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The Makings of a AAA Idle game

The Anno franchise has been known as one of the more complicated series on the PC, but for today, I want to talk about how a recent entry did things differently, and what we can learn from it.


The Anno series has been long-lasting on the PC and is now over 20 years old. Anno has always focused on logistics and building as opposed to full-on military might. Over the last decade, developer Blue Byte (now known as Ubisoft Blue Byte) took the series from its old-world roots to the far future with Anno 2070 and 2205.

A quick look at Anno 2205 shows that it’s polarized among fans of the franchise and represented a shift in design. While stuck inside like everybody else, I decided to load it up again. Having played every Anno from Dawn of Discovery to 1800, I find that Blue Byte may have stumbled into a different kind of genre that I wanted to explore in today’s piece.

Rebuilding the World

Anno 2205 takes place at the end of Blue Byte’s jump into the future. As the title implies, it’s the year 2205 and while humanity survived a world-ending disaster, things are still not completely better. You play the CEO of a corporation that has been brought in to assist with rebuilding the world by creating limitless free energy for the masses.

While this may sound like an extremely stressful task, Anno 2205 streamlines a lot of the difficulty of previous games (and some of the depth that we’ll talk about in a minute). Like the other games in the series, your chief responsibility is to build cities, create goods, and make sure that the people get what they need. 2205 continued the trend of previous games with having different biomes: complete with their own resources, rules, and required goods.

Logistics has always been a staple — it’s not just about gathering resource A, but making sure it gets to the factory to refine it into a product, and then getting said product where it needs to go. Your cities are full of people from different classes who require different goods. With 2205, you have the different biomes of the arctic that limit where homes can be built, and the moon which is a colossal drain on resources.

Making sure that everything works, and that you don’t run out of money, takes us to the core gameplay of Anno 2205.

Money is Time

Anno has always been a balancing act between building what you need while keeping your profits in the black, and 2205 is no exception. Constructing factories will always require credits (the game’s currency), workers, power, and finally “logistics.” In previous games, logistics was simply where you placed buildings so that the resources and goods were properly and quickly moved from one another. With 2205, logistics became an abstracted stat handled by warehouses. If you run out of logistics, all shipping of goods on that island stop.

Power will be your nemesis until the very end of the campaign when you solve the energy crisis. Each biome has various ways of creating power, and the final biome: the moon, is where you’ll be able to create unlimited energy and provide that to the biomes that need it.

The biggest factor in how easily you can build is the number of credits you earn per minute. Everything you build with exception to homes will drain your credits per minute. Go into the red, and you can quickly find yourself with a negative balance. By fulfilling needs, more people will move into your cities and provide you with increased income.

There is less decision making in 2205

The loop of the game repeats this cycle of building more homes to fund your other structures so that you can expand and build even more. With that said, one of my favorite changes that 2205 did was change how combat played out.

Mini Combat

Every Anno game has had in some form or another combat. In every game other than 2205, you had to divert some of your economy and resources to build ships that could be used to protect your islands or attack your rivals. Here, combat has been turned into a minigame, where you’ll use a preset fleet on specific maps to complete objectives for rare resources.

What I liked about this was that it removed the requirement of the military from the economic aspects of the game. You can go to these areas as often as they show up, or just ignore them, as there are other ways to make progress or earn those resources.

Many people will go for the combat, as it is the most interactable part of 2205, which takes me to where the game kind of fails in terms of sticking to the Anno formula.

The Idle Loop

Anno 2205’s streamlining of the formula and gameplay loop of the series is also its biggest drawback. There is this sterile nature to 2205:  everything operates the same way with no further input. Due to how logistics is now a stat, essentially all thought, or decision making has been replaced with having enough credits to afford it.

Space, or more specifically resource nodes to set up structures on, is limited per area. If you want to expand to another island or buy a brand-new region, it’s going to cost you. Playing 2205, the core gameplay is essentially a waiting game of having enough credits or credits per minute to afford the next structure and repeat.

Instead of the excitement of reaching a new class level or building a structure, it only means that you’re going to have to spend time building a new supply chain, and then building the economy in order to support it. Said economy turned out to be just building mass numbers of workers and making sure they had all the ramen and water they needed to stay happy.

The one bit of interaction that players have with their structures is set up modules that can enhance their functionality. This is like assigning items to buildings in previous Anno games, but far more limited. Each building has a fixed number of modules of each type that can be used, and once again, you can place them down and then forget about them.

Blue Byte did try to alleviate some of these issues with their DLC model, but they just compounded the issues. The DLCs added in new subsystems, and even a new biome, for players to make use of. Unfortunately, the limited design of 2205 means that these systems are just more sources of grind and waiting, with exception to the space station that unlocks upgrades that change the production lines.

As I said further up, Anno 2205 feels like a AAA idle game, and while that may be damning it with faint praise, I do feel there are some bright spots to it.

Half the Idle

There is a wide line between good and bad idle design, and 2205 is kind of in the middle. The low stakes of the game and progression have that relaxing vibe of idle gameplay. Seeing islands fill up with buildings and your growing credits per minute rating gives it the sense of scale we see from the idle genre.

In a weird way, Anno 2205 is not a city-builder, but a grand idle puzzle for players to figure out. Balancing the three biomes of resources and making sure that everybody has what they need is a challenge, but the developers missed the other half of idle design.

The best idle games know that just watching numbers go up isn’t the long-term appeal, but figuring out ways to subvert the systems and rules to your own advantages. A few months ago I wrote a piece about how Forager was one of the best takes on an idle design by providing a progression loop. Not only did new and different stuff became available the more you played, but earlier grinds were either mitigated or removed through progress.

Anno 2205 does not go far enough even with the DLCs. There aren’t enough ways to flesh out the production chains and strategies while playing. The only exceptions are the space station and Tundra DLCs, as both provide means of subverting earlier production chains. The problem with the Tundra DLC is that you still need to dedicate (and wait) on the other biomes to be able to support it before it starts paying off.

The game has many goals to check off your list, but it’s just a challenge limited by money. By the end of my play, I had so much money coming in I could literally buy the solutions to all my resource issues from the world market.

Anno’s issue as a franchise is that its production lines are too black and white — if you need item X, then your only option is to either trade or build production Y. There are no alternative strategies or productions available. I hope you like building rice farms and vitamin drink factories, as you’re going to be doing that from beginning to end. The space station’s unlocks that allow you to substitute specific resources in the production chain was my favorite (and most used) feature from the DLCs.

Therefore previous games had more depth with logistics management and being able to alter buildings and production. By removing it, Anno 2205’s gameplay lacks any strategy or decision making. During my playthrough, I just filled islands with workers with no regard for placement, as there was no need for it. Other Anno titles also introduced items that can enhance productions but are hard to find. One of the updates added in events to try and mix things up, but throwing in a random event that can scuttle your entire economy is not that welcomed.

The Leaner Anno

Anno 2205 has been criticized by fans as the “casual Anno” due to the designs and issues we’ve talked about. However, there are aspects of it that I hope developers and Blue Byte paid attention to that worked.

The first is the general pacing and stakes of the campaign. One of my favorite parts of Dawn of Discovery was playing the themed and specialty challenge campaigns. I liked the idea of not having to worry about an AI trying to kill me, but still being tested by the gameplay. 2205’s campaign is in a sense open world, as you are free to do whatever you want within the biomes and you are not pressured to move forward until you’re ready.

Moving military campaigns to its own subsystem was my favorite aspect of 2205. Being able to do them or ignore them at my leisure changed the feel of the gameplay for the better in my opinion.

1800 is now the best-selling entry in the series and recaptures the complexity of previous entries

The UI was better than Anno 1800’s (at launch) in terms of giving the player information that they needed. The main reason is that the transfer of goods happens instantaneously in 2205, compared to transporting them over time in 1800. I could see very quickly how much I was producing, where there were issues, and everything was dynamic in terms of showing me the consequences of my decisions.

One area that Blue Byte has taken notice of and implemented in 1800 is with the use of subsystems for its DLC. Anno 1800 is the series’ fastest-selling title in the franchise, and Ubisoft and Blue Byte have been putting a lot into fleshing it out.

1800 is up to year two of DLC updates to the game at the time of this piece. These updates add in new content, as well as new systems that change how you play the game. By the end of the year, Blue Byte is hoping to release a new African biome to the game. By contrast, 2205 only had one year’s worth of DLC.

Returning to the Past

With my playthrough finished, I can finally cross off the future Annos from my backlog list. In the end, Anno 2205 is a game I kind of hate to love. It’s by no means the best game in the franchise, and I can see where the design limitations hurt it, but it stands out from the other titles. I like the idea of playing a low stakes game that is just about the focus on logistics above combat. If you’ve never played an Anno game and looking for the easiest to jump into, I would recommend it with the caveat that it is the lightest in terms of gameplay.

And with my time spent with Anno 1800, the game is mechanically deeper, but there aren’t any challenges or specific goals to achieve outside of the campaign. Somewhere, I feel like my dream Anno game exists between the depth of 1800, and the low stakes and challenge focus of 2205.

If you enjoyed my post, consider joining the Game-Wisdom discord channel open to everyone.

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