10 Thoughts on… Anno Online (PC)

As a kid, I spent hours sitting with my dad in front of the computer playing 1602 A.D. (as it was released in Australia, Canada, and the US; the rest of the world knows it as Anno 1602), and to a lesser extent, 1503 A.D. (Anno 1503 to everyone who isn’t North American). We got to be pretty good at it, and really loved creating custom maps, though we rarely played with anyone else. I have very fond memories of the games as a result, especially 1602 A.D. I hadn’t actually heard that they were making Anno Online until it was posted about in our staff forums, and I’m… probably the only one who was excited about hearing that more was coming from this series. The game’s in beta right now, due to come out sometime this year, so I popped in to see what Ubisoft’s been doing with this free-to-play browser game.

1.) The look of the game feels very much like you would expect an Anno game to feel, so that much hasn’t really changed. Obviously, it’s not as sharp as later entries in the series, such as Anno 2070, but it still holds up the atmosphere that you would expect something from this series to have. Every building, environmental feature, and even animal is detailed. It’s very beautiful.

2.) Anno Online runs pretty well, even on internet connections that are slower, like mine at the location I’m at now. If your computer isn’t the greatest, or your internet connection is not as awesome as you’d like to be, you can probably still play this game. It’s pretty accessible once your environment and stuff loads. I only ever experienced a bit of lag when moving buildings around, and even then it was barely noticeable unless I was trying to move entire blocks of buildings.

3.) The music, while pleasing to the ear, gets really repetitive after a while. I ended up turning the music off after a while during my initial set up. Given how little I was able to spend with the game at a time after this initial set up (see points 3 and 4), it’s possible they weren’t expecting you to be around for the same song to repeat that many times.

4.) Remember how I said I spent hours sitting in front of my computer with my dad playing 1602 A.D.? Yeah, you’re not going to get that same experience here. This game isn’t built for playing for extended periods of time. This game feels like Farmville after a while, where you’re checking in 2-3 times a day to do a couple things and then leaving it alone. That might be fine for some people, but I don’t think I’m generally the target audience for stop-and-go games. If you’re used to the other games in this series, this might be somewhat of an issue for you.

5.) Related to above: this game is slow if you aren’t willing to put any cash into it. While I’m okay with the browser game portion of it (though I’ve yet to play with anyone else), I’m not really sure free-to-play was the best strategy for this game. I’d rather pay $50 for the complete edition of Anno 2070 and be done with it than spend the same amount of money on 12,000 rubies (14,500 on sale, it seems) and have that run out within a week or two. A pile of wood – that is to say, 80 pieces of wood – is 49 rubies on there. A huge pile of wood, or 800 pieces of wood (which you can’t even hold all of initially due to restrictions on your warehouses and such, which grow with time), is 490 rubies. To put that into context, building a pioneer’s residence costs 10 wood… not bad. By the time you’re level five or so, that pile of wood will get you maybe two buildings, or one upgrade for a pioneer’s residence, and your personal stores will probably hold enough to get you five or six of the more advanced buildings (taverns, fire stations, etc.) or maybe four pioneer residence upgrades.  Then you get to wait for it to pile back up, or pay out. Want to pile up your goods higher? That’s a good idea, except you’ll need to upgrade those buildings first…

Like I said, slow, but there are people who are paying for it, so I might just be outside the target audience for this. I guess the one benefit to this whole microtransaction thing is that how much anyone else spends or doesn’t spend on their islands doesn’t affect you. That’s… good, right?

6.) Above all else, the game’s mechanics revolve mostly around logistics. You’re not off conquering new lands; you’re just trying to run an island. That might sound boring, but it’s entertaining in its own right, at least so far. You’re balancing the needs of your people as well as your desires to expand. Kind of like The Sims, I suppose, minus the whole “locking someone in their house by removing their door, piling in as much furniture as possible and sticking it right next to the fireplaces” thing, which of course I’ve never done. Without any kind of strife, it gets a little boring eventually, though. It doesn’t feel as creative as games in the past have. There’s no sense of adventure, you just do what you’re told.

7.) There are tutorials in the form of quests for people just starting out the game, which is a great idea, except sometimes the directions are a bit lacking. For instance, once I got a ship for treasure hunting (cool, right?) they told me, “Just go click on your ship and tell it to go somewhere” (paraphrasing)… but not where my ship was. I figured it out, of course, but not without being frustrated that the ship wasn’t anywhere near my docks. (It was by a lighthouse I don’t think I chose the location for, located a bit further out to sea. Of course, when you’re on a laptop with a relatively small monitor in comparison to the two huge ones you’re used to for your desktop, you might miss small details like that.)

8.) The beta still has a few minor issues to work out regarding bugs. I know there are a couple of quests I couldn’t complete despite having the materials needed to turn them in, and if you click anywhere near where your avatar is, it opens the avatar options box, which is incredibly annoying when you’re trying to place buildings or destroy roads and the like. I imagine these will be ironed out by the game’s release, and the couple of times I’ve been in the help chat, there’s always been someone there that knows what to do. You can’t really complain about that.

9.) You can, however, complain about how clunky the user interface is. While everything is easy enough to read, even something as simple as figuring out what your population is made up of can be annoying. For instance, there’s one button on the very right of the screen that tells you how many pioneer/vassal/etc. houses you have, including how many more you’re allowed to upgrade into each category. On the very left side of the screen, you can click to figure out how many people are in those houses. Why not combine the two? Why are they even on opposite sides of the screen? Furthermore, and this isn’t exactly a user interface thing but it fits in with the idea, you can’t rotate your view. Why? It’s difficult destroying roads that are sort of behind buildings, for example, and that might actually lead you to 1) switch to moving, 2) move the building, 3) switch back to destroying, 4) destroy the road, 5) switch back to moving, and 6) move your building back to where it was… just because you might want to put another building behind that building you just had to move. Considering how cramped space is on the island, that’s actually kind of annoying to deal with.

10.) Finally, this game is friendly to all kinds of players. If you’re new to city building and management, the game has plenty of tutorials for you. If you’re not new to this sort of thing, you can ignore the tutorials by skipping through them as quickly as possible and get down to what you’re good at. Once the multiplayer features are where they will need to be for launch, it’ll be quite possible for people of all skill levels to come together to accomplish their goals.

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