A typical day for a barrel of rum usually isn’t very interesting, but then this is the 16th century. Taken from the distillery to the port, the barrel’s loaded onto a ship to head towards an unknown destination. The journey is far from smooth; storms batter the ship before pirates seal its fate, sending it to the bottom of the ocean. Floating on the surface, the barrel is eventually washed up on a Caribbean beach. Here it somehow becomes the catalyst for the development of a new town. Port Royale 4 players can recreate every bit of this introductory cinematic, although that may take a bit of time.
Amidst Europe’s colonization of central and South America, players create their own empire. The merchant simulator primarily focuses on trading, but to be successful there are also towns to be improved, a fleet of ships that needs managing, and battles that must be won if precious commodities are to be protected. There is a comprehensive set of tutorials that detail every aspect of these activities, but it’s a lot to take in initially to the point of being overwhelming.
Port Royale 4 Review – Creating Your Own Colony, One Ship at a Time
The campaigns solve this by letting players put the tutorials into practice. Each of Europe’s major powers—Spain, France, England, and Netherlands—have their own campaign. Basic objectives guide players through setting up their colonies one step at a time. Each objective has to be achieved by a certain point on the calendar, but the time limits are generous. Most objectives can be completed early without sinking your empire’s fortunes entirely. There’s a fair amount of waiting for things to happen, especially at the start where there are few things to control. It’s not until later into the campaign that things get more representative of the opening cinematic.
Trading is the game’s backbone. Players abide by the mantra “buy low, sell high.” Each town has a list of commodities that can be traded, and every one has a filling indicator. Red and green bars show whether a town needs that item or whether it has a surplus to sell, making it simple for players to choose which items to buy or sell at a quick glance. Each trade can be completed individually, but this becomes impossible to handle properly when trading across multiple locations. Instead, trade routes can be set up to complete deals repeatedly, with automated prices for each commodity.
Accessibility to genre newcomers is a theme that runs through all of the game’s features, but this doesn’t mean Port Royale fans will be disappointed. While the aforementioned trading options are simplified, the game can be made more complicated in the sandbox mode, known as Free Game. Players can set trade route prices themselves, or completely disable automatic trade routes. The filling indicator can be removed. There’s even the option to set resources to grow only in certain regions, recreating a more realistic trading experience. There’s plenty here for everyone.
One commodity typical for the era that is absent from the game is slaves, a wise decision in the current climate. The only movement of people is that of sailors, who can be employed on the fleet of ships or be transported to any of the colonial towns to find employment in growing industries. The lives of the native town residents are instead improved by providing housing, much-needed amenities like hospitals, and sources of employment. New buildings are plotted on a hexagonal town grid with color coding providing a simple indication of a plot’s suitability. With space in short supply, satisfaction must be balanced with practicality to be successful.
Port Royale 4 Review – Keeping Everybody Satisfied
Throughout everything, diplomacy is vital. Upset a town’s mayor and building and trading become impossible there. As well as completing all of the basic objectives through a campaign, towns will have their own simple tasks to complete like supplying a commodity that is in demand at the time. As tasks are successfully completed, fame points are earned. These can be traded for concessions to invest in new trades or build new amenities. Become famous enough and you’ll be able to rule over the town, no longer needing permission for development. It’s the beginning of a colonial empire.
Other smaller tasks can be acquired from civilians hanging around near the dock areas. Someone or something needs to be found, and they’ll give a rough location to begin your search. These tasks often involve exploring less traversed waters and can lead to other discoveries too, like messages in bottles. These often contain parts of maps, resulting in a hunt for hidden treasure. They’re a welcome distraction from all of the other usual tasks that take up your time.
All successful empires had others trying to muscle in on their success, and Port Royale 4 is no exception. Pirates are a threat to be dispatched using a combat system updated from Port Royale 3. The turn-based tactical battles also take place on a hexagonal grid. Success hinges on the number of cannons and crew per ship, as well as the skill of the convoy’s captain. A skilled captain will come with tactics that can make a real difference to a battle, but they’re limited use and can’t be abused. Like all of the game’s features, combat is quite a simple affair that ends when all of the enemy’s ships have been sunk.
Port Royale 4 Review – Pirates Get Everywhere
The thing that holds all aspects of the game together is the menu system customized for consoles. From a single menu in the shape of a ship’s helm, players can access all of the game’s features. There are lots of menus to get through for each feature, but they’re all easy to navigate with a controller. A simulator like this one will always be better played on a PC, but it’s far from unwieldy to play on the console with this respectable port.
The fourth instalment in the Port Royale series will keep fans happy with its upgraded features and a bigger map than can be found in Port Royale 3. For newcomers to the genre, they’re likely to be overwhelmed at first with all of the aspects that need to be understood to create a prosperous empire. However, developer Gaming Minds has tried to make the game as accessible to those players as possible. In this, they’ve largely succeeded.
Port Royale 4 review copy provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.