Yachts for everyone

Where to begin with a game like Anno 2070?  The venerable city building/lite economic simulator series started a few years ago with Anno 1404, a game where you were tasked with building up your small renaissance settlement into a thriving metropolis of commerce.  Anno 2070 doesn’t stray too far from this premise, though the game opts to abandon the historical setting in favor of a speculative future where global warming has left much of the world under water.  Transport and coordination are more important than ever before, but does a clever new environment bring enough to the Anno formula to justify a purchase?

Hit the jump to find out.

In many ways, Anno 2070 represents the last of a certain breed of city building games.  There’s a level of transparency in the game that we’re seeing a move away from in these kinds of simulators.  Anno 2070 follows the classic route of city building based around construction chains. You build plants, factories, harvesting stations, what have you, and then your settlement advances in level, unlocking more technology and more buildings to sprinkle around your fledgling commercial empire. 

This kind of game has become something of a rarity in recent years.  There was a time when it seemed like every month a new city builder was being released.  Games like Tropico, the various Tycoon games, older versions of Sim City and Caesar were all warmly received by critics, featuring complex production chains and a plethora of options for armchair civic planners to create their perfect city on a hill.  These were games that exulted in having a perfectly optimized city layout, where the satisfaction came from seeing every being followed by a bright green triple digit.

Anno 2070 is set firmly in that tradition, featuring a simply staggering number of buildings and complex chains that require a massive amount of preplanning and base expansion.  The new setting, an archipelago, works wonderfully to add another layer of planning to the game’s core.  Islands in the game can only support a limited number of farmable resources.  One island might be able to support coffee but not rice, while another can support rice, but not fruit.  This means that in order for your settlement to progress you must develop a wide and far reaching system of trade routes constantly shuffling back and forth. 

Enchantment under the Sea

Anno 2070 perfectly understands the thrill a player gets from managing this kind of empire.  You’re always expanding towards other islands or sending down submersibles to build platforms on the sea floor ala The Abyss.  There’s always the sense that your settlement is on the verge of falling apart, that you need to expand to find that next oil deposit or that next cluster of land fertile enough to grow the grapes to create the sweet vino your citizens need to advance in tier.

Keeping with the theme of global warming and humanity’s impact on the natural world, there are two factions you can play as, the environmentally minded Ecos, and the production oriented Tycoons (along with a mini-faction of scientists who can build underwater buildings).  The two factions play extremely different from one another, with the Ecos being a slower, less adaptable faction who relies on renewable technology like wind turbines.  The Tycoons are fast and highly adaptive, but their technology can lead to a reduction in the health of the environment, leading to natural disasters like typhoons and blights.  It’s another layer on the already established Anno formula and it works well to make players juggle between speed and maintaining the environment.

The game also features meta aspects in the form of player based voting.  When you log in, you are presented with a list of options to vote on.  These are all votes in the senate, allowing players to choose what world tendency modifiers are in place.  These can be things as simple as a reduction in the time for fruit to mature, to faction specific bonuses like a 15 percent reduction in cost for Eco buildings.  It’s a nice little touch and gives players to participate in the meta and story even if all they care about is the actually playing the game.

Just like Real Life!  Hey-oh!

Going back to what I said before, I do feel that this game is somewhat of a dinosaur.   Adhering to the Anno formula, whole still fun, is beginning to show its age and it occupies an odd spot in the strategy/simulation spectrum.  The game is complex enough to not scare off the mainstream crowd, but not complex enough to attract the kind of gamer that would be interested in the genre.  Anno 2070 looks especially dated when you look at something like the new Sim City, which is revamping the production chain system and placing a greater emphasis on markets within the game, giving the sense of a natural economy instead of the arbitrary production chains in Anno 2070.  At times, Anno 2070’s actual gameplay feels like just filling in checkmarks on a list.

Graphically, the game is beautiful, that much Bluebyte got right.  It’s a lovely game, though at times a little bloomy.  This is made up for in the gorgeously rendered islands and underwater vistas, along with the dichotomy of styles between the Ecos and the Tycoons.  The Eco buildings all really look like they were designed by an apple engineer, full of sweeping curves and prodigious use of white plastic and aluminum, while the Tycoon buildings are all grungy and boxlike, stained by the smokestacks that crop up in any Tycoon settlement.

So, is Anno 2070 a worthy inheritor to the series title?  Absolutely.  The game is everything Anno represents, right down to its core.  While this might turn off some, it will hit the sweet spot for a specific kind of gamer who loves building an empire through commerce.  I love games all along the simulation spectrum, from Animal Crossing to Crusader Kings II, and Anno 2070 definitely helped me scratch a very specific gaming itch.  Combined with a recent price drop on Steam, it’s definitely a game you should think about picking up, if not for the sensation of feeling like a post-apocalyptic business mogul for a few hours.