I’ve always seen the Anno series categorised as a “city builder” but I’d choose to describe it as a supply and demand simulator with some city management aspects. In that respect, it is a fairly different animal compared to games like SimCity or the recent Cities Skylines. The last few entries in the series have largely followed the same template – build settlements, produce a variety of goods, establish trade routes and make sure your increasingly demanding citizens have everything they need.
With Anno 2205 – the fifth entry in the series – Ubisoft and developers Blue Byte have tried to shake things up for the first time. While a lot of the core mechanics are the same, it feels far simpler and much easier to pick up compared to its predecessors. While this may be great for newcomers, long time fans are likely to get disappointed by some of the changes it brings. The game loses a lot of the intricacies of the series in favour of streamlining. Series staple features are completely removed or drastically simplified. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though because Anno 2205 is still a worthwhile entry in the series.
As you’d guess from the title, the game takes place in the year 2205, where the world is run by huge corporations and Moon colonisation is the next big thing. However, this isn’t one of those dystopian worlds we generally see in futuristic settings; far from it. The utopian setting and the bright colourful visuals feel quite refreshing. It truly is one of the best looking strategy games I’ve ever played, featuring gorgeous environments and exquisitely detailed (and animated) buildings. The game does away with the ecological aspects of the previous game and feels a lot more light-hearted in tone. You start the game by creating a new corporation and the goal is to overtake other corporations and reach the top.
Anno 2205 features only one game mode, which basically combines the tutorial, campaign and the continuous mode (a customisable free-play mode) from the previous titles. A series of quests gradually introduces you to the mechanics while also giving you a storyline to follow. You can either follow the quests or continue building and expanding as you wish. This is no doubt the most controversial change in the game. You are pretty much limited to this one mode and it makes every game (except for your very first one) feel largely the same.
Perhaps the biggest change is the way the game itself is structured. As the leader of your corporation, you’ll manage distant colonies at the same time, switching between them as necessary from a global map. You’ll be building and managing settlements in Earth’s Temperate and Arctic regions and eventually expand to the Moon. As expected, each type of settlement needs goods from another. For example, the Arctic colonies cannot produce fruit, so you’ll have to ship vitamin drinks from your temperate settlements. Optimising trade routes was one of the biggest and most fun challenges of the earlier games, however 2205 strips it down to its most basic form.
Each trade route between your colonies only carries one type of goods and there’s basically little to no trading with other factions and AI. This is a bizarre step backwards for the franchise. In fact, you’ll almost never see AI allies and opponents outside of cutscenes and dialogue screens. At times they show up as random quest givers for mundane tasks, but you’ll always be the only player on the map, free to build and expand as you wish. The maps themselves are static and the game ships with only nine of them (three for each type – Temperate, Arctic and Lunar). There is no randomisation either and while every map features a unique side project to undertake, there’s no variety once you’ve seen them all.
In many ways, Anno 2205 is a departure from the series’ roots, but for what it’s worth, it is still fun to play. I have to admit I ended up playing for several hours at a time so it does have that addictive quality. The game definitely makes a great first impression and the campaign quests and side projects are fairly engaging. I also liked the modular aspect of constructing buildings, which lets you gradually upgrade them, thereby increasing their effectiveness as well as the ability to move them around without destroying them. The moment where you finally take off for the Moon is suitably epic and building on the Moon itself is pretty darn amazing. Blue Byte has done a great job with making it feel appropriately alien and hostile.
Managing colonies on the Moon and in the Arctic requires a little more planning as both have specific needs. The former requires you to build and maintain shield generators to keep your colonies safe from meteors, while the latter has specific heating needs. There is still a lack of real challenge and it is almost impossible to lose on the first two difficulty settings. Playing on the hardest difficulty is recommended for Anno veterans as it features no bailouts if you run out of cash. Even your colonies themselves are never under any danger. There are no natural or manmade disasters and even the combat takes place on completely separate maps.
Speaking of which, there are several side missions where you take a squadron of ships and engage in naval combat with enemy units. The battles look and sound cool, but there’s no real depth to the military aspect of the game. You’ll unlock new units and upgrade existing ones on earning enough XP in battle, but it all feels like an afterthought. I really wish there was more to it since the battles themselves can be moderately fun. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the combat missions are pretty much optional and can be safely ignored.
With its focus on space exploration and Moon colonisation, Anno 2205 is much larger in scope than its predecessors and yet feels smaller and constrained. Judged on its own merits, it’s a pretty decent strategy game. It plays well and looks amazing. However, when compared with the rest of the series, it feels like a step back with its overly simplified mechanics and lack of different game modes. It sure is entertaining but lacks the longevity the series is known for.