Anno is back for the fourth time and this time we’re setting up colonies in the world of the sultan; Compared to the previous episode, we go back in time, to 1404.
Although the time of the crusades has actually passed (Anno 1404 doesn’t pretend to be historic in any way) is crusade is the central piece in the campaign. The story is as clear as the winning t-shirt in a wet t-shirt contest and don’t forget: you’re the hero, something that will be told to you until you can’t stand it anymore. Besides these minor annoyances the campaign does offer several hours of fun though.
Next to the crusade, there are also several other possibilities for playing: a sandbox game and scenarios. In these missions you need to complete a certain number of goals with varying focus (building, trade, war, …) and difficulty degree. You get help from a computer player that gives intelligent tips (they’re not generic, he looks at what you do and forget) and other practical help. Also the fans of some more violence will find their thing with a couple of scenarios where defeating enemies is the goal. Nonetheless the focus is largely still in peacefully building an empire of islands.
The core of it all is in building your colonis. For this you create a city and industry, fulfill the needs of the citizens to make them rise the social ladder and try to earn as much money as possible through taxes. Getting money is still difficult and once you’ve gone into the red on your bank account it’s very hard to recover although trade can help a bit. Once you’ve got a bigger empire this becomes easier but until then you’ll have to look really carefully at your expenses.
As said, trade is very important. You can buy or sell good with other players and get handy objects (for instance to increase the speed of your ships). Working together well earns you points that you can use to get your hands on those objects or other advantages. The trade routes can be done automatic or through a handy tool that offers multiple possibilities like letting a ship pick up goods on island A, sell on island B, pick up new good there and bring those to island C. Also the transport of goods between your islands can be done this way, as shown in the example. There are always some islands free to build new cities which is good as your starting island becomes too small after a while and also because certain crops only grow on certain islands.
The biggest problem of Anno 1404 is the lack of intuitivity and overview on problems and the streams of goods. Many similar games have a buttload of graphs, meters and other number material to keep an eye on the different things in your city. Anno 1404, however, is more streamlined so that you don’t get lost in a jungle of data but the disadvantage is that you don’t always have a clear view on everything that’s going on.
Graphically this Anno disappoints a bit. The farsights are beautiful but up close most things do look a bit square. The inhabitants of the colonies on the other hand do look pretty good. I’m not a big fan of the music but it does manage to bring some atmosphere. It reminds most of middle-age choir music or something. Also there’s a voice that tells you about things in the game (like you’ve been playing for two hours) which can be handy although I prefer text messages (so I can ignore them) and it roars its head a bit too often.
As conclusion we can certainly say that Anno 1404 is worth checking out. Despite a number of minor anoyances the game does manage to keep you interested for several hours and that’s in the end the most important thing.