Port Royale 4 Review – Not quite smooth sailing

Platforms:

PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Released:

September 26, 2020

Publisher:

Kalypso Media

Developer:

Gaming Minds Studios


Posted October 4, 2020

Port Royale 4 is a trading simulation game developed by Gaming Minds and published by Kalypso Media. It’s the latest entry in the Port Royale franchise and, similar to previous entries, takes place in the Caribbean. Port Royale 4 comes with a campaign mode and a free mode.

With its first title published in 2002, Port Royale gathered a modest but dedicated following over the years. In 2011, the Port Royale franchise was acquired by Kalypso who then went on to publish Port Royale 3 in 2012. The games are known for their business simulation mechanics, historical Caribbean setting, and lots and lots of pirates. Like other titles in the franchise, Port Royale 4’s graphics invite you to dive in; with its lush forests and azure blue waters, the game’s surroundings look like the perfect setting for a pirate adventure.

When it comes to game mechanics, Port Royale 4 doesn’t deliver anything groundbreaking. Similar to previous games in the franchise, the main focus of Port Royale 4 is to grow your economy by buying, selling, and producing resources in various towns. While you do have access to a hometown where you can grow your own resources, most game mechanics in Port Royale 4 flow on from its core resource trading mechanic. You’ll need a trade license for each town with which you want to trade. To unlock these trading licenses, you’ll need fame points, which can be unlocked by completing quests for the local viceroy (a character somewhat akin to Anno 1800’s Sir Archibald Blake). With enough fame points, you can start expanding towns by constructing buildings that provide resource bonuses, but only after you’ve acquired a building license for which you’ll also need a high enough number of fame points first.

Viceroy quests will have you doing anything from defeating pirates in and around the bay of your town, to providing luxury resources, to attacking units from other factions, or making sure certain towns’ inhabitants are happy and satisfied. In this way, Port Royale 4’s side quests offer up traditional strategy title missions and goals. If you’ve played similar games in the Port Royale or Anno series, these missions won’t feel like something completely new; they’ll feel familiar and fun.

While a lot of the game focuses on trading, you do have the option of setting up automatic trade routes for your convoys and thus automating part of the process. This is handy when you start to extend your reach since you won’t have the Caribbean market entirely to yourself. Port Royale comes with four factions you can play as: Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands, and all four of them are vying for dominance in the region. Through the game’s campaign mode, you’ll get to play a whole campaign as each of these factions, where you’ll have to hit a number of goals successfully before advancing to the next campaign.

Once you’ve chosen a faction, you can also choose from four characters: the adventurer, the merchant, the buccaneer, and the pirates. Each character comes with unique bonuses ranging from being exempt from buying trade licenses to gaining experience more quickly in battle. Since your goal is to become the dominant economic power in the region, you’ll have to use these perks to be more cunning and strategic than your competition. At times, you may butt heads with rival factions or pirates. This is where the Port Royale 4 naval battle system comes in.

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While you can still fight the same rivals, the format of battle has changed; unlike previous instalments in the Port Royale franchise, battles are now turn-based instead of RTS. Practically, this means battles take place on a traditional grid and all ships in your convoy can be used to attack enemy ships. Each ship gets four actions per turn and has a number of special abilities, which range from getting extra action points per turn, using grenades, and more.

Ships in Port Royale 4 need to be equipped with a number of sailors who play a role in battle. When facing off on the battlefield, you can attack enemy ships with either solid or canister shots. While solid shots target a ship’s hit points and weaken the vessel’s hull, canister shots target the enemy ship’s crew. With each canister shot fired, the number of surviving crew members will slowly decrease. When you have more living crew members on your ship than your enemy, you can choose to board your rival’s ship, which, if you succeed in boarding and overpowering the remaining crew, means that the vessel will be captured. You win a battle by either sinking or capturing all enemy ships.

“While its graphics and surroundings are beautiful to look at, the game itself lacks vigour and depth.”

While the mechanics of turn-based combat sound interesting, it translates into a lacklustre format for naval combat. For me, battles tended to be quite repetitive, since most battles just revolved around getting a vessel’s hit points or crew numbers down to win. I found this unfortunate since the inclusion of RTS was something I had enjoyed about the previous entries in the franchise. RTS mechanics add a sense of urgency to battle that Port Royale 4 lacks, resulting in a tedious and sleepy affair. Luckily though, you do have the option of auto-resolving all conflicts, meaning that these battles can be bypassed entirely if you’re not enjoying them.

While this all sounds straightforward enough, a lot of stats and resource information in Port Royale 4 were tricky to find once I got stuck into the game. The game’s user interface was unnecessarily complicated and counterintuitive. It takes a while to wrap your head around where everything is, and while the game does feature over an hour of tutorials to get you up and running, the tutorials themselves are dry. I was forced to wade through walls of overwhelming text. As a result, I ended up completing the game’s tutorials over a few days, since I kept getting bored. When I finally got stuck into Port Royale 4’s campaign mode, I found it a lot more engaging to just figure things out on the fly.

Overall, Port Royale 4 offers up enjoyable moments through its resource trading mechanics and its fame points system, but that wasn’t quite enough to make it an immersive experience. The poor interface makes the game unnecessarily sluggish, and the battling system falls flat, too. While its graphics and surroundings are beautiful to look at, the game itself lacks vigour and depth. If you’re looking for pirates, adventure, and exciting battles, perhaps Port Royale 3 will still be your best bet.

Port Royale 4

Port Royale 4

PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Strategy

Positive:
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Some engaging side missions
Negative:
  • Boring tutorials
  • Counterintuitive UI
  • lacklustre naval battling system
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

5

Average

While all the components are there to make Port Royale 4 an immersive strategy game, it just falls short of being completely engrossing. A slow naval battling system and counterintuitive UI hold the title back and make the overall experience sluggish. While the game has some engaging resource trading mechanics, Port Royale 4 might be too shallow for seasoned strategy fans.



About the Author

Lise Leitner

Lise is a writer and communications professional by day and a gamer and storyteller by night. They’re a games, animation, tech, and television buff, and have published short stories and scripts. When not playing videogames, you can find Lise drawing or trying not to kill their houseplants. They sometimes tweet about stuff @lisekarel.