by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
(Not So) Surprising
Every year there are a few Gamescom appointments set up for games that we don’t know the name of until the event actually starts. Usually there are few clues as to what they might be. In Kalypso’s case, saying “Come and see our new trading simulation” was a dead giveaway for a new Patrician-style game. While I would have loved to return to the Hanse, I’m excited to go back to the Caribbean for Port Royale 4. How excited? Port Royale 3 has already been living on my hard drive for the last six months or so – did I know 4 was coming?
Explore the World
The demo build I was able to spend some time with was an early alpha and still a bit rough around the edges. The foundation was there, though, sporting some promising looking new building blocks.
Our pick of nations consisted of the usual suspects. Adopting England as your nation will give you a bonus for anything to do with war, the Dutch excel in trade, the French are superb colony builders, and Spain expands quicker than any other nation. For your character, selecting a class gives you additional bonuses such as an extra ship for the Adventurer class or the ability to trade without licenses for the Trader class.
Our game now set up, we ventured into the game world, which is absolutely huge. It’s not that any of the prior games lacked size, but this is something else. I got flashbacks to Sid Meier’s Pirates! which, in my recollection, had the largest map of any Caribbean-themed game that I’d played. In theory, this could mean trade routes take much longer to complete but this is where Port Royale 4’s first new feature comes in – the wind map. The wind overlay shows the direction and strength of the wind, allowing you to optimize your trade routes for speed rather than simply selecting the most geographically logical path and hoping for the best. The coast, too, plays a role. Larger ships will be slower close to the coast and I can already imagine that trade routes with groups of small boats may perform better than they would with a single tall ship.
Towns are seamlessly integrated into the 3D map. There is no switching between a town view or the campaign map, you can simply zoom in and interact with everything the town has to offer. You can expand the town by placing buildings on its hexagonal grid, keeping a sharp eye on potential adjacency bonuses or penalties. A tavern nearby will give a positive boost to a lot of buildings, but having a pig farm next to your home is never pleasant. You do need to plan ahead - there is a limit to how much you can build in each town.
Another new addition to the series is fame points. These can be invested in a diverse looking tech tree that will be key to unlock many of the game’s primary gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to hire additional captains and to exploit industry-specific production chains. Your choice of nation impacts which techs are available to you, which I imagine will be a great reason for players to try out each of the available nations. Another feature that will increase the game’s replay value is that captains will have their own specific skills, giving them nice little boosts for trading and fighting.
Most of what we were shown had me excited, with Port Royale 4's wind map easily being the best new feature. There were two areas, though, where I felt the game needs a fair bit of TLC. The devs are still experimenting with how fleet combat will be implemented. The current experiment is a turn-based system that may have potential but did not immediately turn me on (and it’s my favorite genre!). I agree, though, that fleet combat was never a strength of the series, so experimentation is good. The other area is graphics. It’s possible that the screen had too much contrast, but everything looked a bit pale and some of the textures a bit low-res. It’s still early days though, and for an alpha build there was plenty to smile about.