I was ecstatic to get a chance to play Port Royale 4 beta in order to write a preview. After all, I have built dungeons and helped a small island nation join the major players in world commerce – being a merchant can’t be that tough in comparison, right? Right?
Port Royale 4 is the latest installment in the famous series developed by Gaming Minds and published by Kalypso Media. You play as a young and ambitious governor eager to learn what it takes to manage and grow a tiny colony into a center of commerce. At its core lies the principle as old as trade itself: buy cheap, sell dear. However, there is much more to take into account. So much, in fact, that the game’s tutorial is split into 10 parts that would take about an hour to complete.
Finishing all parts of the tutorial grants you the bonus ship Queen Anne from your nation’s shipyards and gives you a clear idea of what you will be dealing with throughout the game. Sadly, it provides a very basic and excruciatingly slow experience where you will have to listen to lengthy explanations on how to open a panel. There is no option of skipping or opening the required panel before the narrator is done talking. Chances are there is no closing it, too, until the next section finishes its narration.
If you are new to the series, the tutorial can make the game seem daunting. Port Royale 4 features an impressive web of interconnected systems and features, and your success or failure as a trader lies in the place where all of them come together. Your future trading empire starts humble and it is up to you to develop production chains, chart trade routes, build up your town, purchase more ships for your convoys and more. Throw pirates into the mix and you have a beautiful mess on your hands.
You can start small in the beginning – buy some of the local produce for cheap, sell it in one of the surrounding towns for a higher price (don’t forget to buy your trade license, too!), repeat with the production in the new city as you make a tight circle around your area of influence.
The catch is that even in the early campaign missions you will start with multiple convoys and it is nigh impossible to do all the trading manually if you send your ships in different directions and want to see some profit. Not to mention, where is fun in being a small fry in a big pond? The game offers a way out by allowing you to create customizable trade routes. All you have to do for that is purchase trade licenses, add cities to the route, chart the course by making sure to avoid zones that would slow down your convoys and set up which products will be bought and sold at every point of the route according to the supply and demand.
The latter will take a significant chunk of your time, as the route you are building does not indicate what commodities were purchased previously – you simply have the full list of all commodities available in the game at all times.
As your town grows, so do the tastes and the appetites of its citizens. Whereas at the beginning of the game the needs of your town would be satisfied by simple commodities from neighbors – corn, sugar, etc. – more refined towns require rarer and more expensive commodities such as ceramics. You might want to edit your routes accordingly or you risk suffering monetary losses and no self-respecting trader wants that!
From time to time, you will also get randomly generated quests such as to find a missing ship or to deliver a certain number of specific goods to a local town before it expires. The success in your tasks grants you Fame points that are required for purchase of bigger, better, faster ships. It might be worth having a ship or two set aside specifically for these tasks as the rest of your trading fleet busily sails across the Caribbeans.
Speaking of ships, watch out for pirates – your convoys can be under attack at any moment and potentially sink as the result of a convoluted turn-based battle.
The beta version of the game offered Spain as the only available campaign option. The full version of the game that launches on Steam on September 25, 2020, promises four colonial powerhouses to choose from – England, France, Spain and Netherlands, each providing different benefits and unique gameplay styles.
Port Royale 4 is a bulky game with a great number of various systems, each with its own nuances. It might take a while to immerse yourself in the role of a trader across 17th century Caribbean with all the things you have to check off. In-depth trading and city building will thrill any strategy fan with their challenges and opportunities.
Note: the Steam key for the beta version of the game was provided for the purposes of this preview.