Friday eXcursion: Anno 2070

Anno 2070 isn’t all that recent – it was released in 2011 with an eXpansion, Anno 2070: Deep Ocean, adding to the game in 2012. But with Anno 2205 on the horizon, it seems like a good time to revisit the most current edition of the Anno series, if anything to help set expectations for the upcoming new game.


Anno 2070 was developed by two German companies: Related Designs and Ubisoft Blue Byte, both under the umbrella of UbiSoft. Related Designs, now known as Blue Byte Mainz, will be responsible for the upcoming Anno 2205.

The Annos are the stepchildren of two of the most venerable franchises in all gaming: Civilization and SimCity. Like in Civ, you are given control of a people and tasked with growing them across vast lands in opposition to other peoples while collecting new technologies along the way. Like SimCity, you have zero control of the people themselves but rather provide buildings and roads to create a functional, aesthetically pleasing place for them to live and grow.

So, welcome to Anno 2070, a future where the ice caps have melted and the world is almost entirely covered in water. Only fitting, then, that this is a game of pirates and depth. Floundering and drowning.

Into the great, wide ocean.

First, the player chooses a ‘faction’: either the tree hugging Ecos or the coal loving Tycoons. If you look online you’ll see that most people are playing the Ecos and there’s a reason for that. There’s supposed to be a tradeoff between the two: The Ecos must be respectful to the environment, which means they have to choose convoluted routes in order to recover their necessities. Tycoons, on the other hand, care not for such things and can just reach into the ground/air/water as necessary. However, Tycoons get a massive negative to their ecology for doing so, which lowers the productivity of the land and their people. In practice, however, the workarounds for the Ecos simply aren’t onerous enough to preclude playing that way, while the Tycoons have no such salve for their earth-harming ways. Some have suspected this may be a ham handed way for the developers to preach an environmental message to the audience, but if this is the case, it breaks neither the game nor the immersion.

There are a few other options at the outset: map size, number/type of NPCs and their difficulty levels. Once the world has been set up, Anno 2070 drops the player seaside with a central floating base (called an “Ark”) and a tiny boat/shipping/mobile machine gun thingie. The player sails the ocean blue with that bad boy until they find a suitable island to settle on.

Ohhhh… sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip...

Ohhhh… sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…

The maps are filled with multiple, habitable islands. The standard medium sized map will have about 12 islands of varying sizes, roughly 6-8 of which will be places one might reasonably consider settling. Each island is unique, randomly generated, and will have different resources. Some might have rice, tea, and veggies. Others might have oil or gold.

The variation in islands is pretty limited. There’s the one with grapes and sugar beets (for champagne making), the one with rice and tea (usually the starting point), the one with veggies and oil, and a handful of others. On occasion, there are little nodes that make an island more or less susceptible to environmental degradation. That’s about it.

I can’t help but feel that the developers missed an opportunity here. Exploring is only fun if there’s the chance of, y’know, actually discovering something new or unexpected. Games like Endless Legend or Civilization V do such a great job with exploration because there’s always the possibility of hitting the geographic jackpot – resource-filled regions that produce the same feelings of need and desire as a clean bathroom after an extra large soda and a three-hour movie.

Anno 2070 provides no such rush. If every three games I overturned an island with, say, double the rice production or found a place that gave my buildings extra efficacy, wouldn’t that be a better encouragement rather than the ‘Oh, there’s the corn and fruit island again. Been wondering where that was…’ kind of feeling? Similarly, if I’m desperately in need of lobster, and the only island available has a severe production penalty, doesn’t that encourage smart, strategic choices? Guess not.

Whichever island the player picks to start on, they’ll eventually have to eXpand out to another island in order to get needed resources. There is no uber-island with everything the player will need to succeed

Players will also run into those same previously-selected NPCs, some of whom are Ecos, others Tycoons, and others still a third faction called the Techs who are willing to play both sides. You are welcome to trade with these token adversaries either by setting up routes or by simply swinging by in your ship and buying their stuff. They certainly will do the same to you. You might think that each would hew to their particular philosophical partners – that Ecos would cuddle up to other Ecos and such – but the truth is, as long as you do as they ask, you can be friends with anyone.

Brand new world. Same dumb stereotypes.

Brand new world. Same dumb stereotypes.

All of this is nice, but it’s just a foundation for the really fun parts of the game. Wait, there are fun parts? Oh yes, my friends. Yes there are.

It’s a nice place, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

First and foremost, Anno 2070 is about building a city. If that appeals to your playstyle then you will be happy to take up residence. Players start with a little dock/depot, a town center, some houses, and a first supply chain for manufacturing ‘building pieces.’ We’ll get more into how that works in a moment.

Meanwhile, we’re building houses and symphonies and factories that allow for more and more complicated versions of those things. Drawing roads and throwing down new communities – we’ve known since the 80s that building a pretend city is a good time and 2070 gets it done.

There’s some weirdness for those used to the SimCity world, though. Apparently, the people of Anno 2070 are in desperate need of roads to get to the city center (within a few feet of their domiciles), but are more than willing to trek through miles of uncut jungle in order to commute to work. Nor, despite the game’s greenie message, are these polygonal people at all inconvenienced by having a big stinking factory right next to home base. This makes no sense of course, but it sure makes things easier to build your dream town.  

There’s no research, per se, but the better the player does at meeting the needs of their people, the more stuff the game will give out. Soon there will be giant ‘information’ (read: Big Brother media) towers, a complicated McBurgerTown production scheme (or a pasta factory if you’re Eco), fisheries, mountain mines, pretty much everything an electronic Noah needs to create his vision of a post-Biblical-flood-style civilization.

This part of Anno 2070 is fun as all heck and an itch that rarely gets scratched in the modern gaming morass. It’s fun to draw little streets around little neighborhoods and watch the little people drive floating cars around a world that you created.

We built this city on rock and roll… and cement blocks. Lots and lots of cement blocks.

We built this city on rock and roll… and cement blocks. Lots and lots of cement blocks.

The game greatly rewards organization and, honestly, peevishness about building placement. If you like having everything just right, the game is going to reward you for that attention to detail. Anno 2070 is for people with OCD. Those who like to just throw things down willy nilly will not be enamored with Anno 2070. The game will punish them, severely, for being the frivolous gadabouts that they are.

As you can see from the screenshots, it is not at all hard to create one pretty city and, let me tell you, it is pretty satisfying, as well. The only limit is the resources players need to move forward. And that’s the other awesome part of Anno 2070.

The search for stone (and coal… and sand… and lobsters… ).

Everything the player does, everything, is governed by their ability to collect and then utilize raw resources. It starts with fairly simple materials – fish, iron, coal –  but eventually future flood mayors will be acquiring, tea, fruit, lobster, oil… pretty much everything one might imagine.

These are only the basic elements which then must be processed into compound items. In this way, Anno 2070 is almost a puzzle game where very different resources must be collected and combined into a greater whole. It’s a lovely mechanic and a lot more fun than the usual ‘drop a mine in the golden mountains and start spitting out gold coins’ you get in most 4X games.

This chain of resource collection and processing really feels like you’re making something. Putting that supply chain together for the first time – it’s almost like Tom Hanks in Castaway, having finally sparked a fire. I have done this thing. It is mine. Because the technology is constantly increasing, because people’s wants are constantly evolving, this process never gets old either.

The game evolves with the player. Getting enough concrete allows for burger factories. Once the people get burgers, they want information. To give them information the player needs plastic. Plastic takes oil, which necessitates eXpansion to an island with oil reserves. Plastic made? Great! Build a trade route to take it back to the population. Hooray, they have plastic! Now they want fancier food. Time to start looking for truffles!

One does not simply ‘make’ pasta.

One does not simply ‘make’ pasta.

There are whole posters full of production chains online and with good reason. People practically fetishize the proper order of product acquisition and manufacture in this game. It’s the best part of the game. Every other mechanic that is neither resource collection nor city building is just a waste of precious playtime. Which… yeah. Keep reading..

This is not a fight you can win.

Sadly, for all the depth and wonder of eXpanding and eXploiting, the eXterminate part of the game drops like a dead weight. Players have boats with guns. Opponents also have boats with guns, primarily the pirate faction. Eventually there will be violence and when there is, players will send their gunboats into battle and watch as the little green lines race slowly down to half, then a quarter… yawn.

Go green line, go!

Go green line, go!

Yeah, there’s just not a lot to do here and if you don’t have the pirate faction in your game you won’t even get to do that much. Battle is basically a match of who has deployed more boats and there isn’t much strategy beyond clicking on the appropriate part of the map. Eventually, someone will take territory the player wanted. There’s… not much that can be done about that. Armchair generals will not be landing shock troops on the shoreline, laying waste to all who dared mine their precious fruit. That is my fruit, I say. Mine! And now your women and children must suffer the consequences!

Like I said. Not so much.

There is also some diplomacy, but it’s limited beyond basic trade options. Some NPCs allow players to buy a peace treaty from them (which they can then break willy nilly with zero consequence, while the player is held to the letter of the law) or can request a loan. There’s no sense of negotiation here; it is more like a trip to the ATM. The NPCs will also give the player quests from time to time. This is an extension of the adventure game/tutorial part of Anno 2070. The Tycoons might ask the player to find a criminal in their midst and deliver him to the proper authorities. An Eco terrorist might request a secret supply delivery. Almost all the quests play out the same way the player spends an inordinate amount of time clicking around the map, sending a boat up and down the seascape on what amounts to yet another fetch quest. These are meant to provide atmosphere to the game, to immerse you in the world. Instead, it’s just one more distraction from what makes the game so great.

I really wanted to put a pic of a big dramatic battle here, but… well, you know...

I really wanted to put a pic of a big dramatic battle here, but… well, you know…

I understand why the developers included the eXtermination part of gameplay. It seems weird to have a world without conflict. Honestly, though, combat is so half-baked, it’s an aspect I could easily have done without. It’s just nothing to get excited about.

If this was the worst part of Anno 2070, we would have smooth sailing from here on out.

Overall impression:  

Sadly, this is where the good ship Anno 2070 sinks.

In fact, most players will have a problem before they even launch the game: DRM (digital rights management) via Ubisoft’s own UPlay client. That’s going to be an immediate problem for some, and Anno 2070 presents a particularly aggressive set of hurdles for potential players to jump over. This is a larger discussion, one I promise to write about in a separate article soon. I would also argue that knocking 2070 for having DRM is a bit like giving the local restaurant a bad review on Yelp because the parking sucks. Yes, it’s part of the experience, I suppose, but it’s not exactly a fair way to judge the place, either. Besides, this game has bigger fish to fry.

Anno 2070 takes all those things I’ve talked about above – the good and the bad – and buries it under a level of bizarre, inconsistent UI choices, unintuitive design, and flat out, almost aggressively, anti-player systems. It’s so frustrating, it makes me want to use polysyllabic words. Byzantine. Labyrinthine. Antediluvian. Pain in my ass.

Continuous means sandbox play, apparently.

Continuous means sandbox play, apparently.

Time and again, the game will create a set of rules for how to interact with it, only to throw those rules right out the porthole without any rhyme, reason, or helpful tooltip. It’s not just clumsy or annoying, it’s outright hostile, as if the designers want the player to struggle; to make the game even less accessible to the incoming n00b. When a game is hard, punishing like Dark Souls or even Donkey Kong Country, I can accept that because working through the challenges is the fun of the game. Dropping out of Anno 2070 to search a Wiki every 10 minutes, even after I’ve played for hours on end, isn’t at all fun or, honestly, acceptable.

For all the complaints about Uplay, it’s another ‘you’ that kept haunting me: YouTube. Bookmark it. You’ll be going there. A lot. It’s the only way to learn even the most basic functions (I’ll be posting a Let’s Play soon, myself. Hopefully it helps at least a little bit). That’s a shame. It shouldn’t be this hard. I shouldn’t be resorting to the player community to figure out how to play the game. This isn’t tips and tricks. This is flat out basics like offloading materials from a boat, giving an NPC a quest-item, finding necessary resources or setting up a trade route.  

Worse, for all its wealth of information, the game keeps the really important stuff out of reach. You get a message saying that one of your buildings isn’t receiving necessary materials. OK, cool. Let’s see what the problem is. Only, the game never tells you. There’s simply no way – no graphic overlay, no resource management tab, nothing – to see where things have gone wrong.  The player is left to guess. Maybe the little factory isn’t getting enough sandstone? Let’s try that and see. No? OK…

Another example: the player wants to trade excess resources with neighbors? OK, what do the NPCs want? Who knows? What should the player offer? A mystery! Should they use the ‘trade route’ function and send cargo ships hither and thither across the map? Or use the trade tab in the depot menu and select which goods to make available? (Answer: It’s the trade tab thing. I think). I could go on like this. I do, actually, in the privacy of my own home. Yes, my psychiatrist is also concerned.

Hey Joshua, would you like some veggies? Why yes, Joshua, that would be lovely!

Hey Joshua, would you like some veggies? Why yes, Joshua, that would be lovely!

Finally, I understand the game was made in Germany and distributed by a French company, but some of the English translations in there are just bizarre, often in humorous ways. For example, at one point during the adventure portion of the game (where you’d think copy editing would be paramount since it’s, y’know, the narrative part) it told me this: “Contact Yana owing to a 3D locator.” What the heck does that mean? Could someone please contact me and let me know? Seriously, it’s been bothering me for weeks now. Stuff like that is all over the game and it takes an experience that was already hard to parse and makes it near impossible.

The result of all this is that more time is spent searching for answers than on playing the game. All the neat little systems and ingenious gameplay elements in the world can’t make up for that.


So what’s the deal? Should you take this bad boy out for a cruise or leave it sitting in dry dock? Right now, players can pick up Anno 2070 vanilla (mmmm…. vanilla…..) for around $30 on Steam. Say what you will about Valve’s own brand of DRM, but Steam does a good job of putting games like this on sale fairly often. You can probably pick up 2070 for a lot cheaper than $20.70 if you’re patient. It’s basically a no-brainer. If even the littlest sliver of a bit of this game sounded interesting to you, I recommend giving it a shot. As a plus, it’s an ‘old’ game, so most of the bugs have been squashed. The game runs stable at almost all times and will hardly tax even an elderly computer.

The real concern for me is the upcoming Anno 2205 which will be a much larger investment, both at the outset and in the way of expansions, micro-transactions, etc. If the 2012 Deep Ocean eXpansion is anything to go by, Ubisoft (and developer Blue Byte Mainz) see no problem with the design of the game and are content to pump out more of the same. If that’s the case and 2205 is still as incomprehensible and obtuse as 2070 has been, then your money is best kept firmly in pocket.

TL;DRAnno 2070 is a good, maybe great game of civilization and city management buried under poor UI, covered in inconsistent design, wrapped in mysterious controls and slathered in a thick, nacho cheese sauce.

You might like this game if:

  • You miss the old Caesar and Pharaoh games
  • You like SimCity, but you wish there was a bigger economic simulator in there
  • You enjoy being meticulous and measured when planning out your empire
  • You like games with heavy doses of eXpand and eXploit

You might NOT like this game if:

  • You like combat. Like, at all
  • You get easily frustrated by poor UI
  • You don’t like spending the time to really get to ‘know’ a game and become familiar with its peccadillos
  • You’re not interested in getting public and political policy lessons from a video game

Joshua has played for 40 hours on a custom-built Maingear X-Cube with an AMD Phenom II X4 processor, 8 GB DDR3 RAM  and a Radeon HD 5800.

Categories: eXcursions

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6 replies »

  1. Great review, and totally on point. I’m a big fan of the Anno series, but I’ve beaten my head against 2070 at least three times. I always abandon it out of frustration due to the convoluted resource chains buried under a cryptic interface and poorly defined faction specialties. Uplay is an inconvenience, but not what has kept me from embracing and enjoying 2070.


  2. A tiny addendum as a longtime ANNO (And city builder player in general)

    There’s a rather huge community mod called “A.R.R.C” which adds a ton of new buildings, and removes a lot of the restrictions vanilla has (such as allowing you to build things underwater previously reserved for islands)

    It also adds more decor that anyone who loves building bricks is going to love – You can easily turn a city into a sort of miniature railroad project with details everywhere.

    The caveat is that the mod does NOT play well with Ubi’s “always online” requirements – To be able to use it and stay online, you have to resort to some rather annoying cookie injection tools at every startup.

    And on a different note, 2205 supposedly won’t have these annoying always online restrictions – The only thing you’ll miss out on are the elections of various leaders for bonuses for the entire playerbase. You won’t lose out on cross-game storage and such.


  3. I’ve played Anno 1404 and 2070 extensively.

    The Anno games do an amazing job at “supply chain” style city building.

    Everything else they do is bad.

    The two biggest sins are

    1. Trying to make you spend your time fighting even though the fighting isn’t very good.
    2. Not having any way in which different maps induce you to create different cities.

    So while the early and mid game is usually a lot of fun, ultimately, you’re either 1) fighting things in an unfun combat system, or 2) building the same city you built last game.

    I really wish they’d just focus on the supply chain stuff. Drop everything else, expand on that. And probably make some resources unavailable on each map, while putting in a foreign trade system. That would at least give you some variety in how you build your cities.



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