Port Royale 4 Review
A colonial capitalist's wet dream
There’s something uniquely enticing about the Caribbean sea. The blue waves, the sunny sky, the green mountains surrounded by white beaches, and the noise of the seagulls as they fly around before being swallowed by the Bermuda Triangle. It’s a special place – and one hell of a setting for a game – and we’re back to it after 8 years with the release of Port Royale 4.
A colonial management sim taking place during the Age of Sailing, publisher Kalypso Media’s latest strategy game gives you all of the Caribbean as a playground, from the lands of Florida and Mexico all the way to the coasts of Venezuela, and everything in between. Dozens of cities, ports, and islands populate the game map, and you are free to go anywhere in your unending search for profit.
You often start with a single ship, based off a town somewhere in the Caribbean sea in service of the English, Spanish, Dutch, or French crowns. Keeping an eye on the supply and demand data of the archipelago, you freight cargo from one place to the next – buying low, selling high – in order to make a profit.
Once you got enough money, you can start buying used ships or ordering the construction of new ones in order to increase the size of your fleet. You can have multiple fleets around, made up of both merchant and military ships, which you steadily use to expand your reach over the archipelagos.
For those of you like me who hate micromanagement, you’ll be happy to know you can fully automate trade routes, from which commodities to deal with and which ports to stop along the way to the exact path your convoys should take. The last bit is hugely important, as Port Royale 4 features a full wind map simulation, so optimal paths downwind can effectively shorten your trade routes from a few weeks to a few days.
Once you have enough money saved up and impress your nation’s Viceroy by doing errands and missions, you can be assigned full control of a settlement. This gives you direct input in its development, allowing you to decide what gets built where – houses, churches, warehouses, taverns, and more can be constructed by players, letting you fully customise the economy from production to market in a display of monopolistic might.
While all that capitalist flow is the main bread and butter of the game, it also features combat. Impressing your Viceroy and doing things in general grant you fame points that can be used to hire captains to control your military ships that can then be manned by sailors – a very weird mechanic, which means all of the people management you actually do only matter for military ships. There is no way to manage the crew and officers of your merchant fleets, which is an aspect of the game that would help flesh out its logistics and give it a more personable character.
As it stands, that aspect of the game is only available in military endeavours, and unfortunately for Port Royale 4 and players alike, the combat is pretty damn bad. Instead of going for some sort of Total War: Napoleon-like naval engagement, the game instead uses a turn-based hex system where ships twist and worm their way across the battlefield like extremely zippy flies. Never mind the fact these multi-tons wind-powered ships are moving about like jet skis, the combat is straight up bad – you get abilities like wind gusts and napalm that not only feel out of place in the general historical foundation of Port Royale 4, but also make for an extremely poor and boring gameplay design.
Luckily, the game’s graphics are the exact opposite of its terrible combat. We rarely expect non-AAA strategy titles to impress you – and oftentimes, even AAA titles don’t – but Port Royale 4 is positively gorgeous. Green islands and its mountains contrast with a blue sea complete with underwater reefs underneath the waves and flowing clouds up above, with even towering clouds full of storm and lightning properly modelled in all their gigantic and impressive glory. It helps that you can zoom in up to individual ships and all the way out into the sky, and I have rarely been this stricken by a strategy game’s visuals.
All in all, Port Royale 4 is a good management game with superb visuals, offering enough freedom to let you build your own merchant empire in the Caribbean to your heart’s content. People management is lacking and the combat is far from good, but the complete package is still good enough that any fans of the management genre – especially colonial – should definitely give it a try.
PORT ROYALE 4 VERDICT
A good management game with superb visuals, offering enough freedom to let you build your own merchant empire in the Caribbean to your heart’s content.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Properly setting up a highly-efficient multi-convoy trade route across what looked like a full blown hurricane storm.
Good vs Bad
- Good management options
- Focused on the big picture instead of bogging you down with micromanagement
- Map is big and expansive
- Great graphics
- Horrible combat system
- Lack of any meaningful crew or employee system makes the game lacks character as it focuses mostly on the numbers and not enough on the people