Summary: The year is 2070. The majority of life on Earth was devastated when global sea levels surged after the melting of the polar ice caps. Swaths of previously habitable land are now deep underwater, and sovereign nations are a relic of the past. But there is still hope...
This city-building RTS/simulation game from Ubisoft tasks you with re-colonizing what little land areas are left on the planet following a global warming apocalypse. Does it have what it takes to be worthy of your time and money, or should it be cast out to sea with the rest of civilization? Find out in today's review!
The year is 2070. Over a century of human waste and neglect has ravaged the planet and brought about one of the worst disasters in human history. Swaths of previously habitable land are now deep underwater, and sovereign nations are a relic of the past. But there is still hope. What used to be little more than desolate deserts and other treacherous terrain have been transformed into veritable oases with enough resources to sustain humanity’s regrowth. How to effectively make use this second chance is up to you…
Anno 2070 is the latest entry in the long-running series of city-building RTS games, where each title focuses on a different time period of human history and colonization. Previous entries have spanned the years 1404, 1503, 1602, and 1701, but now the franchise is making a giant leap forward into the fictional future. The core gameplay is still the same, however -- you colonize an island, build up a city utilizing the resources available to you, and thwart off rivals, with force if necessary.
I admit I have never played an Anno game before 2070, but the series has always intrigued me. It combines several different genres including city-building and real-time strategy with elements of tycoon and trading simulators. Veterans of the series should know that the core gameplay remains unchanged, but there are a few twists. New to the series is a sort of “cause-and-effect” mechanism of environmental degradation. If you exploit the resources of the island you’re on without balancing the ecology, you will begin to experience random environmental catastrophes that will hamper your progress such as tornadoes and soil acidity.
In addition, you have now access to three unique factions that offer slightly different play-styles and requirements. Ubisoft also added some very interesting online mechanics that go beyond traditional multiplayer modes. Along with a cooperative campaign, there is a meta-game component where every player can vote on which faction should rule the “World Council” and what solutions should be enacted in regards to various global issues. There are also “Current Events,” daily unique missions to undertake in single-player, and “Global Events,” or time-limited scenarios that you can undertake with other players online to achieve a specific goal and earn its associated rewards.
You start Anno 2070 with an Ark, a floating base from which you launch your operation to re-colonize the world. This amounts to buying a Commando Ship to build a warehouse on a new island. From this warehouse you build a town center and a bunch of houses for your population to grow from. To make your citizens happy, you need to meet all of their different needs. At first this includes food, drink, and entertainment, but once you’ve satisfied those goals, your citizens will upgrade to a different tier with new requirements ranging from luxury goods and foods to information and participation. Each tier of citizenry progressively increases your population and credit income.
To create the goods required to satisfy your population’s needs, you will have to build up a vast network of industry. Each product requires a long chain of succeeding resources to build, one example of which would be some of the earlier products: tools. You need tools to construct your buildings, but to fabricate those tools you need coal and iron from their respective mines to go to the smelter, which will in turn send refined iron to the tools workshop to be worked into the finished product. However, iron and coal are also required to create weapons, electricity, steel, and many other products. You must prioritize what you do and don’t need at any particular time so that you don’t bottleneck production.
The island you start off with only has so many resources, so you will eventually need to expand to other places. Some products have absurdly long chains of production that can cover three entirely different islands, and so an extensive fleet of merchant ships to transport all of your goods between them would be required. To add to the complication, you may need to defend the fleet against pirates and aggressive rivals with your own military vessels. You will also need to balance out power requirements and the fragile state of the environment. Screwing any of that up could mean your citizens becoming unhappy and your economy stalling. If that happens, it is usually very hard to recover from.
As you can tell by now, there’s a lot to take in when you first start playing. The tutorial in Anno 2070 spans a few early missions of the campaign, and it does a well enough job of immersing you in the basics. Beyond that, however, the campaign is pretty much useless. The story is nonsensical, the voice acting hideous, and the missions are even less entertaining than a wait at the DMV. Instead, the meat of the game lies in the sandbox mode where you can customize practically everything and make it as easy or as hard to play as you like.
At the beginning of the game, you must choose an allegiance and side with one of the two main factions: Global Trust, Inc., the tycoon industrialists who will destroy the world to make a quick buck, or the Eden Initiative, a bunch of environmental activists who espouse the use of ‘green’ technology. There is also SAAT, the Scientific Academy for Advanced Technologies, who exist purely for the sake of science. They aren’t available from the start, but you do gain access to their services later on, no matter your starting faction. In fact, you eventually have access to all three factions about mid-way through the game, making the already precarious balancing act that much more complicated.
Each faction in Anno 2070 has their own population requirements that are separate from those shared with the other two. You need to build their own population centers, their own chains of production, and keep each respective faction’s citizens happy. Of course, you can choose to stick with just one faction, but you would be missing out on some pretty big bonuses, such as SAAT’s ability to build on underwater plateaus. Each faction can step on each other’s toes in terms of resource consumption, so you really need to keep an eye on what’s being made in surplus and what’s suffering from a shortage.
If there is a shortage, it’s almost invariably because the factory doesn’t have enough transportation to send its goods to a depot. Unfortunately, there’s not much that you can do in that area aside from building faster roads…. You’re usually left guessing whenever your assistant, EVE, tells you that there’s a “production breakdown at one of your factories.” The UI gives you absolutely no details other than what you need to build. Oh, and you can only build in clusters…
As if being confined to an island wasn’t difficult enough, it turns out you can only build in a limited radius in relation to where your warehouse, town center, and depot are located. Your warehouse is where all harbor buildings must be built, and to expand to other beaches on the island you will need to construct a Port Authority in each area. Your civilian buildings are connected to town centers, of which you need to build as many as you can in order to expand your population and make money. Lastly, the depot is where all of your industry is connected. You will run out of space, requiring expansion to another island and the maintenance of vulnerable trade routes over sea.
And it’s not just the big three buildings that are in clusters, but also farms and other structures that interact with the population. The latter is an egregious example of the folly of being forced to build in clusters. For example, you’re supposed to build a bunch of houses and have every need satisfied for the population so that they upgrade to the next level. You need to build a casino to make them happy, and this casino’s radius must be near all of the other houses. Then to upgrade to the next tier, you need a TV station and then a forum for the tier after that. Then to insure against catastrophe you need a fire station and a hospital. The caveat is that you can only unlock these buildings when the population upgrades, so you either have to demolish a precious section of your city to fit these massive buildings in, or else build them outside of the population center and therefore halve the building’s effective radius.
On top of that, you need to build more houses to upgrade your city and its population. There’s only so much that you can build before you run out of space. You’ll probably encounter instances where a city is pretty much static and not generating much money for you, if any at all. That’s very bad news considering just how fragile the economy is in Anno. All radii are so limited on an already cramped island that careful planning for every little thing is an absolute must. In fact, each cluster is so anal retentive that if there is even a very tiny gap between two different clusters you won’t be able to build there, not even the roads needed to connect your buildings.
As much as they might frustrate me at times, these issues aren’t actually game-breakers. They’re merely annoyances that can reduce the amount of entertainment that you can wring out of the game. All things considered, there is an inherent level of addiction with a game that is this complicated. Maybe it’s my OCD, but the feeling of success in upgrading your city after a hellish time of getting a proper supply line going is immense. Once you get the hang of the excessive amounts of micromanagement, you truly feel like you’re in control and everything that happens is a result of your brilliant mind at work. Fans of the series and other city builders will likely enjoy Anno 2070’s complexities immensely. Casual fans, though… maybe not so much.
Some other added features to the series are Ubisoft’s close integration of the game with its online community. You’re never forced to participate online (or even stay online as per Ubi’s usual nefarious DRM) but you can vote in elections and play in spontaneous world events. Voting in an election gets you influence with the faction you support, which in turn unlocks new buildings and bonuses. On top of that, you get the bonus of whatever choice the majority of the online population chooses, which even affects single-player. Every day you are presented with an optional quest, mostly to generate a certain quantity of a particular resource and deliver it to your Ark. There are also normal single-player quests from your own citizens or other opponents to undertake that give you different rewards.
As mentioned before, there is co-op play for the campaign, along with regular single-player scenarios and special events that allow you to unlock unique units and structures that can only otherwise be attained by purchasing Anno 2070 DLC. This helps shake the game up and make it much more interesting, assuring players that there’s always something new for as long as Ubisoft decides to support this title.
Prepare yourself for more excessive bloom! Anno 2070 looks like you’re viewing the world through a murky haze, and though the quality of underlying graphics is competent, that’s all undone by a drab color pallet. I guess you can chock it up to the environmental problems plaguing this virtual world, which would mean the game features some pretty “realistic” graphics, but it’s not pretty to look at. The water is also somewhat underwhelming; it looks good on the surface, but when boats and submersibles pass through it behaves almost like Jell-O.
The sound effects are average, not really all that impressive. As previously mentioned, the voice acting is particularly horrendous. Performance is pretty mediocre on lower-end machines for some reason but otherwise I haven’t encountered any bugs. I must say the interface looks great despite its lack of function. The menus feel a bit disorganized, yet they manage to look gorgeous and fluid at the same time.
One of the big controversies of Anno 2070, as with many Ubisoft titles, revolved around its DRM. There is no always-on requirement, just a one-time activation, but there is a 3 machine install limit, of which I’ve already burned through two in a short period of time. But before it was changed to that, even a minor alteration to your hardware (such as a new graphics card) would require a new activation, resulting in great frustration being experienced by early reviewers of the game. That said, I haven’t encountered any problems typical of Ubisoft DRM, including activating the game in two different countries and two different PCs. It seems pretty clear that they reduced its severity of DRM after the uproar it received initially.
I believe the biggest issue with the game lies with its poor documentation and lack of a sufficient tutorial sequence. I ended up watching href="http://youtu.be/yYFLhADYd3k">this hour-long video on YouTube (which all Anno newbies should see) that taught me at least about a dozen important features that I previously had no clue about. These included the existence of a right-click build menu with shortcuts, the ability to turn buildings around with the middle-mouse button, and the fact that whatever you store in your Ark is persistent throughout all the single-player games you play. If I had known about these things sooner, I think I would have had a much more fulfilling time playing.
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