Anno 2205: Stepping into the Future and Sticking to the Past at E3 2015
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Time marches ever forward. So it is in life, and so it is with the Anno series, which glided into the future with its previous installment, Anno 2070, and continues its forward momentum in Anno 2205. I spent significant time with the upcoming city builder at E3 2015, and it left me wondering if this chronological leap might ironically be a step backward for the series.
The problem I face, however, is one of sparse information. Anno 2070 found its thematic footing in two vital ways. Firstly, its climate change mechanics made a bold statement, and allowed you to stake your success on whether you ravaged the planet's resources or developed new ways to gather the energy you needed to run a trading empire. Secondly, underwater gameplay gave the game an air of mystery as you established resource collection bases on the seafloor. These two elements alone held Anno 2070 aloft, though I don't wish to downplay the significance of other aspects: the mission system, the complex trade mechanics, and so forth.
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Anno 2205 abandons the undersea landscape in favor of the moon, an exotic locale to be sure, but ultimately, just another stretch of (cratered) land to exploit, and one reached by clicking an interface button, rather than diving into a watery murk and establishing a presence. There's a sense of removal this way--one that mirrors the same problem in EA's most recent SimCity, which had you establishing multiple cities and then using a regional interface to establish trade and move between metropolises. Pollution, too, has been removed as a consideration, which makes me wonder what disparate paths Anno 2205 might allow me to travel. I presume that the new game has surprises in store for me, but I wish I'd gotten to see more of them.
Let's back up a moment, however. Anno 2205, like previous Anno games, has you building up cities by engaging in a classic gameplay loop: you build houses to build a population, and that population has needs. In order to further society, you need to meet those needs and level up your populace, which will in turn have greater needs you must fulfill. Producing the appropriate goods means either collecting the raw resources and locally manufacturing the proper materials, or setting up trade routes and importing either the raw materials or manufactured objects from elsewhere. A city does not just include homes, but sunflower fields, water distillation facilities, and robot production facilities, to name just a few necessary constructs.
The moon, of course, does not so readily provide some of the materials you need, though you can still establish colonies there. What it does have, however, is Helium-3, which is used to power fusion generators, a vital resource to every city in Anno 2205. The moon has energy, and the Earth needs it, thus entangling the two celestial bodies in a symbiotic relationship. Expectedly, moon residents have some specific needs of their own, such as shields to protect them from cosmic rays, and harvesters that collect Helium-3 from the moon's surface.
I didn't get to spend much time on the moon; instead, I was concerned mainly with building a terrestrial city from scratch, which proved to be relatively simple. The interface readily informs you of what resources you are lacking and what your residents need, and four levels' worth of structures are but a click away. I soon was producing water, rice, and entertainment, but of course, the more I gave my citizens, the more loudly they complained. They needed security forces. They needed food. They needed fancy sunglasses. And in time, I hit a wall, and I could no longer mine the raw materials I required, and I was forced to trade with other colonies. Doing so was a snap, at least: I just entered the overview interface, determined which colony had the resources I needed, and established a trade route, which immediately filled the necessary coffers.
I appreciate some of the newer tweaks in Anno 2205. Bridges now connect your islands, and you do not have to worry about traffic jams. Modules allow you to upgrade structures by using surrounding land to enhance their production. And Anno 2070's ark has been replaced by a spaceport, which rockets a space shuttle towards the moon when the time comes, much to the delight of your applauding populace. There's also the matter of Anno 2070's always-online requirement, which has been unsurprisingly scrapped for Anno 2205.
And yet I didn't get to participate in any missions, make contact with other civilizations, or engage in combat when I played. Without having a sense of Anno 2205's unique flavor, it was hard to get a handle on anything beyond the basics. The game is quite literally shooting for the moon--and I hope that the coming months reveal more about Ubisoft's PC exclusive before its November release. Until then, all I can do is fill in the gaps with my imagination, and hope that reality meets or exceeds the fantastical scenarios my mind concocts.