Most single player games are played either for relaxation, escapism or a combination of both. However there are some that feel more like running a marathon, igniting your mental faculties in such a way as to leave you exhausted by the end of it. StarCraft and other RTS are like this, requiring concentration far beyond that of any other genre I’ve played. Anno 2205 requires a similar level of concentration however, instead of RAW APM and macro, it instead requires you to constantly recalculate the finite balance of the numerous resources you have to manage. One wrong move can send you on a downward spiral that can be hard to pull out of, or send you on your trajectory to corporate supremacy.
Anno 2205 predictably takes place in the future, some 135 years after the previous instalment in the series. In this future the Earth has become starved for energy and other precious resources and thus has turned towards the Moon in order to save it. You are the head of a fledgling new corporation who has been accepted into the Lunar Licensing program which aims to free Earth from its current energy bonds. Your goal is to establish a fusion reactor on the moon and transmit that energy back to Earth, no small goal for a company that just established its first warehouse. Along the way you’ll have to establish global trade routes, fight off those who would thwart you and ensure that your company remains financially viable so you can continue expanding your empire.
The graphics of Anno 2205 are a marked step up from its predecessor with a whole new engine powering a complete overhaul of the graphics and UI. Gone is the semi-dreamlike aesthetic which has been replaced by a crisp, detailed world. The typical Anno stylings are still present however so if you’ve played any of the preceding titles it will still feel familiar. These upgraded visuals do come at a cost however as even my machine would start to sputter and spurt whenever I hovered over a particularly dense part of the world. Still it rarely became unplayable but for those who might be on lower end hardware long games are certainly going to be a struggle.
Anno 2205 retains the same RTS/city building hybrid game play that its predecessors had however many changes have been made in the name of streamlining the experience. Instead of managing trade routes within a single map everything is shared instantly. You still have trade routes to manage however they’re at a more macro level between areas. Anno 2205 also guides you through the various trials and tribulations that it will throw at you, telling you what critical shortages are impacting you and when you should investigate something. There’s also some new mechanics included to make sure that you don’t find yourself in an unrecoverable situation, however it’s still up to you to get yourself out of it. The combat has also been relegated to its own separate encounter, meaning you don’t have to manage your military and trade all in the one spot. Other than that however Anno 2205 plays out much like its predecessors did, requiring you to make sure you have enough of everything so your employees stay happy so you can remain profitable.
Like most similar games Anno 2205 feels extremely overwhelming on first play as there is just so much you need to learn and understand. Thankfully though the tutorial is great at stepping you through the various goals you need to meet in order to reach the next objective. You are, of course, free to ignore that completely and pursue your own objectives independently however Anno’s rather linear progression means that you’d be wise to follow its instruction. After a while you start to get a feel for the impact that your actions have on your world and that allows you to start building out a plan of attack for progression towards the next goal.
For instance your advanced resource colonies (Arctic and Lunar) are almost always going to be loss-leaders. I tried extremely hard to make them profitable however they just never seemed to get into positive territory. The main tropical ones however can have you rolling in cash in no short order, meaning you should focus on building them out as much as you can whilst only building the minimal components in the others in order to support them. Then, once your cash reserves are high enough, you can look towards building them out a bit more in order to support the next goal or tech tier which will then allow your main colony to thrive further. Attempting anything else seemed to lead to me running into negative cashflow territory quickly, something which torpedoes any kind of growth you were experiencing.
Thankfully when that happens the game, at least on its default settings, is generous with the bailouts it gives and the conditions that are imposed on you when they’re given. This means that, should you find yourself in a dire situation, you’ll get lump sumps of cash from the Lunar Licensing program in order to continue your work. Gone are the days when a downward spiral in Anno meant you’d be restarting your game, something I was thankful for given I flirted with bankruptcy more than once. Past a certain point though credits no longer matter and it all comes down to the resources you can generate.
In the beginning this all comes from simply building as many things as you can, however that will quickly have you running out of credits and space. After that point you’ll need to engage in combat missions in order to get upgrade materials to make your resource generation more efficient. These missions are essentially micro exercises, pitting your combat fleet against a torrent of enemies and objectives. They’re not especially difficult although they do have a gear check requirement for the higher levels which can’t really be overcome with skill alone. Still whenever I found myself wanting for resources it didn’t take long to get them, something I was thankful for given the rather huge time sink requirement games like Anno have. Removing this aspect from the core game is a welcome change too as it always felt far too fiddly having to manage all those aspects together all in the same map in previous instalments.
Indeed whilst many Anno purists where crying foul over the streamlining I feel like it was the best thing about 2205. 2070 always had far too much going on with so many variables to track in order to make sure that everything was working as intended. 2205 by contrast keeps you informed of what’s going on without being too heavy on the information side and shows you exactly where the deficiencies are coming from so you can address them directly. Sure it might be a simpler game, one that’s not so mechanically complex, but there is such a thing as too much complexity and that’s definitely how I felt with 2070.
Anno 2205 is a great evolution of the series, bringing with it streamlined gameplay and updated visuals that really ramps up the Anno experience. The core game remains largely the same, with the resource balancing act still being the key to everything, however it’s a lot less mentally exhausting. The various other aspects have been carved up into their own little sections, further reducing the mental burden. You’ll still be saddling up for quite some time however as reaching the ultimate goal took even this seasoned gamer numerous hours to complete. For fans of the series or just this type of game in general Anno 2205 is a great title, one that’s sure to provide countless hours of addiction…I mean entertainment.
Anno 2205 is available on PC right now for $59.99. Total play time was approximately 9 hours.
City building games are a lot like open world and sand box titles, as whilst they might contain some form of over-arching narrative much of the true story of the game emerges from your interaction with it. I’ve avoided the truly open ended games for the most part, primarily due to their seemingly endless beta states, but that’s not to say I haven’t been intrigued by the stories they generate, far from it. Thus when the tales of people’s experiences with Banished started to percolate through the Internet I was intrigued as the punishing mechanics led many to give up in frustration, only to come crawling back the next day. I feel much the same way and the lack of a pre-determined win condition only made it worse.
Exiled from your home town you find yourself in charge of a group of villagers who need to make a new life for themselves. You start with little more than a pile of resources, somewhere to store them and a desire to not die in the first winter that will come soon enough. Over time however the challenge shifts from simply surviving to keeping your town functioning, making everyone happy and ensuring they have everything they need to keep subsisting. The longer you play the more intricate and delicate the equation you need to balance becomes as a mistake in one area can have effects that ripple far beyond where you think they did and, if you’re not well prepared, devastate your town.
Like most games which have a tendency to generate a lot of on-screen elements as they drag on Banished’s visuals are a relatively simple affair although they do look particularly nice when zoomed all the way out. Many of the buildings have a very similar look and feel about them, even though there is a bit of variation in the house models to break it up a bit, which can lead to some confusion when your town is tightly packed with numerous structures. It’s relatively easy to remember where you placed important buildings though and often you won’t need to hunt around for them anyway. That being said there does seem to be some notable slowdown when you’re scrolling around, even in the early stages when there’s not much on screen. This may be due to my preference to playing on 5x speed, however, although I neglected to test that out.
Banished is a city building game, one not unlike Anno 2070 where you’re on a never-ending quest to find more resources in order to grow your population so you can…get more resources. Compared to other city building games that come with tech trees and other intricately layered mechanics Banished is actually quite simple, mechanically speaking. You can essentially sum it up as needing to provide life’s basics to a group of people (food/water/shelter) and doing so in a way that allows the town to grow and prosper. Typically this revolves around finding ways to overcome particular resource shortages with the most forgiving of which just prevents your town from getting bigger whilst the worst could see everyone dead within a few short years.
In the beginning you’re focused on 2 primary resources: food and firewood. Building enough houses usually doesn’t take you too long however getting up a store of firewood and establishing a renewable food supply is one thing that’s likely to kill your town in its first winter if done too late. There are several methods to getting this done although my favorite was by far the quad placement of a forester, herbalist, hunter and gatherer which provided a bevy of resources that kept coming in continually. After a while however you begin to notice that the amount of resources required to build other buildings, the ones that will enable you to do more things, can’t simply be gathered anymore and you start needing more people to accomplish certain tasks.
This then pushes you towards the dangers of increasing your population at a rate that you can’t currently sustain, quickly showing any flaws you have in your city planning. Typically the first hurdle you’ll face is food as the surplus you generated over all those years starts to quickly evaporate. Then, not too long after, your workers complain of their tools breaking and they start to become inefficient at performing their assigned tasks. Considering one of these tasks is making more tools this can have devastating consequences down the line, wiping out a good chunk of your population because it was all predicated on things getting done in a certain time frame. Once you’re past those initial hurdles though the problems you’ll face become much subtler and can easily go unnoticed for decades of in game time.
Indeed my first town that made it past the 20 year mark, which suffered all of the problems I described above, seemed to be struggling to make use of the vast resources I had put before them. No matter how many more people were born I just couldn’t seem to provide enough of everything for them, the parable of Sisyphus running through my head. A quick bit of research showed that my entire town was uneducated and thus would be incredibly inefficient at performing any of their tasks. Including a school now wouldn’t solve the problem for years to come and, with an aging population and a declining birth rate, it was unlikely that would even save my poor town. Sadly I closed that game file and started again.
What followed has been a mildly successful town, reaching 300+ citizens in under 50 years with a surplus of food at almost all times with maximum happiness and a mostly educated population. The same problems propped up again of course however this time around I was able to head them off before they became too much of an issue. However new problems arose simply from the size of the population I was now dealing with and small decisions or events, placing a house in the wrong spot or a teacher dying, had effects that I couldn’t fathom. There are solutions of course but these are the sorts of things that you just don’t think about when you’re starting out and solving them can sometimes be more costly than just living with it.
For the most part Banished avoids some of the more major issues that have plagued other city building games however there still seems to be times when things go awfully wrong for no apparent reason. The screenshots above shows one of my population (one of many, unfortunately) taking a trip down to the bottom right corner of the map for no particular reason. This wouldn’t be an issue, tyipcally, however many of the people who embarked on this trip would come back cold, hungry or simply die on the way. Additionally whilst you’re able to dictate a number of people to a job you have no control on who does what job, sometimes leaving you with people travelling long distances to do work. You can fix this by removing all your workers and re-assigning them every so often but it feels like a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist.
I was really surprised by Banished as when I first looked at it I figured it would be a couple hours of fun figuring everything out and that’d be it. However the initial simplicity belies the greater complexity that lies underneath everything, something which is only revealed to you the longer you play Banished. It has its flaws and once you get past a certain stage there’s a definite feeling of “playing the waiting game” so you can progress to the next stage but it’s hard to fault Banished for that when it managed to draw me away for so long. You’ll definitely need to enjoy the city building genre to really appreciate Banished but that’s about the only barrier to entry I can think of.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Banished is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total game time was approximately 15 hours with 17% of the achievements unlocked.