by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
You have to have a tiny bit of OCD to be interested in a game like Port Royale. Like its siblings Patrician and Rise of Venice, the game revolves around establishing large trading empires. Itís a game that has players constantly tweak, check, upgrade and tweak again. For some strange reason, this is a lot of fun for me.
Port Royale 4 follows the trend of the previous titles and is set in 17th century Caribbean, which means rum, bananas and cacao are back on the menu! Pirates are also back, but they are a staple in each of these franchises and it would be rather odd not seeing them appear in any Caribbean themed game of the era. Trade is about ships, about producing goods and about an ever growing market as your ships bring prosperity to the growing towns that they visit during their travels.
So, what is new?
The most provocative change in Port Royale 4 is the introduction of turn-based combat. No one who has ever played one of the Kalypso trading games will deny that sea combat was in desperate need of an overhaul. Kalypso must have felt like doing something drastic. As a big fan of turn-based gameplay, I was cautiously optimistic about this change. I still am, but the result is not as convincing as I hoped it would be. There are some positive ideas here, though. Differences in ship types are really pronounced through the special abilities that each of them have. Also setting an enemy ship on fire and thus giving a morale boost to your boarders is a great idea. Itís even possible to earn one-off special abilities by fulfilling mini-quests that you receive throughout the game. The ingredients are there, but Iím not feeling the love just yet. Kalypso has said they are still working on combat, so letís hope they can refine the experience.
Ship to town combat appears to be missing entirely. You cannot actually attack a town, you can only besiege it. If you manage to wear down its citizens, you will sail off with a ship full of cargo or, if the viceroy wills it, a new town for your side. This all feels a bit listless though. Even 1987ís Sid Meierís Pirates! had a rudimentary town combat system that was more entertaining than just wearing down its population.
One of the areas I am most excited about is the setting up of new routes. Laying out a new route is as easy as clicking on the towns you want a convoy to visit, and then choosing what it should do in each town with a few quick clicks. Adding new convoys to a route is an absolute dream, and the same is true for making changes to a route that has multiple convoys - itís truly effortless. Go in, change what you want, go out. Done. Finding the right route can get a bit painful, though. The overview of existing routes is... just not an overview. You scroll through the routes, which is fine if you have 5, or even 10 routes. Itís absolutely frustrating when you have 30 of them and you are trying to find the one route that you want to change or add a convoy to. If any area requires Kalypsoís attention, itís this. We just need a list. Please? I know they are not sexy, but they are infinitely useful.
Thar she Blows!
The newly introduced wind direction overlay is kind of fun. I found myself plotting routes with favourable wind as much as I could and avoiding stormy areas where possible. The waypoints that make this possible are also useful for temporary changes to trade routes that pass along regions controlled by enemy nations. Unfortunately, the wind map is not very useful for non-automated convoys. You cannot set waypoints for these so you end up just pointing them towards where you want them to go and wait for them to arrive.
There are a few things that I am hoping to see for the gameís final release. For one, I sorely missed the ability to have the game pause when a non-automated convoy reaches its destination. And we still donít have an option for a convoy to return home when it is empty. If you are just dropping off goods, requiring it to do the full trip is a complete waste. Thereís also no visual difference between automated and manual convoys.
Is the Sun setting, or is it a new dawn?
I do like the new ability that allows you to space convoys evenly along a route. Together with the improved route-setup mechanic, I found deliveries of important goods to be much more controllable than they have been in previous games. And town management is intriguing, in a good way. Proximity bonuses make building a town a bit of a puzzle and I found it very satisfying to balance production bonuses with population ones. Port Royale 4 looks like it will be a solid addition to the franchise, but how high it will rank among them is still a bit of a mystery at this time. I do like Kalypsoís willingness to experiment and innovate a bit and I am looking forward to seeing how all these changes will pan out in the final game.