Before you dive into this review, I would like to note that this was my first experience with Anno so forgive me if I can’t compare with previous editions. I’ll do my best, though, to give a good idea of the games’ possibilities.
Anno 1701 can be seen as a real-time strategy game where the emphasys is on building colonies. Sent by The Queen of Great-Britain, you as explorer are sent to the other side of the earth to plant colonies on the many islands. The better the population is foreseen with their needs, the more advanced they become. The final goal – if tagged – is to declare independence from Your Majesty by expanding your civilization and its influence.
All good and well, but that doesn’t happen without a fight, right? Actually, it does as the military part of the game is completely up to you. As long as you stay out of pirate water and don’t take over AI-controlled territory, Anno is a pretty quiet game. Combat lovers can of course do their thing with soldiers and a couple of battleships to take over enemy territory, but that’s more for experienced players.
What makes this game difficult is that it in fact offers an endless game mode. Ignorant of the later available buildings, the creation of a city often falls to pieces. Next to that, each island has its own flora where only certain crops can be grown. So you need to set up trade routes to have a continuous supply of the goods on the civilized islands, but maintaining ships costs a fortune and a small flaw of the transport can be a catastrofe for the mood of the plebs. Money will start to come in slower than the pace it’s being handed out.
Although placing buildings doesn’t cost anything, the maintenance requires heaps of cash. Getting break-even in the beginning is mostly based on luck. Inhabitants of your cities pay taxes, but you can only put them as high as the people will allow. To make your population grow, you need to have a fully green content factor and more houses for more people can also have a bad effect since you’ll need to invest to be able to keep up with the heightened demand for goods.
Next to building a fleet, also industry is a money drain. Your islands will have to supply in the needs of their people, being feed, stones and tools to build buildings. Other requirements are luxury products like silk, tobacco and alcohold, and in a later stage even jewelry. To deliver certain end products, you need to invest in different buildings that are part of the production process. For instance, to build tools, you need next to a mine also an oven, a lumber cabin and a workshop.
Luckily, this game comes with a decent tutorial and a dozen scenarios that teach you the bulk of its possibilities. The interface is clear and understandable, and the game even has a compleye Anno-clopedia with all details of each building and product.
Although I couldn’t check out the game in its fullest graphical glory (yea, a reviewer also has budgets) I can say that it doesn’t look bad at all and can be seen at a similar level as Age of Empires 3. Especially the sea and weather effects shine. During a storm the water tends to flow from your screen like you’re watching through a window. Beautiful! Also the sound can’t be complained about. The voicing is quite fun and it takes quite some time before it gets boring.
Anno 1701 is a fun, well worked out empire builder, with big emphasys on economy. Once started you’ll easily spend about two hours without realising it and this prooves the game’s addiction factor. The only thing that bothered me is its goal-less playing style and the fact that the demands from the people never vary.