Impressions: Anno 2205 Takes City-building To The Moon

“We choose to go to the Moon” says Dirk Riegert, the creative director of Ubisoft Blue Byte. Except he doesn’t – he actually says something like “we will go to the Moon”, which is nowhere near as good a quote, and the reason he’ll probably never be elected as President of the United States.

Fabricated quotes aside, I’m in a German town called Mainz – home of the printing press and the Gutenberg bible – to see something a little more futuristic. It’s Anno 2205 – the newest entry in the strategic city-building series where the numbers always add up to nine, and Riegert’s explaining how this entry differs from the previous ones. “We are leaving Earth for the first time,” he says. “2205? It’s time for the space elevator to go up through the stratosphere.”

The Anno series is mostly historical, but in the most recent game, Anno 2070, Blue Byte gazed into the near future instead – sketching out a world where ‘Ecos’ battled ‘Tycoons’ for preservation or exploitation of the planet’s natural resources respectively. 135 years later, some things have changed dramatically – but some have scarcely changed at all.

The most obvious feature of Blue Byte’s vision of 2205 is that mankind has colonised the Moon. Craters on the surface house colonies that send vital resources like Helium-3 and rare earth metals back to their home planet in exchange for basics like food and water. You’ll build settlements up there just the ones on Earth, except that the Moon’s atmosphere is far thinner than Earth’s so you’ll also need to erect asteroid shields.

The other major change is that you’re now managing several settlements at once – different ‘sessions’ as Riegert calls them. At any time you can zoom out from your city view to a world (and Moon) map and select a different location to manage. Time still passes in the other locations, so you’ll still accumulate resources, and trading those resources from settlements that have a surplus to those with a deficit is a crucial part of the game.

What hasn’t changed is the basic Anno mechanics. You’ll sketch out a city over time, progressively upgrading dwellings to new social levels (workers < operators < executives < magnates) as you supply them with resources. The more resource-gathering buildings you have, the more workers you need and therefore the more houses you build - which in turn need their own resources, and so on. That supply-and-demand model works in a historical and near-future context, because that's what happened in history and what happens today. But extrapolating it 190 years into the future seems to me to be a little troublesome - it feels odd that there's still a distinct stratification of social class and economic confrontation between companies in a world with fusion power plants, robotic workers and seemingly no negative consequences for anything. The conflict between Ecos and Tycoons is long gone, and the only way to anger your population is to stop their flow of luxuries. Deep assumptions about society in the future - like whether growth and productivity will still be the ultimate goal of our civilisation in 200 years - seem to have gone totally unquestioned.

“It’s a positive game, there’s no dystopia” says Riegert when I press him on whether he’s created a utopia or dystopia, and he emphasises that the studio is trying to create a world that people will want to live in rather than an accurate representation of 200 years time. Yet the faces that pop up when you click on ‘miner’ buildings on the Moon are black and the ones you see you click on the ‘officer’ residences are white. That doesn’t sound like any utopia I’d ever want to live in.

A small minority of you are no doubt banging your keyboard with a clenched fist right now and shouting “it’s only a game!”, and no doubt it’s an accidental inclusion rather than a purposeful one, so let’s talk a little about how it plays. I spent about half an hour with the game in a room with a few other journalists and plenty of Blue Byte staff to answer our questions. In that time, I got to poke around an already-built city, a moonbase, and have a go at building my own town from scratch.

To begin with, it feels just like Cities: Skylines. You drag out a road, plop down some dwellings next to it, and provide power and water. Levelling up the houses requires the production of algae, so you place an algae farm. One neat thing is that most of your production buildings are expandable – you can drop down extra fields on your farm, or nodes that reduce the required staff or the energy cost. Space becomes limited fairly quickly, but happily you can move anything around at any time for no cost, which encourages fiddling with your layout.

If you’re the type of gamer that loves micromanagement (and I very much am) then you’ll find this sort of fiddling pretty satisfying. During my half-hour with the game, I had a fun time trading the needs of my residents off against the need for more residents. Thanks to a much larger city available to trade with nearby, many of the obstacles to rapid growth were easily hurdled and I hit what appeared to be the ‘endgame’ of the sandbox within that half-hour.

But maybe it wasn’t just the satellite town effect that allowed me to progress so fast. Riegert says that the basic Anno formula has been “streamlined” in 2205 due to the multiple session feature. “With the previous game we hit the borders of complexity in a singular session,” he says. “Several sessions in parallel […] will get really complex when you move on, but we reduced the complexity inside a single session so that when beginners start with their first session it’s more comfortable and easier for them to control it and to get used to the basic Anno gameplay.”

I should mention, too, that Anno 2205 looks stunning. Blue Byte’s art team have done an incredible job in making the cities look not just beautiful, but busy too. The robot factories look a little like scaled-up graphics cards, and feature conveyor belts that whizz past before your eyes. The subway stations have tracks embedded in the ground where trains come and go. An anachronistic blimp floats lazily above the stadium. On the moon, you’ll see people in spacesuits bouncing happily down the street in the lower gravity.

If balancing your economy is the main-mast of Anno’s splendid sailing ship, then the mizzen-mast has historically been combat, but that’s firmly under wraps for now. There are intriguing-looking red icons on the world map, but we’re forbidden from clicking them. Riegert promises that there will be a military aspect to the game, and it’s also hinted that more terrain types than grass and lunar dirt will be available to build on, but you’ll have to wait until closer to release to find out more.

Summing up my impressions of Anno 2205 is tricky. The version I played is obviously unfinished – it’s a shallow but beautiful sandbox with little direction or challenge and a conflicted and incomplete vision of the future. Dropping in a compelling storyline will help, but I wonder whether the multi-session feature will actually reduce replayability – with the trade routes feature removing much of the challenge in building up a new settlement, and if the “streamlining” of the basic mechanics will go down well with long-term fans of the series.

Finally, on a personal level – and I appreciate the slight irony of writing this on a website dedicated to videogames – I find it kinda sad that Blue Byte’s ‘world that people want to live in’ is as relentlessly focused on consumption and growth as our world today. Maybe you feel differently, and if that’s the case then I’d be interested to hear your perspective in the comments below, but with the limits to growth and conflicts between exponential economics and finite physics long-established, surely anything even close to a utopia along those lines is a near impossibility?

Ah well, it’s only a game.

32 Comments

  1. rexx.sabotage says:

    Blue Byte are savvy enough to recognize that people purchase games to escape the dystopia–not recreate it.

    • hotmaildidntwork says:

      ….then why is that dystopic settings seem so popular?

    • 2late2die says:

      I think in this instance, in regards to the last comment in the article, it would be more accurate to say that Blue Byte are aiming here to create a fun game and not make a political statement – that is okay with me.

      • johnny5 says:

        I agree. I thought they did a great job with balancing the factions in 2070 and not making it overly political. I’m concerned that this will be a reskin with moon bases replacing underwater bases, but we’ll see.

        • Apocalypse says:

          Sounds cool, shame I never played it because of its DRM.

      • Ada says:

        Too bad that it’s physically impossible not to implicitly include politics.

    • Recurve says:

      Then explain the excitement over Fallout 4…

    • Duncan Geere says:

      Right, but my point here is that in trying to do that they’ve just created a different kind of dystopia – one that’s even less realistic. On a personal level, I really hope that in 200 years we’ll have moved beyond economics being the ruling force on the planet.

      • Surlywombat says:

        Anno is series that has always been about building your cities through trade rather than anything else. I find it somewhat strange to have expected it to change.

  2. vorador says:

    Consider me interested. I quite like the Anno series.

    And likely the reason the “future world” is completely focused on consumerism is in order not to innovate too much on the mechanics. Anno mechanics are always centered about supplying resources to the people in order for them to level up, which in turn requires them more resources, and such an spiral of madness and consumption of resources. Just like our society.

  3. RedViv says:

    It’s gorgeous, and I wanted this setting for Anno for… Yeah, at least ten years now. Wait was worth it.

  4. Ejia says:

    I felt immediately conflicted when this was announced.

    On one hand, Uplay is a blight upon this world that deserves to die in a cleansing holy fire.

    On the other, this is not only Future Anno, but SPACE ANNO.

  5. KDR_11k says:

    The sessions kinda sound like the islands of previous Anno games? As long as there are no load times when switching between them like EA Sim City had…

  6. damoqles says:

    ““We choose to go to the Moon” says Dirk Riegert, the creative director of Ubisoft Blue Byte. Except he doesn’t – he actually says something like “we will go to the Moon”, which is nowhere near as good a quote, and the reason he’ll probably never be elected as President of the United States.”

    That just made my day.

    Btw, does this mean we’re finally going to see some reasonable discounts on the previous futuristic Anno? It’s holding its still-too-steep-for-my-taste-and-for-its-age price like the damned Ubi client requirement alone wasn’t enough of a deterrent force…

    • OscarWilde1854 says:

      Anno 2070 is 75% off right now as part of the summer sale… is $7 not a low enough price? I own it, and I’d definitely say it’s worth $7! By a long shot!

  7. Distec says:

    Real shame if it requires UPlay. There were so many times I saw the last Anno game go on sale and ended up dumping it from my cart because I remembered “Oh yeah! Fuck that shit.”

    Am I gonna have to wait for a good sci-fi city builder, just like I had to for normal ones until Cities Skylines came out?

    • montorsi says:

      Sure, why not. Make a principled stand against Uplay.

      Someone should, right? And while you’re doing that I’ll be playing Anno games.

      • Distec says:

        That’s cool, guy. It’s not really a big sacrifice for me.

      • Lanfranc says:

        I assume the “principle” involved here is “stay away from games that insist on using shitty software”? Because that sounds like a pretty reasonable principle.

        There are plenty of other great games to play, anyway.

    • Pantalaimon says:

      Uplay is messy bloated software, no doubt, and it’s kind of sad they insist on going that route, but the real reason to be wary of past Anno releases was the Tages DRM. That stuff was insidious and I believe it’s been in every single Anno release, right up to and including 2070. The only way to play the old games (like the great 1701) safely and legally ended up being to wait until Win 7 was released since the Tages installer didn’t run properly at that point and Windows blocked it from starting.

      There were claims that at some point it got removed from Anno 2070 as part of the series continuing to be sold on Steam (the DRM was the reason a lot of the games disappeared from the EU store) but every sale I would repeatedly check for solid assurances that it was completely stripped out, and couldn’t find any. Most likely they just hid it better than before and it was still lurking in the background.

      So basically UPlay, as fussy as it is, is tolerable. Any other malware software is not. I hope Ubi are wise enough to keep it clean this time around.

      • Distec says:

        Thanks for reminder, as I do remember seeing that on the last game. I think I just jumbled that together with UPlay in my memory.

        In a desperate pinch (ie. must-have game), I could probably live with UPlay. But limited installs are right out in my book.

  8. Seraphithan says:

    The more resource-gathering buildings you have, the more workers you need and therefore the more houses you build – which in turn need their own resources, and so on.

    That is actually a huge change. The previous Annos didn’t have workers, your factories and farms just worked. The reason to expand your population was so you wouldn’t go bankrupt and well because its the central mechanic, no people no demand for stuff no nothing.

    The name is bit of a handful though 1602, 1503, 1701, 1404 all rolled nicely of the tongue 2070 worked at least as 20-70, but 2205? Zweitausendzweihundertfünf. Zweiundzwanzighundertfünf. Zweiundzwanzigfünf. I think I’ll stick with Anno 6.

    • Pharos says:

      To be fair, if the year numbers have to add up to nine, you’re kind of limited. I guess it could have been 2250 but they seem to like keeping the third digit zero.

  9. Elliot Lannigan says:

    So, this is a prequel to Destiny basically?

  10. li says:

    What are these trains in the gameplay trailer?!

  11. arioch says:

    I kept coming back to 2070… I just loved the intricate little systems it made you create to keep your populace happy. Hopefully they haven’t dumbed down the complexity too much – that was the main reason to play it for me.

  12. Jimbo says:

    I can no longer read any article about games without imaging the writer desperately searching for something -anything- which they can use to justify a vague accusation of some kind of discrimination.

    • Ada says:

      …some of us actually just happen to notice pervasive racism and sexism.

      • Jimbo says:

        What would you consider to be an ‘acceptable’ arrangement of faces in this case then?

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Don’t worry about it, it’s a cultural shift. It happens. You’ll either get with the times or be like someone’s awkwardly racist grandparent.

      • Jimbo says:

        Ha, right. This phase of ‘the minority [/female] MUST be shown to be in the dominant position or else OMG RACIST!!’ will last a few years before we collectively grow out of it and advance to the nobody noticing or caring stage.