Port Royale 4 is the fourth game in the famous strategy/sim series developed by Gaming Minds and published by Kalypso Media (Dungeons, Tropico). As an avid lover of strategies of all kinds, a few months ago I had an opportunity to check out the beta version of the game and share my thoughts.
In Port Royale 4, you play the role of a young and ambitious governor eager to learn what it takes to manage and grow a tiny colony into a center of commerce. With the full version of the game having launched on Steam on September 25, it is time to dive back into 17th Century Caribbean to build a mighty trading empire reaching to the furthest corners of the world.
Port Royale 4 offers two game modes: a lengthy story and quest driven Campaign or a Free Game, allowing you to expand at your own pace. You get to pledge your loyalty to one of the four powerhouse nations – England, Spain, France or the Netherlands, each one with their own perks. For example, if you are to choose England, you will have reduced construction costs for Military Frigates and Ship-of-the-line in addition to faster work in shipyards.
Additionally, you get to choose your character from Adventurer, Merchant, Buccaneer, or the Piratess. Similar to how it was with your choice of the nation, the class of your character will have an effect on your gameplay through their unique strengths and weaknesses. The Merchant, my class of choice for my first playthrough, does not require purchasing trade licenses for other cities (thus saving hundreds of thousands of gold!) and is able to trade with all nations, even while at war. On the other hand, the Merchant’s combat vessels cost twice as much Fame points – and those are not easy to come by if you are not diligent in doing random events.
PR4 strongly suggests you finish the tutorial before sailing on your own. In addition to introducing players to the base gameplay of the title, it will also allow you to unlock an extra ship. Finishing the tutorial is not an easy task in and of itself as in attempting to share all of its knowledge it will take up to an hour of your time over the 10 separate scenarios. First-time players of the game such as myself can be left daunted by the sheer amount of information to absorb and the number of tasks to keep up with to keep your trading empire going.
Worry not, if you start with the Campaign, the story will evolve at a nice pace, allowing you to start small and easy and slowly ease into more complexities as it unfolds. Just as you get comfortable with a feature, be it trading, building, etc, the game will throw you a new quest that will take you a bit out of your comfort zone, requiring you to expand your trading empire in the process.
As I mentioned in my preview, 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 (unless you are a Merchant!), 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.
It sounds more complex than it actually is in the game itself: if you are simply looking to make some profit without much involvement, you can use standard actions for each city in the route. That will automatically make your convoys buy the goods produced in the city and sell everything else that happens to be on board.
In addition to purchasing cheap local goods and selling it dear in other cities, you will get to produce your own commodities, chart trade routes, build up your town, purchase more ships for your convoys and guard them with military might, supply your viceroy’s holding, govern multiple cities, keep their citizens happy and much more.
Port Royale 4 features a progression system known as Concessions. Once you acquire enough Fame points by successfully finishing randomized events and getting to certain story points, you are able to ask for concessions from your Viceroy. Those include unlocking extra slots for Captains, providing your convoys with boons, acquiring blueprints for new buildings and ships as well as being allowed to partake in certain businesses such as producing rum and more.
Once you own a few businesses, for example, sugar plantations, you might want to edit your standard routes to capitalize on that. It is quite possible that your rum producing city will not be the same one where you grow sugar or get wood from, so it is up to you to build a production chain to get even more cash.
Of course, it won’t be a true trading sim if there were no pirates! If you have chosen a Piratess as your character’s class, you are in the clear as one of the bonuses includes being ignored by other pirates. Anyone else is a fair game and should look into protecting their convoys from being targeted.
Sadly, much like it is with building, sea battles in PR4 are a clear afterthought. In addition to being very basic for such an involved title, turn-based combat in the game is quite convoluted and frankly boring.
Unlike the aforementioned Dungeons 3 and Tropico 6, also published by Kalypso, Port Royale 4 puts all of its eggs in one basket: trading. Because of it the game does not provide the same flexibility as the other titles and lacks a certain excitement. At some point, you might – and likely will – find yourself staring at the screen simply waiting for another random event or story beat to happen. Being able to automatize a great deal of the game adds to the issue of repetitiveness and boredom.
There are multiple story quests that can only be done manually, leaving you babysitting your ships as they fulfill required tasks. It is also easier to have at least one ship (or better yet, a few, scattered across various ports on the map) sitting doing nothing so you can tackle random events spawning nearby: they only exist for so long before disappearing.
From beta to full release, Port Royale 4 is a bulky game with a great number of nuanced systems that are all related to trading. This leaves other parts of the game such as building and sea combat very basic for such an involved title. If you are into min-maxing and being on top of a great many things to keep your trading empire the best version of itself, you will have a blast in PR4.
However, if you are someone who generally likes strategies and wants to have a good time conquering the 17th-century Caribbean, you might get bored at the lack of other activities to pursue.
Port Royale 4 is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One and will be arriving on Nintendo Switch in 2021.
Note: The Steam key has been provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.