Anno 2205 – good, but not great

So, Anno 2205 came out.

As these things go, it costs a shitload of shineyz at launch. So I waited for the reviews to come out. Consensus was “if you like the building and planning of past parts, but weren’t into fighting, diplomacy and trade so much, this is your game”. Naturally, I screamed “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEYZ!” at the screen. I didn’t regret it, even if there are some things that mildly annoy me at times. Which is nice for “screaming bloody murder at my screen”, as my flatmate found out the hard way. Why, you might ask: because if you a) split combat from the rest of the game, map-wise, and b) make combat missions fully optional, then you really should not have your NPC reminding the player every x minutes about it. Especially not in the highly passive-agressive manner as some of the culprits. But let’s start from the beginning.

We start the game as a not-that-MegaCorp that somehow gets smuggled into the Lunar Licensing Program. Don’t ask, I didn’t either.
The goal of the LLP is to a) settle the moon and b) solve all the energy problems of the world by beaming down cheap fusion-generated power. For which you need deuterium, which you get to moon by loading it into freight rockets and launching it towards Luna.
I should stop talking about what this game sells as plot to structure one’s progress, as it makes less and less sense. ANYWAY:
Congratulations, you are now part of the LLP. Here are the three maps of the moderate climate region, please pick one. The maps differ in shape, amount of settleable (is this a word?) land – of which is considerable less per map than in previous parts – and amount of places for mines and coastal installations. There are also three maps each in the arctic and lunar regions, which will become available later in the game.
The early game is your typical run-of-the-mill Anno: build a basic settlement, produce building materials and consumer goods and reach some population milestones. The first obvious divergence from previous parts of the series is the lack of marketplaces: you can build stuff any point of any island with a warehouse on it, as long as you connect the buildings to the road network. Next to energy (introduced in 2070), buildings now need manpower (created by settlements) and logistics (provided by logistics buildings). Once connected and powered up, the produced good is immediately available anywhere on the map. This makes production quite a bit easier, as it is no longer necessary to keep track of sometimes quite complicated shipping plans to get everything to where it is needed. Shipping now takes place on the global map between sectors, in quantities easy to handle, with clear indicators of production/availability and need as well as fixed prices for different amounts of goods. You can also buy and sell goods on the world market, provided you’re connected to the interwebz. Personally, I like this very much as it allows longer breaks between sessions without standing in front of a giant complex system and no idea what is going on, where any single wrong move can plunge a giant map into total chaos…

Anno 2205: Trade Routes
Anno 2205: Trade Routes

Instead of building fields for farms, all production buildings can now be upgraded to increase production and reduce maintenance. These upgrades cost special resources obtained through combat missions and side quests and HAVE to be connected to their parent. Not a big problem, once you know it and rebuild your roads accordingly. The new tool to just grab and move buildings is very very handy here.
The same way that produced goods are immediately available everywhere and don’t require marketplaces any more, your settlement doesn’t need a town hall anymore. Need-fulfilling buildings no longer cover a certain area but produce a certain amount of whatever-they-are-fulfilling, which is then distributed along the roads: yes, that means that it can be a better choice to move buildings to create a free space in the middle of your town instead of placing several buildings on the edges. Secondary settlements also need their own buildings close by, even if you have more than enough supply elsewhere on the map.
Over time, you fulfill more needs of your citizens, they level up (entirely by hand this time, no need to cut of their access to materials) and develop more demands. Nothing new here. Well, except that you need to import stuff from elsewhere. Which leads to…

The different types of maps. Climate, Arctic, Lunar.

As I already mentioned, you start in the climate regions, where everything is mostly your known and loved game. It is also your cash cow – in no other region I managed to build settlements that provide even a remotely comparable amount of income.
The second region you enter is the arctic region. Here, you have to integrate your settlement into your industrial buildup, as the warmth generated by the factories is used to heat the settlement. This requires a drastically different approach to settlement design and is  a nice break from the optimised-to-death-builds that inevitably crept up unto previous parts of the series.
The lunar region… it is expensive. We’re talking “permanent lunar settlement”-expensive here. My first village up there nearly bankrupted me. Thrice. But you need stuff from up there to develop your settlements. Instead of islands, you build your settlements into craters, and to get space you need to build shield generators to protect yourself against meteorites. Of course they are expensive to build and maintain. It feels a bit stale what the devs did here – I would have loved to see a) more freedom to build stuff than “look, moon islands!” and b) another way to restrict said freedom than shield generators. Oxygen Stations, for example. Emergency Shelters would have been great.

On the moon, we reach the final stages of the Lunar Licensing Program: produce cheap fusion power and beam it back to earth. I’ve seen way worse overall plot arcs. But then: I’ve seen better (Anno 1404 comes to mind). But then… story isn’t what we’re here for. And it’s quite hard to build a story when combat is completely optional: every story-relevant combat mission can be bypassed by simply reaching the next company level. Right, we’re at combat.
Combat now takes places on its own maps, you get a number of (upgradable) ships and off you go. Several levels of difficulty, several special abilities, and totally unengaging. YMMV. The one things I grew to absolutely detest about the combat are the AI-agents giving you the missions. They pester you every something minutes why there wasn’t any progress. I haven’t found a way to turn it off. And it is driving me nuts. In fact, it is the single biggest point of critique I have on this game.

Every sector has a sector project, coming in three stages. Completing these give you several bonuses, from free manpower/energy/logistics in a sector to a continuous income of special resources and new decorative buildings, worse weather and fireworks. To complete those, you usually have to do some manual labour (find X on the map, collect Y and bring it here, …) or have a certain amount of resources produced or in stock or a given number of citizens for a given amount of time. Later in game, this can mostly be solved by trade routes (or just buying stuff on the global market) to shortcut production requirement, but having N inhabitants is hard to bypass.
The sector projects give some purpose to settling more than one sector each (on the other hand, if you’re not a completionist madman you probably wont care anyway), but they do feel a bit bolted-on with their in the end copy-pasted tasks.

Aside from the ongoing do-my-combat-mission-idiots, there also is a bug in the game. After playing some several hours with the game mostly running in background (to accumulate moneyz to buy new sectors), the global market stopped working, I lost all connection to the Ubisoft-Servers and I couldn’t end the game.
“But why didn’t you just kill the process?”
Because the game saves upon ending, and you cannot save manually. I lost several hours of progress. Twice. And it sucks.

“Stop talking already and tell me whether or not to throw moneyz at this game! You’re long overdue anyway!”
Anno 2205 is a good game. It is not a great game, but it is well done, mostly bug-free and a good city builder. Don’t get it if you liked previous parts for the combat, diplomacy or trade – you wont see any of it. This is basically pure building and designing. If you like a good city-builder with some light-to-medium resource management, go grab it. If you’re unsure, wait for a discount. If the city building in previous parts was a necessary evil to get to the better parts of the gameplay – stay away.
I like it, and I would recommend it. But not to everyone.

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