Anno Online Sets Sail For New F2P World

By Richard Cobbett on August 16th, 2012 at 5:45 pm.

Remember, if you don't think you can split your attention between God and Mammon, on this island Mammon is our bro.

Two things immediately jumped up and waved pointedly when I heard about Anno Online. First, ‘Online’ isn’t a year – that name is Silly. Second, doesn’t Ubisoft/Blue Byte already have a historical, economics focused city-builder game called The Settlers Online? For the first, the answer was ‘Nobody likes a padent’. As for the second, yes, there are definite similarities, but Anno Online takes a rather different approach to creating the perfect society…

Like all of Ubisoft’s recent online announcements, Anno Online is a free to play game that runs directly in your browser and, like the best tactic for beating Quick Man, is based on Flash. At a glance, it’s extremely similar to the regular games rather than being a cut-down Farmville style affair, and while the demo I got to see was short, the basics are similar. It’s not enough to simply have a market for instance; it has to be within a radius of the homes it’s servicing, and you can see that via a handy overlay. There’s no combat or competitive play, at least at launch, with the main online element revolving around trade and forming co-operative guilds.

To begin with, you have one default island – and everyone gets the same one. Here, you get to build basic units like houses and markets, but will soon find that you don’t have any land that can grow wheat or provide other key resources. At that point, it’s time to build or buy a ship, head out and fill your nine island slots with other lands – and in doing so, build a considerably more complex chain of resources and goals than you’ll get in the smaller-scale The Settlers Online. Unlike that game, there was also no talk of specific quests; just building an empire.

Come, slide onto my dick-dock. You know you want to.

The core idea is that nobody will be able to be completely self-sufficient, creating both a general economy for resources and encouraging co-operation – a general trading market, and more specific deals with friends to exchange your wheat for their coal or whatever else. You can also work directly with friends on larger prestige buildings, including the giant cathedral you see in the screenshots, that will take ages even with assistance and a single player simply can’t make alone. Islands that you unlock will have fixed maps, but randomised elements, to help avoid everyone ending up with essentially the same photocopied island after a couple of months.

Aesthetically, it’s a pretty enough game – though personally I prefer my cities to have a bit more life to them, a la Settlers or the classic Impressions games, and found the look of it quite sterile. You will be able to visit other players’ islands to see what they’ve made, though Blue Byte remained quiet on whether or not you’d actually be able to do anything while there – the obvious thing being for an invited, more experienced player to be able to come in and poke at your resource chains and building placements and offer a little helpful advice if necessary.

It's not just asking everyone to build cathedrals with wooden spoons that make everything out of this player's mouth a Tal order.

As far as the cash shop goes, Blue Byte remains somewhat cagey, though it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll be able to just side-step the player economy by buying a big bag of wheat whenever you like. There will be progress-boosters though, letting you do things like simply buy a ship to go trading instead of having to build one yourself and probably speed up buildings. You’ll also be able to buy cosmetic buildings – plazas, fountains and so on – to make your cities look more interesting, though whether these will involve purchasing a blueprint type item or paying for individual bits of prettinesss remains shrouded in mystery for the moment.

The single most important thing though is that the nine island slots you have available to you have to be unlocked. You get one to start with, and all players have access to four. The other four are for paying players only though, which will obviously be a massive advantage. You’ll have to deal with more complexity, but will be able to be much more self-sufficient, and spit out far, far more resources for trade – a massive advantage. The islands screen I saw had a straight-up ‘Buy Rights’ button suggesting that these will be one-time purchases.

Much as I hate the big “E”, there’s also an obvious question of what the endgame is going to consist of. Unless you’re aiming to create the next Magnasanti, there’s a limit to how much time most folks are going to want to spend on the same society. There is however scope for this to be widened after launch, including adding different types of island – the Middle East alongside the classic medieval style for instance – and the current PvP systems. Blue Byte told me that these will be coming, but “perhaps not in a way you might expect.”

I look forward to having a whole island devoted to the production of smallpox blankets.

Peaceful. Quiet. And then the locusts came.

Anno’s ultimate success will come down to two things – how complex it actually is compared to the original games, and how well it manages the player economy both in its general resource trading market and handling the impact of real-world cash on it. It needs to be more than simply Anno running in a web browser, and that’s only going to happen if it can convey the feeling of your island civilisation being part of something bigger than itself. If that fails, or simply doesn’t have a big enough impact once you’ve got all your islands, you may as well just be playing the regular single-player game where you know you’ll never be nagged for cash.

, , , , .

33 Comments »

  1. Shooop says:

    They have set sail for failure.

  2. Phasma Felis says:

    ‘Nobody likes a padent’.

    Hey, that’s…oh god I see what you did there and I hate you now

  3. MythArcana says:

    Nothing is free to play, only Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.

  4. Vinraith says:

    Ugh. Is Related Designs’ time being wasted with this dreck, or are they still allowed to work on proper Anno games?

  5. Xaromir says:

    Money, ahoy! No seriously, 1404 got a AWESOME multiplayer mode, and i’m not bound by silly responsibilities created by dependencies on others for a longer period of time, and then there is the fact that they probably don’t do it because they are so nice, but because they want to make more money by selling what not, which spoils the experience in most cases. No thanks. That on a rather objective level, now on a personal one:

    This feels a little like being raped up the childhood by a razorblade-lined corporate money cock – AGAIN. How can they do that to Anno?! No thanks.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Well, at least the razorblades are on the inside…

      • Xaromir says:

        This still hurts quite badly though, Anno 1602 was one of the first games that i played religiously, and that’s what i did with all Anno releases, and now all this stuff with 2070 and Anno Online; this feels rather alien, but i guess that’s part of growing up too; realizing that your favorite franchises and characters are still corporate-owned property, and they are treated like that. Still sad.

        • Tom De Roeck says:

          Whats your problem with Anno 2070? It feels like anno to me, and is fun. Its just not “historic” anymore.

          In my mind, its the world that Brink happens in.

          • Xaromir says:

            I really hate this half-assed “really near future” stuff, instead of just going the extra mile and making it new all the way, and maybe slapping a new name on it. They only done that to reach a different target audience, and probably to conquer the US market, but watered it down to hopefully not offend the old fans, and they justified it with really lame excuses instead of just being straight about it.

            I’m blabbering again. Point is, i just don’t want a sci-fi scenario, and especially not a near-future scenario. It’s a bit like Sims Medieval, or Lord of the Rings 40k or something.

  6. Bluerps says:

    Ubisoft needs to announce more games. I want to see how often you can do this opening line. :D

  7. Calabi says:

    Fucking free to play, if I here that one more time I’m going to scream.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “Free to play.”

      • Calabi says:

        “ARRRHHHHHHHH! ARGHLE! FARHGLE! BLEUGH!”

        But seriously who isnt going free to play. Cant we get some new ideas and concepts, instead of them spreading out the same shit, but a bit more thinly.

        • Shooop says:

          Blame smart phone users.

          They’re the people this craze is targeting: people who are sitting somewhere away from their desktops (if they even have one) with a 10-inch touchscreen.

          The industry isn’t competing with them, it’s trying to merge two very different things and making nothing but a hot mess in the process. The best example of this is Windows 8: Microsoft wants to make a one-size-fits-all OS for desktops and mobile machines. But you can’t. You either make one of the other because they’re two radically different platforms.

          • Shuck says:

            “Blame smart phone users”
            More generally, blame people who don’t want to spend traditional game prices. Getting people to pay what games cost 20 years ago is turning out to be quite hard these days. Making cheap games that require spending a dollar here and there ends up generating more profit, as you not only can get more revenue per user in the long run, all the people who might not have spent any money at all on a retail game are brought in as well. If you can reduce costs by recycling an existing game, all the better.

  8. Drake Sigar says:

    If I read one more article with the word ‘online’ in the title today, I’m going to go bananas.

  9. The Army of None says:

    Enjoyed Megaman reference, would comment again.

  10. porknaut says:

    “The core idea is that nobody will be able to be completely self-sufficient…”

    That about sums up all my fears about online gaming. The fact you are forced to rely on so-called “friends.”

  11. Iliya Moroumetz says:

    No… just, no.

    Anno is fine as it is. I like 2070, LOVE 1404.

    Now, you’re breaking it,Ubisoft. I won’t bite. I got a large back catalog of games that I can play, so, forget it!

  12. GamerOS says:

    Anno 1602 was one of the first games that I played till the disk literaly broke inside the tray.
    This seems like just another horrible social facebook game where you have to bug your friends all the time just to get anywhere.
    Thanks but no thanks.

  13. Bhazor says:

    So pay to win then?

    Fuck.

    I used to like Anno as well.

  14. Vexing Vision says:

    I am just amazed how many dogs have been driven over by F2P games. Otherwise I can’t imagine why everyone is so afraid of it. :)

    There’s quite a few valid F2P titles out there that are not pay to win. Including League of Legends, Team Fortress 2 and Settlers Online.

    Hi, I’m Vex, you might have seen me in the comments sections and the forums of RPS for a few years now. ;) By some chance coincident, I’m now also one of the persons behind Anno Online. Which looks ridiculously gorgeous on our big presentation screen:
    http://twitpic.com/ak1r0p

    If you have a chance, catch one of our live presentations at GamesCom and see if you can really spot that it’s a flash-based game. Or try out the game once it’s out – you ain’t even wasting any bandwidth by downloading something. If you are a hardcore (or even semi-hardcore) Anno-fan and after playing STILL dislike what we’ve “done” to the title, I will be personally VERY interested hearing from you!

    And now I’m back to commenting other games, which is a lot more fun anyway. ;)

  15. Surlywombat says:

    So the they did the art by taking lots of screen shots of a Anno 1404 game then?