by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Of sequels and world domination
I think people tend to underestimate just how difficult it is to create a sequel. It is difficult enough to change the story, introduce new characters and create new environments, but what do you do when your game has no room for any of those? I can’t even begin to imagine what a daunting task it must have been for developer Gaming Minds to start work on Patrician IV. Freshly risen from the ashes of Ascaron Entertainment, the studio certainly has the right background. More than a few of the people who worked on the previous games in the series have found a place working on Patrician IV. Still, with no story to speak of and the exact same timeline and geographic area as before, it is difficult to come up with something new. In truth, they didn’t, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
While loyal, Patrician’s fanbase is small and a short introduction of the series is in order for those who are not yet familiar with the series.
Long before the East India Companies gained power, an organization called the Hanseatic League controlled European shipping with an iron fist. From the early 13th century, no city of note was able to escape the league’s meddling in their business and, under their guidance, trade thrived all across Europe. It is during this time that Patrician takes place, putting the player in the shoes of a small trader looking to make it big in the world – or at least in what Europeans considered to be the world back then.
This means the overall map in Patrician is somewhat restricted, stretching from the Baltic to the North Sea, though it is possible to send out trade missions to Mediterranean destinations too. You start with a small ship, a counting house in a preselected city and a modest sum of gold in your coffers. Your objective is to gain rank among the league through trade and the production of goods. That may sound simple, but your competitors aren’t going to simply hide in their corner and leave you to eat the pie. And if your competitors aren’t looking to one-up you, pirates will be breathing down your neck looking to relieve your ships of your valuable goods. Oh, and did I mention the angry landlords knocking on the city gates demanding tribute? As you can see, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
A new engine for the old tub
The campaign starts with a introduction movie that will seem familiar to veterans of the series. When the screen changes, you will be confronted with a somewhat disappointing overall map and I don’t mean in terms of size, it is understandable that this never changes. No, the disappointment comes from how it looks. Patrician III used a 2D engine which enabled the developers to create as lush a map as they could possibly want. Patrician IV uses a 3D engine which is an understandable choice in an age where games need to support a multitude of screen resolutions and gamers demand to be able to zoom in and out at leisure.
Unfortunately the overall map makes painfully clear that Gaming Minds has little experience in crafting 3D worlds, a fact further driven home when you switch over to the city map. The buildings look bland and unimaginative and lack the somewhat cartoonesque quality of the game’s predecessor. The zoom functionality makes up for the decrease in graphical fidelity somewhat and so do the ship models that look a little more detailed and behave a lot more natural than before.
Interface and micromanagement
The trade interface has received a major overhaul and is easily the game’s most gratifying improvement. Selecting cargo to transfer between the shore and your ships is easily done via an intuitive slider, exponentially increasing the selected amount as you pull the slider further towards its extremes. In the past every product had its own base price which meant having to memorize the right prices to sell and buy at for 20 products, not an easy task. This time around, several types of goods have the same base price which helps you to feel confident you are buying and selling at the right price much faster.
While micromanagement is a considerable part of any trading game, a good one also incorporates good ways to automate recurring tasks. Creating a trade route for your ships is also easier than before. After selecting the destinations on the route you can use a trade interface to set which goods to trade and at what price. The interface shows which goods are produced in each of the destination towns and it remembers the prices you set for the first town when you switch over to the next. The goods selection screen has a weird mechanic that allows you to select which goods not to trade and which to autotrade while the same can be easily achieved by using the option to do it manually and with far better results. Odd, and mostly superfluous to veteran traders but perhaps of use to beginning entrepreneurs. Trade routes can be saved and loaded for other ships to follow as well while keeping it possible to make small changes specific to that ship’s purpose.
Same unique trading experience as previous titles in the series, vastly improved interface.
The graphics are a dudd.