try to find some more detailed information.
One of the most important key indicators for the success of your community is monetary revenue. Only there is no way to have a complete and widespread breakdown on the map of what happens in its constitution. Even commercial routes, despite being simple to set up, are difficult to fully understand, obtaining statistics on their operation. In essence, the interface seems to be excellent in its initial phase, but becomes slightly incable to keep up with the complexity of the game itself. This is not such a big problem, but it leaves a little bitter taste.
The heart of Anno 1800 gameplay is to accomplish many short-term goals that allow you to reach a long-lasting one. That said, it may seem the heart of every management system of this type, but Anno, unlike others, has its distinctive point in the clarity of these objectives.
Panem et Circenses
There are different types of citizens. We will start from the base class, the peasant class. This, to live, needs to have access to a market, to fish and work clothes. By creating the necessary production chains in their own city, more and more citizens are gradually coming to populate it. And it is the number of citizens, in their purchase of goods, that generates wealth. It is then possible to upgrade your housing structure to the next level: the citizens of higher levels will need new needs.
These are at first additive and then transformative, and the other mechanics of the game also revolve around this key idea. To obtain the various necessities, there are very specific production chains. Bread, for example, requires the cultivation of wheat, to turn it into flour and finally work it into bread.
To prevent this loop from becoming extremely simple, the game presents us with two problems. First of all, only the population of a certain type can work in certain jobs, and this means that the population tiers never become obsolete and all must be maintained. The second way is to have limitations on the objects that can be obtained on your island. Here therefore, that we must necessarily look elsewhere and engage with the other mechanics.
An age of exploration
Exploration and trade are the focus of expansion. Whether you are looking for a new island with oil fields, or you prefer to buy it from an allied civilization, in exchange for your potato surplus for example, you have to explore beyond the borders of your land, all strictly by sea.
The Year series has recently shown to have a lot of love for different worlds where to expand. Year 2070 saw conquer the mainland and the oceans, Year 2205 the Earth and space, Anno 1800 presents us the new and old world. With merchandise that can be produced in only one of the two places and that require long caravans of ships to be transported.
It is also present in naval combat: it is used for fighting between pirate factions and commercial enemies. Very simple, however, it is an aspect to consider, if you do not want to leave your merchant ships in disarray, with the risk of losing them along with an important load.
The best year so far
I realize that I spent some time merely describing the mechanics of the game, but I believe that for management systems of this type it is at least a must. But we come to the juice. Does the game work or not?
I feel like saying yes, and also good. The gaming experience flows smoothly and is always pleasant. Having objectives that are always clear makes Anno different from the other city builders where the only purpose is to expand as you like until you get bored. We find in this game more elements of a Civilization injected into it, for a sort of hybrid between an 4x and city builder.
Perhaps the most important thing is that I have never felt truly lost. Yes, it is true, having played many games like this, there is some previous experience that helps, but I can assure you that every time I change environment, it takes me a while to get used to it. With Anno 1800 it was all very simple, and I would say without problems that it is an excellent game of entry to the genre for those who have always been curious but have never tried before.
It is never too complex, nor so simple to keep you going with your eyes closed. Your mistakes have a weight and you can find yourself with the game unrecoverable if you just make mistakes. The game also implements a multiplayer mode, to challenge strangers using matchmaking or friends. The cooperative mode was promised after the launch, but at the time of writing the review was not released yet.
Ah, just before leaving you with the definitive conclusion, it is worthwhile to say a couple of words about the technical aspect. Graphically the game is pleasant, with a good eye for both the overall view and the details in your city.
From a performance standpoint, I played the game on my desktop, consisting of a Xeon e5 1650 to 3,9Ghz, 16Gb of ram and a GTX 970. The game keeps its 60fps in most cases with the middle preset. Going up high, the framerate drops to forty when you look at beautiful cities provided, while returning to 60 zooming in on your own city. However, the game has several parameters to adjust to achieve the desired performance. The only thing to be careful about is the use of the processor. The title, being of a deterministic nature, rests entirely on a single core. So if it's a bit old-fashioned or a platform not exactly famous for its single-core performance, you might have lower performance than with other modern games. I had no bugs, no crashes.
The few defects and the barely sufficient quality of the campaign outline do not in any way affect what is an excellent city builder game, suitable more for newbies than veterans in my opinion, but which will still be able to kidnap you for several hours.