Following the trend set by Anno 2070, the new game in the series is not based on historical events but rather what some people imagine it to be the future. To solve the energy crisis on Earth, a political coalition encourages corporations to prepare for the Second Wave of Lunar colonization. Their goal? To mine a rare material, Helium-3, to fuel the fusion plants that will provide clean energy for the world.
Developer: Ubisoft Blue Byte
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (tested).
While I’m not new to the city building genre, I’ve never played an Anno game before. So I didn’t know what to expect. The game is more than a city planner, you have also RTS elements in the optional combat segments and the most important aspect of the game would be the economy of your cities. You’re not running a city, you’re running a corporate empire.
Your city: A living, thriving, being.
One of the boasts made about this game is that “the new game engine offers a true sense of grandeur (…) unprecedented level of detail and immersion.” I was very skeptical at first, specially after seeing the “gameplay” trailers that screamed CGI. And I was happy to be wrong.
You have several camera modes, one of them is the “postcard mode”. It gives you a closer view of your city and horizon while removing the HUD. It’s spectacular, the combination of the impressive skyline with the beautiful scenery combined with streets with people walking, animals frolicking and the obligatory sci-fi flying cars. Your creations feel alive.
The temperate areas have animals and forests whose trees sway in the wind, the arctic areas have whales breaching among the waves, and the lunar base is peppered with meteor strikes. Oh, yeah, there are three separate environments!
Forest, Moon and Ice: Global (and Lunar!) economics.
One of the selling points of the game is the greater scope it offers to you. When you begin the game you are offered one out of three possible sectors in the Temperate Zone. Each has different attributes, depending on what you intend to create: mining rare resources, establishing an economic base or developing a bigger, cooler, metropolis. The same deal happens when you unlock the Arctic Zone and the Second Lunar Wave.
But don’t worry! By growing as a corporation you can take over the other sectors. Literally, it’s a hostile takeover: you overpower your AI opponents with sheer economic prowess!
As you grow, you can later expand to the other islands in each sector, building bridges and claiming them as your own. Then you move on to a different zone and do the same. Each of your cities is still running in the background, so you have to be sure you don’t have a deficit of a resource before going to do something else or your citizens- or worse, your economy- will suffer for it.
By pressing the space key, you go to, well, space. Very clever, Ubisoft. In space you can create trade routes between your cities. You can’t grow fruit in the Arctic, so your Temperate cities will export vitamin juice to them- just in the same way the Arctic guys will export rare materials to use for your future endeavors. The long term goal of the game is to use this system to get Helium-3 and other materials from your Moon colonies.
In here you’ll also find the Space Station. One of your first goals is to build a space elevator to get there. Here you can sell your excess goods, vote in the Council, improve your military and gain more resources with online features.
The economies you build begin simple, but grow in complexity over time. It’s a pretty organic process so you won’t feel stumped as you make progress over the game. You have to be sure to keep an eye on your production levels so you don’t find yourself in a shortage at a bad time.
The gameplay and combat mechanics
How many times, either in an RTS or another city builder, have you misplaced a building? It sucks, you have to demolish it and lose the resources that went into it’s creation. Well, no more of that! The key gameplay element here is that you can reorganize your buildings. Simply click and drag to relocate it’s position. It seems like a minor feature, but it’s a game changer.
Also, your buildings are modular in nature. You can augment a factory’s productivity by 100% at half the maintenance cost of building another one. Then you can reduce it’s requirements for logistics (i.e. transport), workforce, energy and in the case of energy plants you can reduce currency upkeep. That way you can limit their strain on your resources. And the modules can be moved around too!
There is combat too, and luckily it’s optional. Your precious cities are safe, since it’s restricted to two “Conflict Zones”. This is where the RTS elements enter in the game. You have to micromanage your fleet of attackers as you complete the objectives and fight the bad guys, using power ups like missile barrages or calling for extra reinforcements or expending fuel to use abilities like shields and repair drones.
Before you begin a mission you can choose the difficulty. There is a very big spike between each mode, so choose wisely. The harder the mission, the more bountiful the reward. Since there’s no real urgency, you can wait until you can afford better upgrades for your units. In addition, you can complete minor sidequests for more bonuses.
Combat is the main way to get the rare materials needed for some expansion modules that you can use in your buildings. If you don’t like the Conflict Zones, you can simply complete minor quests in each Zone under your control or trade for what you need.
Story, graphics and sound.
The story of the game is fairly interesting, but not groundbreaking- just enough to immerse yourself. In the future we find a breakthrough in technology that enables the creation of powerful fusion energy plants. The catch is that the fuel for said fusion is mainly found on the Moon, so a Coalition is formed to exploit those resources and solve the energy crisis back on Earth.
By now you already noticed that I refer to this as the “Second” Wave. Well, it’s because there was another before, and they’re not happy. Some of the descendants of the original settlers of the moon have decided they want to be left alone and wage war on the corporations of the Coalition.
Apparently they’re not technically independent, because this “First Wave” is referred to as a terrorist group and the rhetoric of their leader is that of a grandiloquent dictator full of himself, so really its not a stretch to call them that. They are expanding their influence, both on the Moon and on Earth, so you better be on your toes. Only the combat is optional so not really.
The game has a very hard science fiction feel, which I really appreciate. It all feels like something that is going to happen eventually, including the Lunar claim to independence.
Each sector has also a unique development you can pursue, for example the repair of an old electric dam. Completing that particular quest nets you energy and resources, and a giant and impressive dam too. Those little things and quests add some depth to the world, making it more believable.
The graphics are beautiful. You’ll want a new graphics card if you don’t meet the recommended one, because you’ll want to devour all this eye-candy. I want to point out that the buildings have alternate looks so they don’t look all the same, which is one of the problems in these kind of games. They also look completely realistic, despite being way ahead of our current technology. I have to remind myself that space elevators aren’t real yet, because your spaceport will look like the real thing. The level of detail is impressive as well, you can see people and vehicles going about their business in a very believable way.
Sound wise the game is good as well, having an epic score that pumps you for space conquest and nice sound effects. I really want to grab the soundtrack when it becomes available. The voice acting is weak though, with few exceptions the characters sound flat and devoid of emotion.
While my computer surpasses the recommended requirements, I still experienced many frame rate drops at seemingly innocuous moments in the game. Hopefully a patch will fix this. I had no other errors or bugs while playing the game so this is only a minor annoyance.
Do you like Sim City, the other Anno games or just enjoy to build things? Then this game will deliver endless hours of entertainment. It’s just the best city builder I’ve ever played.