PlayStation

Anno 1800 Console Edition Review (PS5)

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Anno 1800 Console Edition sees the advent of 2019’s excellent PC colony builder on PS5, and we were pleased to find the transition has been an incredibly smooth one. What was once the province of mouse and keyboard finds an incredibly comfortable fit on console, enhanced with all the DualSense bells and whistles.

If you didn’t know, Anno 1800 is a strategy management sim set during the Industrial Revolution, and you play as an entrepreneur striving to build a thriving mercantile empire. On an outpost in a remote archipelago, you must harvest raw materials and manufacture consumer goods, ensuring your people have constant access to all the luxuries of modern life. Your rough-and-ready townsfolk will eventually evolve into a needy bourgeoisie middle class and even an aristocratic element, provided you deem the benefits outweigh the negatives.

As each new social class is unlocked, so too are new buildings, allowing you to expand your operations and bringing you into contact with the world at large. Others will occupy nearby islands; either the AI with its own distinct personality and playstyle (à la the Civilisation series) or with up to 16(!) human players, depending on which you prefer.

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This Console Edition is the same fantastic game and comes packaged with all the free updates the PC version received in the intervening years. In all, it’s a highly replayable and somewhat arcade (at least in comparison to something like the recent and more meticulous Transport Fever 2) strategy experience, which is something of a rarity on both PS5 and PS4.

There is an expansive and entirely voice-acted single-player story campaign, which will teach you the ropes and pleasingly spices things up with a Dickensian tale of family intrigue. After the untimely death of your mercantile-magnate father, your moustache-twirlingly evil uncle Everard fleeces you and your siblings out of your inheritance, sticking you with the funeral bill to boot.

In order to keep the family solvent, you must take up the family business and establish a vibrant trading company, and it all starts with your Farmers. Building rude shacks for them is the bare minimum and can be accomplished easily enough, requiring only a ready source of construction materials and some cash. Keeping them happy, however, necessitates building and operating fisheries (Fish), cultivating potatoes and distilling them into rough alcohol (Schnapps), and raising sheep and weaving their woolly fleeces into durable clothing (Work Clothes). That’s in addition to needing a Market in which to purchase it all and a Pub to drown their sorrows after another long day.

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Farmers are the easiest to satisfy but need a constant supply of the listed materials, necessitating an industrial complex and accompanying logistical support network for it all to be produced and distributed in a timely fashion. Once a citizen’s needs are adequately met, you can upgrade their house, elevating them out of their current social strata and into the next.

To give you an idea of the kind of exponential snowball this ends up being, the third class of citizenry (of six), the Artisans, require everything the Farmer does, in addition to Sausages, Bread, Soap, Canned Food, Sewing Machines, Fur Coats, Rum, as well as easy access to Universities, Churches, and Variety Theatres. It only escalates from there, with the exotic needs of Engineers and Investors requiring the establishment of New World colonies in order to provide such luxuries as Coffee and Chocolate.

And to top things off, if, at some point, access to these amenities is disrupted (or if you work your employees a teensy bit too close to the bone), they’re likely to throw down their tools and riot. This, in turn, can cascade, as rioting labourers obviously don’t work (and definitely don’t pay taxes) and will instead spend all day convincing the downtrodden masses to organise against you, forming violent regime-ending mobs.

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The strategy of the game revolves around optimising the layout and building order of your budding colony. Using one of your ships, you’re able to make contact with your neighbours, trade with them, and engage in diplomacy or outright war as and where needed. Combat is fairly limited and not really the focus here, but it is an option available when everything else fails.

New to the PlayStation iteration is, of course, a completely revamped control scheme, which does an admirable job of translating what is very much a traditional PC strategy experience. It definitely takes some getting used to, but once you get your sea legs, diving into the nitty-gritty of that particularly troublesome avenue is a breeze on the DualSense. The tutorial has been expanded over what the original iteration launched with, and new as well is the Annopedia, which contains just about every granular detail you could ever need regarding the game’s many complex mechanisms.

The Console Edition runs beautifully, for the most part, dropping some frames when zooming in on particularly busy thoroughfares, but not enough to tarnish the experience. It looks gorgeous, especially on a big screen, and the size and scale of a late-game colony are a sight to behold, especially one that has been hand-crafted by someone offended by the very notion of asymmetry. It sounds evocative, too, with suitably stirring music to accompany your imperial ambitions.

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Even with the expanded tutorial and the Annopedia, however, expect a significant learning curve. Anno 1800 is a pretty complicated game, and it isn’t necessarily “fun” immediately. Rather, the enjoyment comes from gently nurturing your ever-demanding populace to greatness and optimising your enterprise before competing on the world stage and the incidents that happen along the way.

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