First Impressions: Anno Online

I received a beta key for Anno Online a few days ago. Unfortunately, I was at work when I got that email, so I had to wait till I got back home in the evening.

For those who have never heard about it before, Anno Online is a browser game that’s currently in closed beta with its German version. The English version will follow soon, according to tweets from the English Twitter account. I was lucky enough to grab a beta key and have been playing the game while playing Guild Wars 2 in the last few days. That’s always the good thing about browser games: You can play them on the side as they usually don’t need your full attention.

Anno OnlineMy very first impression was that it felt like “yet another browser game”. It reminded me of The Settlers Online, with the exception of not having to dig for mines all the time (thank the asura for that!). It seemed like a typical browser game of your standard building strategy genre. It also comes with the typical cash shop: You can buy wares and building material for “diamonds” which are in turn bought with real money. There are also things you buy with in-game coins, though. So far, it’s either things you can definitely get in the game, e.g., wood. Or items where I’m not sure if you can gather them within the game but it doesn’t matter because you buy these with in-game coins. On the other hand, this is a closed beta and I don’t know how much of that is final and how it will work once the game’s released.

When you start with the game, the cash shop is certainly not what receives your attention first. It’s one little icon right next to other little icons that let you manage your island. You will immediately get a pop-up window with your first quest asking you to place a building on the island while explaining the mechanics to you. There are lots of quests guiding you through the game in the beginning. A few of those actually do ask you to buy something from the cash shop but at that point, I already had some of the cash-currency and as a reward for doing the quest, I did receive more of them than I had spent. So you will not be stuck if you refuse to buy anything for real money at that point!

Whenever you get a quest, a window pops up and disables everything behind it. I felt rushed during the beginning and would have liked a subtler tutorial or a slower pace. However, that part is over now and while I do get a popup for a new quest every once in a while, it’s certainly not that annoying anymore. Still, it does feel a bit “on rails” sometimes as with the next step in your town’s development, you unlock new buildings and immediately get a quest that tells you to build said building.

In the beginning, the game sometimes did not react when I tried to move the map or click on anything. That was annoying, until I switched from Firefox to Chrome which has been a much smoother experience so far with no issues whatsoever.

Anno OnlineYou’ll also notice really fast that the game is still in beta as there are several features that have not been enabled yet, “settings” being one of them. The song that’s playing in the background is certainly nice, but not if you’ve been listening to it for the umpteenth time. Trading with others, selling and buying is also not possible yet. I have also heard rumours that there will be PvP later and only your first island will be safe. But I have only found people speculating and writing “this is what I think” or “this is what I read somewhere” without citing any definite sources. So take this piece of information with a huge grain of salt!

As I said, my first reaction was rather “another typical browser game”. I continued playing Anno Online because I was curious and hey, even if it’s the zillionth browser game of the same sort, I still like them! Now, after several days of playing the game, my opinion has improved. It’s not just another of those games. It already offers more depth and especially complexity which is intriguing.

Anno OnlineBasically, you build houses for peasants. Later on, you can upgrade to townsmen, patricians, etc. (please keep in mind that those are not official translations! I am playing the game in German, of course, and try to find the correct words in English here). On top of that, your inhabitants demand food, something to drink, clothes, entertainment, a church and lots of other things. You also need resources like wood and stone. Some buildings, like the church or the marketplace, only have a specific range around them where your inhabitants can reach them. And those buildings cost money. The happier your residents, the higher your taxes. If they don’t get everything they want, they will not pay that many taxes. On the other hand, the things they want cause you running expenses. You’ll have to juggle and plan before you place a building somewhere to try to get a positive balance.

With the recent patch, they introduced some balance changes which make it very difficult to actually earn coins. Without coins, you can’t build anything anymore. I already destroyed a lot of buildings, trying to “turn back” to an earlier stage of the game in the hopes of getting into a positive balance once more. So far, no luck. But next week, we will experience a wipe and then I hope I can start all over again with more experience and more luck. That is, once I do understand why exactly I’m in the negatives now and what I’m doing wrong. I’ve read through the forums but haven’t found an answer.

Anno OnlineI like that it’s not an easy game, but I’m not sure if it’s because they made it too hard now or because I just am not too good at those games. ;) This also shows my biggest problem with games like this: As much as I love them, I just suck playing them. I can never manage my balance and stay in the positive area. Long gone are the days of the good old single player games with helpful cheat codes (rosebud, anyone?). ;)

If you like games like Anno, then right now, I’m pretty sure you’ll like Anno Online. It is still in beta, though, so we will have to see what happens and what it will be like once it’s finished. At the moment, I’m enjoying myself and that’s what’s important, after all.

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