The Anno series gained prominence with last year's well-received Anno 207, and Ubisoft / Blue Byte hopes to build on that momentum with Anno Online, a free-to-play return to the series' late medieval roots. Guilds, production chains, and trading are distinctly Hanseatic (and by extension, German) concepts at their root, so it was only fitting that Blue Byte's Christopher Schmitz unveiled the project at gamescom 2012, held this week in Cologne, Germany. Which is not exactly on the Baltic coast, but close enough.
"This is not a simplified or casual version," Schmitz explained, touting the screenshots that hold up extremely well against the last iteration of the Anno series, Anno 1404. Which is all the more impressive given that Anno Online is a browser based game, one of a spate of free-to-play browser games (including Might & Magic Heroes Online and Silent Hunter Online) unveiled by Ubisoft at gamescom.
Since screen sprawl tends to be tighter in a browser, Schmitz explained that optimizing the UI was essential. Gone are the minimap and (apparently) the notifications bar in favor of a more minimalist, dynamic interface that's nonetheless very reminiscent of Anno 1470 in style and function.
Given the archipellagic nature of the Anno series, you might think that a minimap would be missed. However, from what we saw in the demo, each island is its own instance. Players must send out ships to discover and trade with other islands, and these islands may or may not be already inhabited. Over time a player can build an island empire. Given the trademark wide variety of resources needed, not to mention resource scarcity, of the Anno series, the stage is set for confrontation, but also for trade and cooperation. To that end, Schmitz explained that players can form guilds and work towards server-wide objectives... or rip each other apart - the choice is yours.
Ubisoft's Odele Limpach explained that, given the influx of new players Anno Online is likely to draw, accessibility is as important as authenticity. She described an extensive tutorial system which we weren't able to see in the demo, but here's hoping Anno Online can dodge the grindy early game of its spiritual counterpart, Age of Empires Online. It will certainly dodge much of the cartoonishness of both Anno 1470 and AoEO.
Interested parties can apply for beta at http://en.anno-online.com, and we hope to hear more about the game this fall.