When it comes to the Anno franchise, I’m not an expert. I’ve spent some quality time with Anno 2070, but I can’t say I was ever really addicted to it. Regardless, when the offer to take part in the closed beta for Anno Online came to me, I was intrigued. I was interested to see how the Anno gameplay transferred into a more MMO setting, and I wondered if anything browser-based could really be more than a glorified Facebook app. So I entered my key, and started out on my journey toward a more civilised tomorrow.
Browsing The Colonies
The term “browser game” always makes me a little uneasy… I’m not one of those “hardcore” gamers who insists that real games belong on a specific platform, but my experience with finding a good quality “browser game” has been like trying to find a good movie tie-in game… They’re few and far between. As far as Anno Online is concerned though, it does a decent job with what it has. Jumping right in and having to follow through a tutorial to settle your first colony on a deserted island is actually rather immersive. The games mechanics handle much like you’d expect any strategy game to, and the visual design makes everything look crisp, despite the low draw on your system. The availability of the game becomes the key element that makes Anno Online so valuable to fans of the franchise. While it may not have quite the shine, or all the bells & whistles of a full retail Anno title, Anno Online can be played from virtually any system, regardless of whether it’s your typical home computer, or a laptop you’ve had to take with you on a business trip, or daily commute. As long as you have a connection to the internet, you can keep working on your colony.
The Casual Experience
Anno Online’s biggest flaw at first glance is that it gives the impression of a “casual” game… It looks like it belongs as a pop-up on your timeline, between the never-ending stream of Farmville, Cityville and Chefville posts that your friends have been tricked into auto-posting. The core of Anno Online really IS what you’d expect from a social game, but luckily there’s more to it. The actual “social” elements aren’t as mandatory. You can trade and deal with other players, but for the most part you’re not limited in the game by how many friends you have. The actual gameplay is also much more in-depth. The actual core mechanics are also much deeper. There’s a fairly in-depth tutorial and help system, and in all honesty, unless you’re really familiar with the franchise, you’ll probably need it. While the game IS free-to-play, all games still need to turn a profit, so Anno Online DOES place time restrictions on certain tasks, but the timer continues whether you’re online or not, and many can be avoided entirely if you DO play with others. For the truly impatient, there’s options that involve the use of real money.
A Genre Evolved
Despite using some of the restrictions that make social games so unenjoyable, Anno Online generally manages to balance the line between full-fledged title and “You can resume play in 4:59”. It uses it’s restrictions to encourage you to play the game like an MMO, and if you’re willing to play by those rules, it’s far beyond anything I’ve seen from other browser games. More than just being an addictive way that you can waste time while away from home, it demonstrates how well the mechanics and elements of strategy games can operate within a limited context. You might not always feel as immersed as you would in Anno 2070, or games like SimCity or Civilization, but you still get that sense of accomplishment as you watch a world you’ve shaped grow into something you never could’ve planned when you set down your first roads. It finds a happy middle-ground between the deep and detailed retail titles and the light and fluffy social games… It’s a browser game, and I don’t think it would honestly work as well in any other setting.
You can sign up for Anno Online on their website. Open Beta has begun.