When the Anno 2205 closed beta was cancelled in July with no explanation, affected Anno players could be forgiven for wondering what exactly was going on. I’m unable to answer that question directly, because I don’t know what motivated Ubisoft to pull the plug on the pre-order beta. But I have been playing a preview build that, at one stage, may have constituted that very beta release.

It has some of the harsher NDA-like restrictions on what I can mention that I’ve seen in a while, though I’m not entirely sure why. There’s the usual stuff like ‘such-and-such menu screen’s UI isn’t complete, so please don’t use a screenshot of that’ (fair enough), and some other things like only being allowed to show a maximum of two images from the RTS-like ‘Crisis Sector’ side missions. A bit odd, but okay.

Then there are aspects I can’t really explain, like being allowed to confirm that monuments are in Anno 2205, but only by way of one specific project called the “Second Wave Monument”. That’s basically all I’m supposed to write about monuments. In fact, I’d best just shut up about monuments before the Ubisoft men in dark suits take me away to that underground Abstergo Entertainment prison from Black Flag.

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Hopefully this image of idyllic flats and some sunflower farms will distract them.

If you put this secrecy together with the mysterious cancelled closed beta, it probably starts to sound like Ubisoft are trying to hush something up until release. That’s the especially odd part; I haven’t come across anything in this beta build that made me think ‘wow, I can see why they didn’t want anybody seeing that’. If the slice I’ve played had come out as a closed beta release, I actually think it would’ve been broadly welcomed.

In this build, it was possible to establish and manage cities in both the temperate and arctic locations featured in the game, but not to get a colony going on the moon (nor could I build any of the ‘level 4‘ stuff relating to moon colonies). I got to see a little of the commodity interplay and exchange between colonies in different environments, a few of the (optional) ‘Crisis Sector’ combat missions, plenty of economic production chains, and how side-quests are integrated into the area maps. A decent overview, all told.

Like prior Anno releases, Anno 2205 leans much more toward a production efficiency simulator than a straightforward city builder. The traditional concerns of energy production and citizen satisfaction are here, but the strongest emphasis is on creating and maintaining effective chains of production. If your city’s economic plan (which extends to its physical layout) is in good shape, then the production and comfort needs of its population will be met.

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The lowest level workers are scousers who will literally work for water and rice. Not sure what Marx would make of that.

The reason for all this building is an ongoing energy crisis on Anno 2205’s version of Earth. Moon colonisation has happened one hundred years prior to the events of the game, and a state-run enterprise called The Lunar Excavation Corporation still operate up there. They’re a remnant of a time when resource mining was limited, but the new crisis on Earth has thrown open the doors to all sorts of private enterprise (including the player’s own corporation) to have another tilt at the moon and bring back the necessary resources.

Just to complicate matters a bit more, a lunar group called Orbital Watch, who agitate for moon independence, aren’t impressed by this turn of events.

At the opening of the game, you’re offered one of three plots of temperate land and can opt for your favoured difficulty level (from ‘you’ll get bail-out money at generous return rates’ to ‘you start with $2.00 USD and are screwed if you dip into the red’). The areas of land you don’t go for get snatched up by rival corporations. I’m unsure whether you get to expand into those left-over areas in a single play-through, or whether they’re there to provide variety for repeat attempts. The same ‘pick one of three’ choice appears when you hit the story beat to expand into the Arctic, too.

To acquire the resources necessary for space colonisation, it’s necessary to mine in the Arctic. To fund such an expedition, a profitable settlement in the temperate region is required.

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That industry is too far away from the tents to heat them properly, because I am an idiot.

In this preview, and I assume the final game, progression was guided by a series of ‘storyline’ missions that served (at first) as semi-tutorials. Attract some workers by building apartments, feed them with rice plantations and so on. Buildings tend to unlock as your working population (and types of worker) rise, or if you meet certain conditions to advance the level of your corporation.

Meeting these goals is fairly straightforward early on, but the complexity curve starts to hit when all of a sudden you need a number of resource types to attract and satisfy your fat-cat executives (who want beef-based food, wine, fancy clothes and all sorts). Providing that range of items requires multiple factories, which in turn will put a strain on your infrastructure and energy concerns. There are a few building types in Anno 2205 which demand either a special coastal or mountain site, and both are limited in number.

Space starts to run out, and you begin to realise just what a terrible layout your city has. Some buildings (like community centers and security) need to be close to the bulk of the population, which adds another little complication to your city planning. There is, fortunately, a helpful ‘move’ command that allows you to transport a building to a new location for a nominal cost. I found this pretty invaluable when it became necessary to juggle and re-plan my use of the landscape.

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This is what happens when you don’t really plan your layout properly. Sorry Anno experts, it must make for grim viewing.

The Arctic zone operates in much the same way (albeit with different resource and production chains), but has an added ‘heat’ mechanic that requires the placement of industrial buildings near to residential dwellings. Your workforce can then use the power run-off to stay toasty warm. Or at least not freeze to death.

Once you’re set up in both the Arctic and a temperate zone, it becomes important to transport goods between the two areas. You do this via the strategic map, which is also the area where you switch maps. The Arctic can’t produce things like Vitamin Drinks, but the workers there need their cool glass of OJ, or they won’t get up in the mornings. As mentioned, resources vital to constructing space missions can only be found in the Arctic, and must then be shuttled back to your temperate hub.

The Anno games have always tended to have some sort of side combat in them, and Anno 2205’s ‘Crisis Sector’ missions fill that role. Aside from the very first one (where you can’t even die), these are entirely optional. When the second one popped up, I was given the option to just focus on raising my corporation level (through city expansion) rather than popping off to a separate map for a fight. However, in this preview build the talking heads did keep bugging me about Crisis Sector stuff I wasn’t doing. Hopefully that can be turned off if you don’t fancy engaging in much (or any) combat.

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Prepping some nuclear missiles to blow up two boats. Seems a touch excessive, really.

In the Crisis Sector levels, you control a small fleet of ships (it was always three for me, but looks like you can unlock more as you progress) in a real-time strategy manner. You’re always outnumbered, but your fleet is tougher and has a few special powers to call upon. One-off abilities include calling an allied fleet to an area, using an EMP pulse, and launching a missile strike. These are dotted around the mission map, so you replenish them as you move towards your specific objective (usually to rescue or destroy a certain target on the other side of the level).

Your other abilities are linked to power orbs that are sometimes on the map, and sometimes dropped by defeated ships. Both Crisis Sectors and the city building areas have side-quests too, with the former being of the ‘use four EMP bursts’ variety and the latter tasking you with hunting around the map for items, or making a specific delivery.

So despite all the strangeness of a cancelled beta and semi-secrecy with how many times the press are allowed to mention monument projects in previews, Anno 2205 seems like it will once again reward diligent students of production chain efficiency. The combat missions seem fairly light (though I’ve only played the earlier ones) but have enough tactical elements to be of interest, and could provide a brief diversion away from city planning. More than anything else though, building placement (plus room for add-ons) and forethought in expansive planning are the skills which will produce a thriving city or settlement. For a game with economic production and distribution firmly at its heart, that feels like a pretty positive sign.

Anno 2205 is scheduled for release in November.

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