After wondering around the internet about a week ago there was a discussion about the general decline of the RTS and how things had been sinking ever since the RTS became essentially so staple that there was no need to change the core mechanics, and what you got was a billion different clones of starcraft and the likes. The discussion moved on to the modern-day RTS field and what was present. Being the type that gets bored easily, and having run out of a WoW subscription about a week ago now, I was looking for something to change the pace of things. The discussion eventually got around to the small group of RTS’s [outside of the Starcraft 2 Beta] that have begun to circulate within the last couple of years that could even hold a candle to Age of Empires 2, Starcraft, C&C, and the likes. The name Anno 1404 got dropped, and having a terrible love of all things that involve kings, Knights, and generally goofy stuff I figured it would defiantly be worth the look.
So I picked it up, and the following is a review of Anno 1404:
The first thing I would like to point out is these days I have to be careful in my reviews because of the growing needs on the gaming computer. Even with a AMD 64 3500+, 2gigs of Ram, and a decent 7600 Nvidia video card, most games require more than that for even their minimum settings. Now this makes me feel somewhat useless because only 3 years ago that 2 gigabytes of ram could have gotten me laid in some conventions, of course now it won’t even get you a second glance because even my $400 netbook is sitting on a better video card and ram. But anyway, I strike at that to say that the very first thing that I noticed about Anno 1404 was just how slow things were to load / save. Looking at reviews online, it seems that this is actually pretty standard behavior, and I shouldn’t really be to put off by it. That said, it’s a good thing that I’m sinking upwards of 4 hours into playing this thing, if I were trying to play it in burst, I’d spend more time admiring the loading screen than I would actually playing the game. But once the game is loaded up it tends to act pretty stable and generally the only times I’ve seen it act up were whenever the computer had something to say “Like Gratz on that mission” or the likes. Other than that, it seemed to run pretty steady on my setup [which should be just a bit below the normal specs for most computers that are being sold at your Best Buys / Circuit Cities / the likes.
Now, to the actual game play, One thing of note, whomever was doing the music was actually paying attention, while it doesn’t distract from the game all that much, and in-game you’ll probably not notice it, during the loading screens and such it really is quite a good mix, I’d almost be willing to lump it up there with Civilization 4’s now famous “the Lords Prayer, song edition” at the start of their intro, and were it not for the music I probably would have no reason to be in the same room as my computer during the loading screen. The graphics are also rather smooth, it reminds me of what amounts to a step up from Civ 4 essentially, with a similar kind of styling. All the towns of course have their unique little architecture, and the pre constructed cities really do come out as quite pretty. And this is where I’m going to have to get into my complaints. You see, this game isn’t an RTS at all, if anything it’s a multiplayer Sim City.
The real problem with this game is that in all the time I’ve been playing with it [easy / medium mode] there hasn’t been a single conflict, In fact the only thing with any actual weapons is the single flagship you are given around the start of the game. The further down the line weapons [once you get partisans and such], aren’t actually present until much later in the game [the final stages in fact], and even when they are there, it’s more likely you’re going to resolve the problem because you don’t want to kill a valuable trading partner. It’s not about the fact that you could eliminate another player, but the computer appears to have an unlimited amount of funds and will buy just about anything off of you, so honestly you just should not hurt them. And I guess that’s really my nagging with this game. Is it’s not so much that it can’t be an RTS, it’s just that the game is more advantageous if it simply isn’t an RTS. Even when I went out of my way to land on the computer’s islands and start just putting up random structures, just to see if I could irritate them, it still was of no use, they just continued about their normal way and didn’t seem to mind my presence. So while I’m sure the game could have some really nifty fights and I’m guessing online that maybe it does, the unpatched version I have is just so very… lacking as an RTS. Now that having been said, if you just want to play an ungodly complex version of sim city, than this is the boat for you.
That’s I think another problem I had with it, is that I couldn’t actually turn the islands into what I wanted, because the amount of gold that you take in from taxing your citizens doesn’t make up for the huge amount of maintenance cost that comes from just the operation of the standard plants [ie the things your citizens want]. And by late game you are investing so many resources in gathering the 20+ various possible resources, that you don’t have any time to actually start to worry about making the Island pretty or whatever else. So even as a Sim City game it’s terribly complicated, because while the only real way to make any money is to send ship after ship out to various colonies and have them bring back resources because no 1 island can make anything. This would be cool if it were actually a maintainable practice, but founding a new island can quickly start getting pricey, and if you add new homes to that island, not only does it NOT offset the cost of the mines being put in place, but you seem to have to place half a billion to even make a dent.
There’s likely some super easy strategy that I’m completely missing, but the entire time I was playing, I was struggling just to stay in the green. Making soldiers and doing all the mini quest they offered wasn’t even something that crossed my mind. I suppose for someone who likes that kind of micromanaging, it really is great, but for me just looking for an RTS it’s really difficult to justify managing so many possible resources on islands that are honestly kind of small for accomplishing that goal. If there is an RTS in the game, its hiding under a very large sim city like shell. I haven’t even seen the full extent of the end of the game including the buildings which create soldiers, so I’m not really one to judge on how balanced anything is.
That having been said, the game is kind of a pain to actually settle into, and while I suppose it could be mind-boggling to track the resources / trade ships / money management. For me, I think it would have been loads better if the insane maintenance cost had been left to the troops and not to the fishery that was required for my people to eat.
Overall it’s a fun, good-looking game, it’s just very… deep I suppose is the word, and you have to be willing to dump a few hours into it