Anno 2070 is an economy centred build-up strategy game that blends city buildings with resource management and diplomacy. It is the first game in the series to take place in the future instead of a historical setting in the past. The player has to harvest resources by placing a set of buildings (production chains) that will supply the town with goods needed by the population. Fulfilling the populations demands leads to them advancing to a higher level and unlocking more building options. The game is set in a semi-realistic future setting where the polar caps have melted and the sea levels have risen. The known structures of national states seem to have crumbled, however the game does not offer a specific explanation about the past.
Each game starts with a game world consisting of islands, that can be colonized or tapped for resources. Two main factions are competing with each other, and the player has to choose one to start with, though eventually ending up with the possibility to build the buildings of both factions. While game's core elements stay the same, the "Global Trust" faction, also called "Tycoons" offers a rather industrial approach, making use of polluting factories and old fashioned technology, where the "Eden Initiative" steers into a more ecological direction, offering the player to use buildings like "weather control stations" or "Ozone Makers" to influence the eco-balance of his islands.
The eco-balance is represented numerically and changing it changes the game-world visually, meaning a polluted island will be foggy while a clean island will appear bright and shiny. Furthermore gameplay is bound to the eco-balance, which means that polluted islands will suffer decreased productivity in agricultural areas and island inhabitants will be unhappy, resulting in less tax pay. At a later stage the player has the optional possibility to unlock a third faction, which is called "S.A.A.T.", or generally "The Techs" which enables to dive below the oceans surface and build production facilities on underwater plateaus. This faction also offers ways to produce items that increase the efficiency of different aspects of the game, like researching damage bonuses for your ships or items that reduce the upkeep cost of the production yards. Furthermore the Tech faction will grant access to some air units and submarines, while the main factions only offer battleships for sea combat.
Several AI players are available that can be traded with, or battled. Each AI comes with a set of diplomacy options, like requesting a supporting fleet or requesting a quest to solve. Quests consist of small tasks that could be an escort of a trade ship or picking up crates from a certain spot on the ocean. While military, diplomacy and quests are short term diverting options, the main focus of the game clearly is in the management of goods, creating transport routes between islands and building a city.
The game also offers a campaign that tells a story about an artificial intelligence going mad. Generally speaking, the campaign acts more like a tutorial, where only the last of three chapters can be called challenging. It introduces the game to the player and explains the mentality of Global Trust, the Eden Initiative and S.A.A.T.