ANNO is one series of games that up until recently has completely evaded me. While I have certainly heard a lot about it and played a few similar RTS games such as The Settlers and Age of Empires, it’s just one of those series that I’ve never gotten around to playing until now.
Just like with The Settlers Online, Blue Byte and Ubisoft have once again teamed up to bring us ANNO Online, a free-to-play browser-based game. If you happened to have played last years The Settlers Online then you will feel at home here as the basic principles at this early beta stage are almost entirely the same.
You start your game with a single island split into seven sections. The first section is free for you to build the beginnings of your empire while the other sections are fogged out Age of Empires style, waiting to be explored. Buildings start simple with basic housing, means of providing food and drink and to produce cloth for clothes. As you can imagine with games of this style, as you advance in level the buildings advance allowing you to build upper class housing, entertainment for residents of your city and even ships.
The main problem I have with ANNO Online is that its economics and infrastructure are so finely tuned that it’s hard to get the right balance and allow for any more than 15 minutes gameplay. This is very apparent in the initial levels of gameplay, when setting a few things in motion such as providing extra sources of food or a new church, your resources are eaten up very quickly leaving you with little options for upgrades or otherwise advancing your population.
The game is also set up in much a similar way to any Facebook games you may have had the misfortune of playing. If you run out of resources or feel like you just can’t wait for them to build up again you can purchase credits which in turn buy the resources of your choice. You can also explore areas of the island early, increase your population or otherwise advance your gameplay experience beyond those 15 minutes or so you would manage without a purchase.
There are a few things to take into account before deciding whether or not to play ANNO Online. First of all as a browser-based game, no downloads are required and the game can run on just about any PC with an internet connection. So if your computer of choice is getting a little old and you find yourself passing on many games because you know they just wont run, then you will probably have no problems here. The second thing to note is that the game is only at a very early beta stage and so they are still fine tuning the balance of the economy and consumables with every day that passes. They are also adding new elements such as guilds, added just a day before this articles release.
So it’s fair to say that any problems I have mentioned might well be altered or entirely removed/fixed by the time you come around to playing this. However, one problem that will stay with the game is that ultimately they want your money for playing and it’s advertised a lot on the website and with the new features they add. At this early stage of the beta its hard to tell if the game will stay like this for long. Certainly if you’re looking for a fully performing browser-based RTS, I would say I enjoyed last years The Settlers Online more and Tribal Wars even more still.