Anno History Collection Review

By Charles Ellis 26 Jun 2020 0

Anno History Collection Review

Released 25 Jun 2020

Developer: Ubisoft
Genre: Management
Available from:
Direct

Bringing old games up to the modern age is a fraught business. You run the risk of reminding people why they bought all those newer games in the first place, as the old games have to stand up and offer their own special bit of magic. Sadly, the games within the Anno History Collection don’t quite get close enough.

I should make clear, right from the outset, what the History Collection is not. It’s not a HD remake. The games included aren’t receiving the sort of major overhaul that Age of Empires II seems to receive annually -- all that the Anno history pack aims to do is to allow the older games of the Anno series to run on modern machines. The problem is, that’s… all there is to it, more or less. Improved multiplayer is on offer – although as I’m using an embargoed review copy, I can’t test that part.

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However, it’s good to have all these games actually available, working and for sale, which hasn’t always been the case. There’s a lot of games in this pack: in order of release we have Anno 1602, Anno 1503, Anno 1701 and Anno 1404. All told, there’s more than a decade of hybrid city-builder/exploration/colonisation adventures on offer. The problem is that having multiplayer, taking advantage of some new hardware, and running on modern operating system just isn’t quite enough to justify a relaunch.

Let’s be fair – the games have indeed been improved. Performance on my machine --  whose some components are nearing their ten-year anniversary -- is smooth as silk, and being introduced to some of the older games in the series has been a pleasure (I am rather sad to have missed out upon Anno 1503 the first time around). I can well imagine my younger self playing it to death – like I eventually would when I finally encountered Anno 1404. As a fan of the style, 1503’s isometric graphics hold up rather well. Likewise, extra resolution allows for extra zoom levels in some of the earlier games, which is always nice.

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Beyond that however, there is, unfortunately, rather little to get excited about; this is a “new” release working on modern machines, with various creature comforts I rather think should be a basic expectation upon which other things are built on top of. Furthermore, old quirks remain -- being best acquainted with the peculiarities of 1404, I find it disconcerting that the game’s infamously long loading times don’t appear to have been looked at. It’s doubly worrying when I find that the slight stutter that happens in the original 1404 when I first order a ship anywhere after loading up also remains in the History Collection version. These are small things, but they make me wonder if all the little bugs and quirks of the other Annos have also been left untouched. It seems reasonable to expect some improvement given the not inconsiderable price-tag attached to this collection. Being less familiar with the rest of the games, I can only comment upon 1404.

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The elephant in the room, however, is something a bit more fundamental. The various iterations of Anno, despite superficial improvements to graphics and the occasional addition of a few features, simply aren’t all that different from each other. Playing through the various games as part of this review, I simply have to familiarise myself with how the interface changed with each entry. Gameplay, from 1404 to 1602 to 1503, more or less remains the same. Even things such as tools being extremely limited until the second “tier” are the same across the series. Apart from cosmetic differences, there’s no particular feeling for each period; the year 1404 isn’t very different from the year 1701. All this is easy to hide over ten years of releases, but it’s not so easy when the games are dropped on you simultaneously.

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To an extent, the similarities aren’t strictly bad – after all, why change a winning formula? But we’re still left with four different versions of the same game, with each iteration missing its own “soul” – the thing only that game does best. We’re ultimately left with 1404 as the most polished of the set. Its interface is smoothest, its graphics are prettiest and its “demolish” tool most obvious (1602 and 1503 do a bang-up job of concealing it). Age of Empires, Total War and Civilization might be all storied franchises with a specific formula, but every one of their entries has its own peculiar “thing” that that individual game does best. Anno: not so much.

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My above grumblings would matter a great deal less if the collection was cheaper. The one thing I can say for it is that it’s cheaper than Anno 1800 – which is currently approaching Paradox levels of DLC. 1800 is good, but I can’t recommend it because of all that DLC -- so the History Collection could be an excellent alternative for someone seeking an affordable Anno experience.

The fundamentals remain in all these games, but the History Collection’s current price tag – £33.99/$39.99/€ 39,99 at the time of writing -- makes it difficult for me to recommend. The maths, in a sense, work out. 10 Euros for four games is acceptable. But the chances are you aren’t going to be playing all four games. You’ll be playing one or two. I don’t think 40 Euros for one or two games that are a decade or more old is a reasonable exchange. The improvements just aren’t enough. Being cheaper than 1800 isn’t much of a recommendation.

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If you have fond memories of the early Anno games, this pack does have a lot to offer. Four games is a lot of content – or it would be, if the Anno games were different enough to make that matter. The games work on modern machines – but that alone isn’t enough for the price tag. If you’re tempted by the pack, boot up any of the older games you have. If you find yourself still playing, then go for it. There are indeed extra improvements and as a bonus, your old saves work on the new editions. If, however, you find you’re reminded why you bought all the sequels to these kinds of games, then I don’t think the History Pack offers enough of a return on your investment.

This review was kindly donated to Strategy Gamer by the Author.

Anno History Collection does precisely what it says on the tin - but it needs just that little bit more to justify its price.

Anno History Collection Review

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