(Released in Germany 2002)
Anno 1602 was a sedate game, but on the whole I enjoyed it, so when I was bored and looking for games on Good Old Games I thought i’d give the sequel a try. And yes, the naming convention for this series is actually pretty difficulty in interpreting which one is next in the series. Chronologically of the setting; easy, order of release; vexing.
The first game was sedate, but in a good way. You take things slowly as you wait for resources to be gathered and then turned that resource into a useful product. Anno 1503 follows this pattern, but the problems are almost immediate. Rather than having 10ish resources introduced slowly you start with 10 a finite pool of resources. Simply put, you have too many options to start with. In the first game you had to slowly expand managing your resources, as you expanded more buildings became available, it was a smart way of teaching you the economy, how to expand, and it was clear from the buildings you had access to what each one did, or how it was linked. Such as sheep farms and a weavers hut, plus a market place. Now we have Sheep, weavers, market, market stall. Sure not too much hassle, but you also need a salt mine for stuff, and quarries for brick, and hemp for rope, tobacco for tobacco, potatoes are food or booze, foresters for wood, hunting lodge for food, so on and so on. There isn’t anything new here (yet) from the last game, but the order in which these items are unlocked that creates the issue. Now you start with 30 buildings you can build and now clue what is needed and what is a waste of tools. You unlock more things after building about 5 houses, but you don’t know if you need to start building the new things, or some of the other buildings you have neglected at this point. It is never clear what you need to advance.
You simply don’t know how to get going in 1503 unless, A) You’ve played the game loads, B) reading a guide, C) Using cheats, which is pretty frustrating considering how leniant the learning curve was in 1602.
I like depth. The problem is you’re pushed into a slow paced game, with clunky User Interface,and aggressive enemies and told to figure this shit out without adequate tooltips/guides. Quite seriously, I had a pirate turn up before I had built the basics of the town and sank my boat (along with it’s tools). This was about 3 minutes into the fucking game.
Assuming you get past the hyper aggressive AI pirates, your next major battle is with the terrain. With the changes in the game encorporating topographical changes the building system has been tweaked to incorporate the lay of the land, meaning hills require ramps on your roads. So you have that Sim City problem where the game won’t let you place roads to a location as the surface isn’t flat enough for the tile to be placed. It will affect you most when placing any of the mining hubs, as these are obviously placed in rough terrain. But unless you plot the route to it first, expect to have a number of unusable mines placed on your world map that your workers can’t access due to fucking shonkey ass roads laying in the game.
Once you are up and running the game gets more interesting but you have to pick the scenarios for this. The campaign is a slog, each level is basically “play a full game minus the end game” where each level takes well over an hour. Level one isn’t establish a small town with 100 pioneers, it is get 500 settlers, so you need to build a 30 houses, and reach the next tech level and then start building fancy stuff like churches, pubs to make the pioneers happy enough to settle. You need mines, and smelting, and all your industry in place, and no tutorial to teach it. And since the resources are limited as fuck, so you’re sat waiting an hour to chop enough tree to build the houses. But you can’t get the settlers, because you can’t get the bricks, because you can’t produce tools… It is a circle of unending pain that never really lets up. If these levels were chucked up like other strategy games it would help. Mission one of Command and Conquer doesn’t give you access to a full tech tree. It gives you the bare bones and teaches you level by level.
Anno 1503 tries to do too much with a basic recipe. As a result those issues in the first game that you could ignore because the game was clever with it’s simplisticity. Here you’re expected to do more than the game engine can handle. Incomplete roads are pretty unforgivable since they are the lifeblood of your settlements. One janky ass misplaced road will annoy you, but even if you delete the erroneous section you’ll have a tile where other things can’t be build, so you’ll have gaps in your perfect housing estate.
In SimCity you’d accept this because you can just bulldoze and terra form, here you can waste invaluable tools as you build inaccessible mines and break your game.
It fucking sucks.
That said, 1503 isn’t bad. It just isn’t good, and certainly isn’t fun. It gets the trade side of things right, but the start and resource gathering to get to the trade part are all a little too clunky meaning the core concept never quite gels.
Pros: Soundtrack having Simon and Garfunkle, graphics are nice to look at
Cons: Clunkly and obtuse
Back in the Day:
1503 smashed records in Germany becoming the fastest selling game of all time (at the time), they loved it over there. However the rest of the world were less keen with reviews usually found in the 50-70 range.