Anno 1503: The New World
|a game by||Sunflowers, and Max Design|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 4 votes|
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|See also:||Anno Games|
The Biggest selling PC game in Germany may be a plaudit to rival the best-dressed man at a trainspotter’s convention, but 1999’s Anno 1602 is the proud holder of that dubious claim. Worldwide it shifted more than two million copies, and according to EA’s press release, "captured the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere". That might be stretching the point somewhat, but it was nevertheless an enjoyable example of the time-honoured rural resource epic, with all the log chopping and empire building the genre entails.
Four years on, and hordes of German gamers are once again salivating like hungry dogs, counting the hours until they recommence trading spices and building sheds. Perhaps seeking to broaden the game’s appeal beyond their native land, the developers have also introduced more globally acceptable activities to the game, namely barbaric acts of sickening violence against fellow man.
A Great Big Melting Pot
According to Sunflowers’ international marketing manager Wolfgang Duhr, "We had moderate success in the European and the US market with 1602, but what we found is that European and American players put more emphasis on the combat part. That’s why we’ve focused more on this in Anno 1503, but we’re still using all the elements of 1602 because they were successful and players all over the world really liked it. The cool thing about it is you can decide how to play it; you can play the peaceful way or you can play it in a military way." As a European colonial explorer, you’ll come up against nine different cultures, each with individual merits. As Wolfgang says: "For example, the Eskimos are very good at fishing, therefore you can get food very cheaply from them. The Mongolians are a more aggressive culture so they rely on war, but you can forge an alliance with them. The Oriental cultures are very good at introducing spices, and the native Americans, well if you come along with some alcohol for example, they’ll be very happy and try to trade with you."
Over Land And Sea
Dubious racial stereotyping aside, Anno 1503 looks like being a very detailed affair, with the action taking place over six different climates. Research trees will enable you to upgrade military units, with combat taking place both on land and at sea. Various scenarios will be available, along with a story-driven campaign, an open-ended option and multiplayer shenanigans for up to six players.
By the time you read this, the Germans will have got their hands on the new Anno, while an English language version is a few months away. From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like the type of game you will either dismiss immediately or play until your eyes bleed. If nothing else, it’ll keep the Germans off the streets.
Download Anno 1503: The New World
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Here in britain the German strategy genre is not a popular import. Overly technical, high on statistics and low on humour, it wouldn’t appear to be the kind of engineering to fire the imagination, unlike other more renowned German exports such as BMW, Mercedes or Franz Beckenbaur.
So, as we flew into Frankfurt to take a look at Anno 1503, it would be fair to say we weren’t expecting Shogun: Total War or Commandos 2. Indeed, the only thing concerning us was how to get the compulsory mention of Germany: 1, England: 5, into a demonstration of an RTS game. You see, at times this job really isn’t as easy as it looks.
But in the words of football commentators up and down the country: "Never underestimate the Germans." Spending some time playing Anno 1503 led us to not only re-evaluate any preconceptions we may have had, but to actually enjoy ourselves in the process. For an RTS game this has a refreshingly non-linear feel. The moment your European settler stumbles weakly onto the beaches of this 'New World’, your imagination hits overload at the number of ways you can pursue your dream of building a nation. If it means assembling a mighty army to destroy the nine other cultures occupying this bountiful paradise then fine - absolute domination is just one way of completing the game.
In truth though, Anno 1503 seems more geared towards the hippyish notion of if you don’t hurt them, they won’t hurt you. While this peaceful flower-power philosophy is highly commendable, you have to wonder whether it’s realistic to think that a powerful, technologically advanced nation would do nothing to obliterate a woefully inferior and unprepared nation next-door.
Ignorance Is Bliss
However implausible these ideals are, Anno 1503 sticks to them regardless. By living in a world where nobody attacks you (if you don’t attack them), you can advance through the game’s five technological levels at whatever pace suits you.
If you prefer your Utopia to remain as an ultra-green, super-clean level one civilisation that lives off the basic food types, you’ll have no worries in doing so. Nobody will come along and snigger at you or attack you, or steal your chickens; your citizens will remain happy in their ignorance and you won’t have to get involved in the slippery art of inter-cultural diplomacy and trading that the aristocratic citizens of higher-level civilisations demand. The social behaviour system of the game ensures that each citizen has a range of essentials they need to keep them happy - and it all depends on the level at which their civilisation currently stands.
Wheeling And Dealing
When you get into the trading part of the game, hints of Zeus: Masters Of Olympus and Civilization III become apparent. As with Zeus the key to economic and commercial strength is your ability to produce commodities and luxuries. However unlike Zeus, the type of goods you can knock out are directly linked to the kind of climate you live in.
If you bask in the warm prairies of the south you’ll find the land suitable enough to grow evil weed to make cigars. If you live in the more temperate northern zones you can nurture a plentiful crop of hops and ensure the rest of the world gets hammered on your spectacular local brew. If you are situated near precious metals you can make jewellery. In total. Anno 1503 will boast around 250 building types and 40 different production chains, which should allow for wheeling and dealing on an unprecedented scale.
Graphical variety is also very effective. All ten cultures possess unique architecture as well as a distinctive look about the way they dress. The Venetians are colourful and sophisticated, Aztecs are serious and ceremonial-looking and the poor Eskimos just look cold. Surprisingly for Germans there's a fair amount of subtle humour too. Innkeepers wobble to their pubs after collecting barrels from the market and Aztec priests can be seen performing bizarre rites on their followers. Okay, it’s not Monty Python, but hey - at least they’re trying.
Sunshine On A Rainy Day
We departed Sunflowers’ office with the feeling we’d merely skimmed the surface of what should be a highly engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable RTS, as was its underrated predesessor. It won't change the world, neither does it wish to, but it should be a lot of fun. And as for mentioning the football? We clean forgot. Those Germans - underestimate them at your peril.
Spending ten days figuring out how an RTS/god game works is too long. Don't get me wrong, I'm prepared to give Anno 1503: The New World the time it demands, it's just that after devoting such a large chunk of my life to it, I at least deserve to be good at it.
As an intrepid European colonist of yore, creating a thriving empire in the face of competition from fierce local tribes and other land-grabbing would-be imperialists is the name of the game in Anno 1503.
But calling this a game is like saying University is a game. There'll be fun along the way, but if you're going to achieve anything you need to work for it. Extensive bedtime manual reading is required in the hope the process of jewellery trading, lamp oil production, and sheep farm efficiency will somehow clamp onto your subconscious.
But Anno overwhelms in other ways too. There are nasty interface foibles like buildings disconnecting themselves from roads, and merchant ships taking ridiculously long routes to reach their trade destination. Deciphering land elevation is also tricky, and even running a road down a hill can be a nightmare.
Creating an army is no easier. Armouries, gunsmiths and other production facilities need to be built, which take time and resources. But as the other civilisations in the game tend not to attack unless attacked, amassing a deadly fighting force, is no guarantee of ever using it.
Yet, if you can overcome these problems, Anno 1503 emerges as an extremely deep, thoughtful and addictive empire builder. That feeling of quiet satisfaction you get after constructing the perfect city, surrounded by little farms, breweries and mines, is something that only happens in particularly good examples of this genre.
In fact, towards the end of my ten-day exile it became impossible to stop playing. New islands had been colonised, cigars and silk shirts were being manufactured, and new civilisations such as Eskimos and Moors had been discovered. My toil and hard work had even given my citizens the opportunity to use the public baths. With rewards and goals like this, what more could you want?
As the world around you begins to make sense, so your empire begins to flourish. At this point you realise games like Zeus and Emperor: Rise Of The Middle Kingdom have a competitor here. In fact, Anno 1503 is probably the most complex and thoughtful of the lot.
If you're not particularly bothered about combat, and prepared to a play at a very ponderous pace, Anno 1503 is up there with the best this genre has to offer and will provide a deep, immersive and enjoyable RTS/empire building experience for a very long time to come.