Wot I Think: Anno 2070

By Jim Rossignol on November 29th, 2011 at 1:08 pm.


Blue Byte and Related Designs recently finished their latest trading and building game, Anno 2070 – this time set in later part of the current century, in a world where climate politics underlie the tale of commercial striving – and released it onto the wild seas of the internet. I’ve been wading through its depths for the past week or so and I am now able to tell you Wot I Think.

The Anno games exhibit a formula that is unusual without ever being weird. That is to say they are uncommon within the general landscape of games, but nonetheless unexotic as experiences. Essentially they are about building towns and reaping resources, with a hint of high-seas naval activity. The limits to this are what makes the challenge of them interesting.

Anno works like so: Building relies on a meticulous tech tree in which technologies are only unlocked if the right kinds of people live in your settlements. “Levelling up” neighbourhoods (a sort of formalised gentrification) is essential to accessing the higher tiers of the tree. The collection of resources cannot, as in most RTS games, be done in isolation, either. Trading, with merchants, and with other factions, is essential. Most limited of all is conflict. There is some capacity to make war with your little navy, but it’s all but relegated to occasional missions and the most tenuous end-game situations. Not an afterthought as such, but certainly at the bottom of the list.


All this is true of Anno 2070, which blasts out of the traditional historical setting to create a game set in the future, and against a backdrop of global climate disaster. It feels extraordinarily similar to its immediate predecessor, Anno 1404, with your time split between city building and resource tinkering (which you do most of the time) with a bit of pootling about controlling a ship to perform various errands on the side. Unlike 1404, however, it’s all gone a bit techno-futurist, and your activities are conducted from an “Ark”, a giant submersible which can be used a generalised mobile base and trading platform.

There are two main factions: Eco dudes and smoke-belchers. Actually they’re called The Eden Initiative and The Global Trust, but you get the idea. There’s a third way, too, with the SAAT, who are like a super-techno faction who built themselves a new life under the sea. These act a median between the two sides, and are unlocked once you’ve tackled the large chunk of the game. These give you the option of building underwater, which is certainly a new frontier for the game, although really quite similar to building on the surface.

Peculiarly, given its hot-topic setting and polar factions, there is almost no real difference between choosing the dirty industrialists over the eco dudes, and no palpable reward for being “green” over eating the planet, aside from the specific bonuses that each has inherent to it. The structure of the game is much the same no matter which side you choose, it’s just that the cities you build will be a little different. I am not quite sure why this should be. I feel like the game is leaping in at the deep end of contemporary issues and then just treading water. It should, I feel, have gone somewhere, or said something, about either possible ethos. But it says little.


Instead this eco stuff plays into the “world” state you find yourself in. During sandbox games (and the freeform sandbox “continuous mode”, plus single scenario missions are very much the heart of things here) offers a bunch of diplomatic options, and how these are managed by you and the other factions can have direct effect on factional economies. This system also spawns various missions, which you can get involved in for rewards. Fighting pirates, for example, is something that all factions can get involved in – crucial if you are playing a multiplayer game. (Which, for the sake clarity, I should state that I did not.) Underlying all activity on your part are the demands and production values of various buildings – obviously different for different factions – the balancing of which will keep you engaged.

The heart of the game: colonising islands, building, growing, maintaining, has quite a serious challenge to it. Keeping a colony fed and supplied is tricky business, and the knife-edge balance required for continued expansion remains at the heart of the game. That’s a satisfying process, partly because it’s quite intricate, and feels like you mastered it when you get it right, but also because you find yourself rewarded by presiding over a teeming near-future town. People wander along the boulevards, flying things buzz over the rooftops to deliver packages across town, while the exo-suit that Ripley pilots at the end of Aliens can be seen felling trees in the forest.

The visual design of Anno’s brave new world is a delight. Detailed, animated, and even features some eccentricities, such as the high-seas hobo circus aircraft carrier which acts as a neutral merchant ship. The more functional bits, such as the UI, are less pleasing. The tech tree is a bit clunky, with a popout “this makes this and needs this” chain for certain sets of buildings, which just seems like a big signpost popping out of the interface and pointing to busywork. The sci-fi cliche of virtual female holographic assistant with a synthetic-sounding voice (unimaginatively dubbed E.V.E.) seems to act as a marker for the limits of Anno’s imaginative scope. Not that it matters, of course, because I just wanted another game of building cute towns, but it feels like it could have gone further.


Where Anno actually fails, perhaps, is in making enough of the tools it offers. Settling islands – and doing it competitively with the other factions – is enormously satisfying, but Anno 2070 had me wanting more. Perhaps it was the inconsistency of the setting, but I would like to have had some way of achieving something greater than the few goals supplied by the single missions (build the biggest building on the tech tree, for instance) or the weak storyline supplied by the campaign.

Or perhaps I’m Anno’d out after the series highpoint of 1404. Objectively I suspect this is actually the stronger game, because there’s just a lot more to it. There’s tonnes of content, loads of little ideas and flourishes, and the random missions/diplomacy/dynamism of the maps with other factions in works really well. It also offers scope to play the game pretty much as you’d please (from pacifist paving of islands, to entirely aggressive cut-throating) and only really falls down on the lack of a story to sew up the loose ends of its setting. The campaign is, as expected, an expansive tutorial.

Anyway, I need to offer some kind of conclusion about the game, some kind of summary of its value, and I find that as tricky as I did with 1404. Writing about the Anno games is treacherous, because while they are relatively straightforward to play, they are also an oddly acquired taste, and as such slippery to define. The building game here is unlike that of SimCity or CitiesXL, because it is more like a puzzle than a genuine builder. The active aspect of using ships and interacting with other factions also makes this something like a sandbox RTS, only it lacks the usual RTS elements of unit-pumping conflict. This is largely a peaceful series, and as such hugely refreshing. It is one of those games that delights in systems, and entertains us by allow us to play with this systems, and make a toy of its peculiarly land-hungry colonisation process. I think you’ll know if this is likely to satisfy a particular void in your gaming experiences.


However, as a shortcut to my obligations as a reviewer, I would insist on the demo if you are intrigued, and suggest that you get this immediately if you enjoyed 1404. The only thing you might obviously object to is the Ubi-launcher needing to fire you each time you play. Once again, for a game available inside Steam, it’s another layer we don’t want or need. But you know how that goes…

Anno 2070 is out now.

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55 Comments »

  1. Dominic White says:

    So, the general vibe is that so long as you haven’t burnt out on 1404, this is probably the better game? Neat.

    • BitLooter says:

      Spam alert, he’s just pushing his (irrelevant) blog.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Why hasn’t he been IP-banned yet? Bastard steals RPS articles last I remember.

    • Cerzi says:

      I was very much burned out on Anno 1404, but decided to buy this last week anyway. My steam profile has 60 hours clocked for 2070 already, and I still havn’t built aircraft or properly explored the late-late-game research tech tree.

      Been playing it mostly with my flatmate in multiplayer which adds a lot – definitely recommend playing with friends rather than in isolation.

    • looper says:

      Er yeah that link is basically full of RPS reviews cut and pasted verbatim.
      Even the same screenshots. Didn't even edit out "Wot I Think"

    • Premium User Badge

      bonuswavepilot says:

      Dunno if this guy is spamming by hand, or has an army of bots, but if it is bot driven, then that “second in the series” comment is a pretty clever bit of context specific misdirection.
      Would work on just about any games-writeup related thing…

  2. UnravThreads says:

    “The only thing you might obviously object to is the Ubi-launcher needing to fire you each time you play. Once again, for a game available inside Steam, it’s another layer we don’t want or need. But you know how that goes…”
    Yeah, I know how it goes. Don’t buy it on Steam if that’s an issue for you.

    I’m actually really looking forward to getting my copy, hopefully in about two weeks’ time. It’ll be fun!

  3. Innovacious says:

    According to steam i put over 40 hours into Anno 1404, and that was without the expansion and i don’t think i even reached “end game”. I think i got as far as producing glasses ONCE. And those 40 hours were in about 3 sittings. Game likes to warn you when you’ve been playing for hours at a time but that never stopped me!

    I WANT to get this, but not yet, too much other stuff on my plate right now.

    • Was Neurotic says:

      I’m with you on this, but I have Cunning Plan: Keep going with Skyrim; HoMM VI after that, and by the time I’m exhausted from HoMMing, there will surely be a 2070 expansion pack out and I can swoop in a little after that and get the GOTY/Gold ecition. Perfect!

  4. Zeewolf says:

    “Anyway, I need to offer some kind of conclusion about the game, some kind of summary of its value, and I find that as tricky as I did with 1404.”

    Not sure why you find it all that tricky. I mean, what did strategy game reviewers do before Dune 2 came along and established a formula that everyone thought was great and wanted to mimic for the next 20 years? Back when every single strategy game followed its own rules and we had everything from The Settlers to Populous to Knights of the Crystallion for that matter.

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      P7uen says:

      I find understanding your point as tricky as thinking of the reason you posted that comment. I suppose they did have games journalism then yes, but this is post-nu-games-journalism-journalism, so you have to read the other words to understand what he means.

      But if it helps, 8.5 out of 3 thumbs up.

    • Zeewolf says:

      I’m just finding it a bit strange that the Anno-series should be any harder to recommend or review than other strategy games. Why? Because it’s not easily described as an RTS or city builder?

      And then I remember back when strategy games used to be more diverse than they are today. I doubt very much that a reviewer back in the early nineties would have thought Anno 2070 was harder to review than other strategy games. Would, say, Populous be hard to review it was released today? Or Powermonger? Or Deuteros? The Settlers?

      It’s odd because Jim doesn’t seem to have problems with the Men of War-games for instance. They’re also very much their own thing, not easily comparable to typical RTS-es and such.

    • wu wei says:

      I’m just finding it a bit strange that the Anno-series should be any harder to recommend or review than other strategy games. Why? Because it’s not easily described as an RTS or city builder?

      Jesus christ, it’s like some of you come here determined to be pissed off. From the second paragraph:

      Essentially they are about building towns[.] The limits to this are what them interesting.

      Jim clearly states what type of game it is and goes on to explain at length what his reservations are, but you’d have to read more than the opening paragraph to understand that.

    • BenLeng says:

      “Knights of the Crystallion”?!? Damn! I Played that game on the Amiga as a kid and was utterly fascinated by it. I spent years trying to remember its name – now you brought it back with your offhand mention! Thanks @Zeewolf

    • Zeewolf says:

      wu wei: What is your problem? Am I not expressing myself clearly or what? Because you do not seem to understand my point at all, and instead you seem offended that I questioned something in Jim’s review.

      And yeah, I know perfectly well what kind of game this is and I know what Jim’s reservations are because I did read the entire review and have no problems with it per se.

      What I’m questioning is this: The idea that it is more difficult (or “treacherous”, to use his term) to review Anno 2070 than other strategy games. I think that is strange, and I’d like to know more about his reasoning here.

      BenLeng: Cool. I never got to play it myself, but the concept always seemed very fascinating to me, and I recently bought it off eBay so I could finally try it. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe if everyone could just agree not to release any new games for a year or so, I could get that backlog sorted. Or some of it at least…

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      jrodman says:

      @Zeewofl: seems pretty obvious, he’s saying it’s easy to misunderstand the crux of the game, and that it doesn’t come out and smack you. You in turn are viewing this as some kind of failure of the reviewer.

  5. obvioustroll says:

    2070 – 1404 = 666

    ubisoft = the devil????????????

    No.

    • UnravThreads says:

      The number of the beast was recently “corrected” to 616, I believe. :p

    • Godsmith says:

      1404/2 = 0702 which is 2070 BACKWARDS! You know what is recorded BACKWARDS? Messages to the Devil! Ubisoft == the devil!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • sneetch says:

      Isn’t that the fax number of the beast, UnravThreads? ;)

    • matnym says:

      The thing about the Anno series is that all individual numbers in the titles adds up to 9.

      Anno 1602: 1+6+2=9
      Anno 1503: 1+5+3=9
      Anno 1701: 1+7+1=9
      Anno 1404: 1+4+4=9
      Anno 2070: 2+7=9

    • JFS says:

      Yes, and when you turn all those 9s upside down it’s SIX SIX SIX OH MY GOD PARLIAMENT BAN THIS GAME WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!

    • Xercies says:

      If it doesn’t add up to the Number 23 I think were safe.

    • Lukasz says:

      @Xercies
      well
      if you add all the digits of 5 titles you get 45.
      divide current title 2070 by 45
      you get 46!

      so you get DOUBLE 23.

      what’s wrong with 23 btw?

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      I dunno, but maybe we should ask this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXJOtzslAvI

  6. Bhazor says:

    OK I have a question
    I really like the idea of the Anno 1404 but to me it just got boring fairly quick. Once you’ve set up the resource loop (A gives X to B gives Y to C gives Z to A) you’re pretty much done. It just didn’t feel dynamic, there were no disasters, no price hikes no real challenge except building a new neighbourhood when you got the resources for it.

    So my question is this. Is there an Anno stlye game (town planning, resource trading) with a greater emphasis on a dynamic economy? Sort of like Railroads! but with more town planning or like Stronghold with a focus on trade. Really I’d like a kind of East India Company sim where you use a trade fleet to essentially build an empire (towns to house workers, to build resources, to fill ships to sell to buy more land) in co-operation and competition with other states and companies. I have heard of Patrician but the last one got seriously mixed reviews and I hear the earlier ones don’t play nice with modern computers.

    • UnravThreads says:

      You can get the earlier Patricians on GOG.

    • clorax says:

      Patricians 3 is available on Steam for cheap and works fine on my Windows 7 64bit PC.

    • Vinraith says:

      Patrician 3 has no widescreen support and no windowed mode, so you have to be willing to tolerate everything being stretched to hell. For me, at least, that’s a dealbreaker.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Patrician 3 has no widescreen support and no windowed mode, so you have to be willing to tolerate everything being stretched to hell.

      You should be able to configure your monitor into a pillarboxed 4:3 mode so the aspect ratio isn’t ruined (eg, the option should be called “Original Ratio” in the menu for LG monitors). That’s what I did recently for Thief 3.

      Also, Patrician 4 Gold has been on sale a couple times, and it’s almost as good as its predecessor.

      Alternative for nerds: the best way to force older games into a window is still Wine.

  7. Premium User Badge

    scudly says:

    I knew I had to pick it up when I watched a guy play the game for 2 hours and was throughly enthralled.

    Thanks to Amazon.com digital downloads for us in the States I was able to get it for $40 instead of $50. I’ve already put a bunch of hours into it and it’s still pretty damned fun even if I’ve never played an Anno game before.

    Plus good lord is it gorgeous.

    • Gunsmith says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed yourself, I’ve since uploaded part 3 for your pleasure :)

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      scudly says:

      I just saw that this morning. I will promptly watch inbetween bug-killing sessions here at work because I need to get a better grasp on how things lead towards the more advanced tech since I haven’t gotten there in my SP games.

    • ThTa says:

      Aye, I was browsing through the comments to see if anyone had referred to those videos yet, glad you did.
      Those are what convinced me to get (or rather, have my wife get) the Collector’s Edition at a rather mild 43 euros, despite the fact that I hardly have enough time to really play it for prolonged periods of time. I’ve played the heck out of Anno 1404, but those were different times; even so, if I get even half of the enjoyment I got out of that from this newer installment, I’ll be more than statisfied.

      (Clarification on the “have my wife get” thing: this is coming up shortly. Got her Battlefield 3 (which I personally find rather, well, awful, to be frank), among other things.)

      Either way, thanks for the vids, Gunsmith; I’ve really enjoyed watching them.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      I watched some of those videos, and they are superb – some of the GUI shortcuts are especially useful. However, from a first-time player perspective, having all these bonus’s and items available on hand in your ark is kinda shorting the learning curve; sure it makes a better experience for the seasoned player, but not for newbie viewers.

  8. McDan says:

    Anno right?

    I did just come here to post that, thought of it and couldn’t resist.

  9. acheron says:

    Does it still have a 3x installation limit? As far as DRM goes, I love Steam. Having a separate launch program in addition to Steam is annoying, but whatever. Needing to be online all the time is almost too much, though I did put up with it for Starcraft 2. But when they limit the number of times you can install it even when you follow all their other stupid rules is more than I’ll tolerate. Since we’re talking city builders, I bought Caesar 2 in, what, 1994. And Simcity 2000 around the same time. I’ve installed each of them countless times — I played both of them a bit in the past year (they work great in Dosbox). So it’s a good thing those weren’t limited to 3 installs.

    And yes, obviously you can crack it to remove the limit, but I shouldn’t have to.

  10. caddyB says:

    Well, I won’t be buying it then.

  11. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    Leaving aside the DRM deal-breaker, I’m pretty burned out after playing so much 1404.

    But you know what would grab my interest? A game like this in which there were no islands, but which still required (or at least strongly encouraged) you to construct multiple, separate towns. I guess kind of like SimCity, but with each city existing on the same map and in the same save file.

  12. Ravelle says:

    @acheron I believe it has a two-limit installation. maybe three but i’m not sure.

  13. Artist says:

    Im really disappointed by Anno 2070! AI is something they completly forgot for NPC players and the multiplayer connection issues makes it nearly impossible to play it online (again – nothing learnt since the 1404 online debacle)!
    The game only sells with the level of detail – everything else is unfortunatly just a fake.

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    Cinek says:

    Why every screenshot from this game is gloom/blurred/unsharp ? I’d play it but the graphics make me vomit.

    • snv says:

      Its because of consoles.

      Really they spoil everything. The Bloom technology was introduced to hide console graphics jagged edges ( proper Anti-Aliasing was too much for the hardware then) and then it was overused in about every game. Now designers seem to think it is supposed to look like that.

    • UnravThreads says:

      It does not look that bad in game, at least judging by the demo. You don’t tend to notice it whilst playing.

      Seriously, grab the demo and give it a whirl, you get access to most/all of the graphics settings.

    • Thants says:

      Bloom technology was developed to mimic the way that bright-lights bleed into their surroundings in real-world vision.

  15. sassy says:

    I’ve put up with U-Play once and it was very annoying. With developers under Ubisoft’s recent behavior I refuse to put up with it again. Until Ubisoft mends their ways I will not be purchasing another game by them, that includes purchases on consoles. I would strongly advise everyone to do the same. The current Ubisoft aren’t deserving of your money so don’t give it to them.

  16. Sardonic says:

    I disagree with the notion that there’s no difference between the factions. There’s a huge efficiency trade-off between them, even in the production of basalt, the basic extractor unit takes up less space with the tycoon building, and has no eco effect and uses little energy on the eco side.

    The advantage to playing eco is that your farms, while more effected by negative ecobalance, can also be boosted to huge productivity levels with positive ecobalance, this counteracts the efficiency loss somewhat.

    The resources required to level up both factions are also very different and require vastly different supply chains sometimes.

    I adore the game, I’ve already racked up 75 hours in it, more than three times the amount I’ve played 1401 in total.

  17. battles_atlas says:

    “The structure of the game is much the same no matter which side you choose, it’s just that the cities you build will be a little different. I am not quite sure why this should be. I feel like the game is leaping in at the deep end of contemporary issues and then just treading water.”

    Its probably because an honest take on this would require the turbo capitalist side to label the ecos a threat to national security, and promptly bomb the shit out of them. And solar panels and a strong communitarian ethos offer limited defence against cluster munitions. The balancing would be a nightmare.

    • Zenicetus says:

      There could be ways around that. Sharks with frikkin’ laser beams etc. Or more realistically, if the Eco side was deeply invested in genetic engineering and bio-weapons. All you need is one good, devastating plague weapon with engineered immunity for your side, as a deterrent.

      The previous games didn’t really do grand conflict between factions, so I’m not surprised this sounds more like different types of window dressing on the same underlying game engine. I’d like to take a look at it later on, after clearing the backlog and maybe a price drop. I never quite finished the 1404 main campaign. I got a little bored with it, after figuring out the mechanics. But it was fun for a while. I’d go for this one, at the right price.

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    Carra says:

    The steam thing is annoying. They didn’t even bother to link the achievements to steam.

    As for the game, it’s definitely a good game. Balancing a city isn’t easy and as such, there’s always something to do in this game. But I have to agree, there’s not that much difference between the Eco and Tycoon faction. I would have preferred to see a deeper connection between the three factions, forcing you to use all three. A bit like in Anno 1404 where you needed to have a Muslim faction in order to create spice which was needed to advance your Christian settlers. It gave a nice incentive to create both factions. They should have added something similar, forcing you to create a tycoon, tech and eco faction all at the same time.

    Oh, if you want a good, deeper view on the Eco balance, go and play Fate of the World. It’s an entertaining, educating and also very difficult game.

    • UnravThreads says:

      “The steam thing is annoying. They didn’t even bother to link the achievements to steam.”
      What? Because it’s on Steam it has to be Steamworks, or have some aspect of SW?

  19. alilsneaky says:

    Anno is the shit, how can you not recommend any anno game…
    As if there aren’t enough shooters and generic rpgs around , you have to go and spread doubt about a solid game as this.

    It’s certainly PLENTY accessible to even those completely new to rts games.

    I’ll agree on the ubisoft gripe though. Fuck them and their uplay shit.

  20. pistolhamster says:

    Did anyone try to buy 1404 on Steam?

    Odd!

    “Notice: The game is currently not available for purchase.”

    • UnravThreads says:

      It was withdrawn by UbiSoft, I think, and it was something to do with the patching. The last patch never surfaced on Steam or something, and they withdrew it to avoid problems. I dunno, but it’s cheap as hell to get the Gold retail edition.