At first, Anno Online reminded me of The Settlers Online, a similar title that was brought to us by Ubisoft, the same publisher. Both games look good and mostly avoid hardcore combat, and both move slowly and concentrate on proper building placement and trade. I have to admit that I grew tired of The Settlers Online because it was hard to keep up with influence from local bandits and the constant destruction of the environment. In Anno Online I don't have to worry about trees or mines or running out of goods, and there are no enemies.
The pace of play is slow for sure, but I enjoy it. I can keep the game running all day in my browser with no performance hit and I can even play it on my Samsung Chromebook. It's a game of slow growth and trade, and it's more of a pseudo-MMO that allows players to connect with friends loosely. Still, it's wonderful to look at and it's a quality game.
But let's get to the details.
One of the most interesting aspects of the game is how it allows for a free-form city to be built. I have an account and my wife has been playing another and our cities are dramatically different. Even though players start off on the same island of the same shape and size, city arrangements can vary from player to player. If you take a moment and check out an NPC city you can see just how massive and beautiful the cities can eventually become. I even looked at the NPC cities to snag some tips on layout. Where you place buildings can effect how quickly they produce goods and in some cases you will not even be allowed to place a building because it is out of reach of other structures.
Placing roads is fun in and of itself, and I found myself rearranging things just to make it all look cooler. I want my city to run efficiently, sure, but it has to look realistic or nice. I've seen how many players enjoy these city-builders; they tend to clomp things together for maximum payout and it all ends up looking like a big mess and nothing that any citizen would want to live in. If cramming all your buildings together to force the maximum payout is your idea of city design, remind me to never allow my citizens to visit!
I learned that planting a dirt road is easy to clean up and costs nothing. When I moved on to a cobblestone road I had to be more careful because they cost goods to place but result in speedier travel. I built everything around a few key roads -- main streets possibly -- and grew from there. Luckily, Anno Online lets you pick up buildings at any point and move them around. I didn't have to use that much but when I did, it saved me a lot of trouble. The game became a session of playing house with a fantasy twist. It's all casual enough to take your time and enjoy, and the community was mostly helpful when I had a question.
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Eventually you hook up with friends and can visit other islands, but I wasn't sure if the social nature of the game extended beyond sending ships to other islands in order to exchange goods. When I asked in chat I found out that the lack of combat means that trade eventually becomes a way to make friends and influence others, but even after many days of playing I've yet to make many friends and have done no trading. I have been taking my time, though, and creating some of the higher-quality buildings which require many vassals, i.e., citizens that have risen above standard status.
I like the fact that growing your city is very dependent on how many people you can fit into your town. As I mentioned before, where you place buildings can rely on the buildings that are already there. I cannot place a home without giving it access to a marketplace, for example. While many people get around a lot of the issues with placement by squeezing in as many homes as they can without considering what this might do to city aesthetics, I have learned that it takes more time to grow when you want your city to look nice. I have learned much more from my first game and so my wife's account has benefited from my advice. Her town is growing at a much slower pace, looks better and still maintains a profit. My city is slowly becoming a mess.
Luckily I was given a stash of cash-shop funds to spend in a pinch, and I was able to buy everything from goods to actual gold. So, yes, you can buy anything you might normally need to run the town through the cash-shop, but I doubt many people will have an issue with that because of the lack of combat or especially PvP. I woke up one morning and found my town lacking gold, but a few clicks later and we were rolling in it once again! Really, when you use the cash-shop to buy goods and valuable resources or even gold you're really only hurting yourself, sort of like using a cheat code in The Sims might lead to boredom. When I compare the two approaches that my household took to building two different cities, the slow and steady approach not only makes more sense, but also leads to a more "realistic" feeling that makes Anno Online feel much more like a city sim rather than a social game.
I can see myself playing Anno Online for a long time. I love the lack of combat and the emphasis on trade, and I can't wait to see if I can eventually craft a city that looks cool and maintains a profit. It's not a hard game but it can be challenging even though it never punishes. Sure, once in a while you might have to literally stop a small riot or even find a few lost citizens, but other than that it's a fun, casual city-builder that rewards patience over deep pockets.
Next week I will finally be diving into Arcane Saga, and you can watch my first few steps in the game on Monday, the 3rd of June at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our livestream channel!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!