previewed on PC
Journey to the new world... again
Ever wanted to be an explorer? Has the promise of discovering the wonders of the "new world" ever excited you? Do you dream of people erecting a statue in honour of you achievements? Thanks to the third instalment of the Anno series, from the German developer Sunflowers, those dreams are now easily within your grasp.
Over one hundred people at Sunflowers are working on Anno 1701 and it is regarded one of the most expensive development projects in German-speaking Europe. The game was born from a fan questionnaire, and it will both improve on its predecessors and offer new features in hopes of appealing to a larger market.
For those who are unfamiliar with the premise, the Anno series puts you at the helm of a band of explorers, bound for the "new world", striving to claim some exotic new colonies for the empire. Starting from a small settlement, you will guide its development by supplying imports and catering to your people's needs, whilst expanding and claiming land for your quickly growing population. Anno 1701, set in the late 16th and early 17th century, lets you embark on that same journey. By the order of your monarch, you are to colonise the new world. Your beginnings are humble; controlling a ship with an order to locate a suitable site on which to build your settlement.
There's no fear of the game world becoming too dull. All of the islands are randomly generated, providing for a different experience in every game. Whilst exploring, you will have to be wary of nearby pirates and look out for potential natives, who can become strong trading partners. Once your site is chosen, the rest of the game is very much in your hands. The game runs in real time, and can easily be seen as a RTS version of Sid Meier's Civilization, yet the pace is one that rather favours those who are familiar with the traditional empire-simulation genre.
In with the new... but out with the old?
There have been both significant and subtle changes since both Anno 1602 and Anno 1503, which, thankfully, leave the core gameplay and appeal unaffected. The change that will shock most gamers first and foremost, is the graphical change. Unlike its predecessors, Anno 1701 is in full, rich, 3D graphics, sporting luscious fauna, over 150 building designs and water effects that leave you gasping for a drink. Everything in the game world is crisp, clean, and - to put it rather aptly - very pretty. Perhaps to highlight this, there is even a built-in screenshot mode that enables the player to move the camera full 360 degrees and snap a photo of the empire you have created.
Perhaps the main focus of the developer was to change the user interface in order to attract new gamers. In addition to a simplified pop-up system to inform you of the happiness of your population, there is even a built-in Annopedia (similar to the Civilopedia, in the Civilisation series). The developers stress, however, that these changes do not in any way interfere with the fabled depth and interactivity of the Anno games. The desired effect is that casual gamers may pick this title up and not be swamped with lots of different variables. However, those who want to pick Anno up for the sole purpose of fiddling with variables, are still able to do so.
A Signal of Success
My favourite touch in the game is the attention to detail that has been put in to the scripted animation. For example, when your people are especially happy, you are quite likely to see Brass Bands serenading your success, or groups of children enjoying their blissful days in your settlement. However, if you are failing to meet their needs, or your taxes are sucking the life out of them, they will show their disgust. Street violence and mobs committing arson are sure signs that something needs to be done.
There is now an (albeit optional) added pressure in this third instalment. Depending on where you settle, you must endure the wrath of cyclones that stir the sea and sweep in, tearing your houses from their foundations. Or mighty volcanoes that ooze lava down the landscape, wiping out all your efforts, leaving only molten rock to show for it. Luckily, unlike in the previous instalments, you may request additional financial help from your monarch when situations like this lead you to a financial dead-end.
Anno all over the world?
Although still under development, Anno 1701 presents its own multiplayer mode. Whereas in the single player skirmishes, you may face "Civ" like opponents, each with their own characteristics and playing styles, the multiplayer is said to support 4 players simultaneously on one world, adding another layer to the gameplay.
Anno 1701 promises to impress a wider range of gamers than its predecessors, with its friendlier interface and gorgeous graphics, whilst providing something deeper for those familiar with the series, by adding natural disasters along with many other additions requested in the fan questionnaire. This game looks set to impress. It already did so at E3, and with its release estimated around late October, it is definitely one to watch out for.