With Anno 1800, Bluebyte and its hundreds strong workforce show what a triple-A city builder can look like. Its endlessly gorgeous islands covered in a multitude of houses and hundreds of citizens raise the bar for other games in the genre by a large margin. The mechanics themselves have gone through a lesser makeover, and series veterans will feel right at home in the industrial revolution.
While the meat of the game has always been in the open sandbox, Anno 1800 includes a sizable single-player campaign to act as a tutorial and world-building tool. The storyline takes your recently impoverished person and sister through a selection of simple missions themed around your deceased and wrongfully accused father. The large 3D characters of the narrative are well-made and animated, but the actual personalities are so clichéd you don't know if the parody is intentional or not. It's pretty much impossible to take the plight of the story's actors seriously.
Unfortunately, the same on-the-nose dialogue continues in the sandbox, but to a lesser extent. Your rivals and allies are basically a collection of thick caricatures with repeating phrases and little originality. Hammering a simulation game for its narrative is a bit uncalled for, but while other aspects have received such attention to detail the dialogue comes off as amateurish. AI, in general, seems very passive and even your allies won't bother helping you with pirate attacks, preferring to sail by as your ships are sunk next to them.
Anno series has always been about building up your city and meeting your populace's increasing demands for higher-end goods and services. The industrial revolution is no different and people from farmers to artisans and engineers will keep you busy the entire time. There are scores of different crops, building materials, luxuries, and ship parts to manufacture and trade, so the early game's simplicity will gradually shift into maintaining a complex, multi-regional production chain while also dealing with your rivals, small quests, expeditions and the like.
This shift creates some issues with the pacing as the mellow early game is superseded by often frenetic shuffle from one island to another, fixing production issues and dousing fires left and right. There's also no option to issue commands while the game's paused, which is a shame. It won't stop the time even for when the player has to deliberate their next move on a full-screen expedition window, where you have to choose on how to solve a particular roadblock. The game just chugs along in the background with you unable to see anything else than the illustrations, texts, and choices for the expedition.