Sunday, 27 January 2013

Game Review- Anno 1404

Having been in a reading slump for the last few days, I decided to dig out some PC games that I hadn't played in a while, and zone out of the real world for a few hours. First choice was Anno 1404, a world building game that I have owned for a few years, but only pull out every few months. Let me tell you, there is a reason for this: Anno 1404 is addictive. It has the ability to block out the real world for hours at a time- a characteristic that I value in books much more than games. A book will end after a few hundred pages, and that is the natural point at which to return to the real world, even if it is just to get some sleep or do the laundry. This game, however, has no foreseeable end-point. Yes, there is a goal, or several, to each scenario or challenge, but the time it takes to achieve them is sometimes bordering on ridiculous, especially as, by the end stages of some of the challenges, it is more a test of patience rather than a test of economic smarts. I may have actually come to resent this game, and my unwanted addiction to it. 

Like I said, Anno 1404 is a world-building game, which has a primary focus of building an 'occidental' town of increasing size, supplying its occupants with goods to fulfill their desires, and expanding into the 'Orient'. Goods can be traded using, typically enough, gold, but certain items and favours (as well as loans) can be gained through the use of honour; a secondary currency earned through completing tasks and quests, and as your towns expand. 
The storyline in the Campaign is interesting, provides lots of diverse challenges and requires different tactics to succeed at each level. It also has three different difficulty levels, and acts as the tutorial for the game. Once each of the levels has been completed, it can be replayed on its own at any time, and at any level- this is good if you want to focus on certain types of challenge. 

The layout of the game lends itself to those seeking gameplay based upon economic challenge and a vaguely capitalist venture. Tactics involving war and dominance over the AI competitors can be utilised. However, I found that these are much more difficult, not as satisfying, and to be really successful, the attacks need to be make after establishing a strong economic base to support your growing army units. The focus on trade utilises trade shipping routes, moving items between your own islands and buying and selling goods so as to fulfill the needs of the 7 groups of residents: beggars, peasants, citizens, patricians, noblemen, nomads and envoys. Their happiness allows the towns expansion, which in turn unlocks more buildings, and more desires to be filled. These residents are also the source of tax income, helping to keep your funds up.

The graphics are beautiful, and highly adjustable to suit the graphic capabilities of your PC. Each individual element, such as clouds, waves and water quality and reflections in the water, can be turned off, or set to a low or high level. When I am at the waiting stage of any game (usually waiting for supplies to be stockpiled), I find it incredibly relaxing to make the camera follow a ship on a long shipping route, zoomed in, using the postcard mode (that relocates the camera from an aerial perspective to looking as if one were on the ground), and just watch the things that it passes. The attention to detail here is really rather superb; it is possible to watch people walking about the town centres, workers rolling barrels between storage buildings and various industrial buildings, and see wild animals roaming the as-yet-untamed parts of islands.

The number of bugs in the game is quite noticeable- some of the challenges are occasionally provided in German, despite the English language settings, and some are missing entirely; this however, detracts only slightly from the gaming experience. 

Overall, despite my resentment for the time the game takes to play well, I really do love this game. It requires forethought and planning, as well as the ability to multi-task to play it successfully, and I always find the later stages of the game challenging (despite the waiting for resources), especially in coordinating forty odd ships between 12 islands in order to feed and clothe 10,000 rather demanding residents. It is fun as well; the characters the game provides, both as opponents and those who will assist you, are well developed, with various catchphrases that are alternatively amusing and aggravating. 7.5/10

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