There are certain things kids always seem to want to do. It’s like the old anecdote, “Do you want to be a ninja or a pirate?” the answer clearly being a ninja pirate, obviously. This is something that sticks with us into adulthood, though, and being gamers we get to be either or both pretty much whenever we feel like it. This is where our title for today comes in. The game is Port Royale 4 and alongside telling you all about the game, we’ll also be discussing the brand new Buccaneers DLC. So in this case you’ll get the be a trader or a pirate, (or both,) but still … close enough.
This is a very big, very complicated title and because I’m not very big or very complicated I decide I wasn’t going to be playing it on my own. As this is a game of brain-bending strategy there is literally only one member of the TVGB team I’d want with me on this little journey, so my very good friend and co-writer Albert Eres is coming along for the ride. Right, with all that out of the way what’s the game like, then? Let’s see, shall we?
My god, this is a game that needs its tutorials. Port Royal 4 has an awful lot going on and I mean this in the best possible sense. If you want a game that’s going to keep you occupied for a good period of time, this is it. The tutorials won’t tell you everything but they’re comprehensive enough to get you started. Port Royale 4 is a pretty intuitive title so you’ll pick up the rest of the mechanics as you go. Some more quickly than others as you get into the more complex elements of the game.
In the broadest sense, Port Royale 4 is a strategy game, but it’s so much more than that. This is one part building sim, one part trading sim, one part tactical adventure. On the most basic level, you’re collecting produce from one town and selling it off to another for a profit. This is an unfairly one-dimensional way to look at the game, though. Yes, buying and selling is a big part of making your fortune but fortune is only part of the process, fame is equally important. This isn’t just a case of a bunch of people saying nice things about you, it’s a commodity all of its own.
The map is big, with each town having its own self-sustaining economy.
In Port Royale 4, you’ll want different towns producing a sufficient amount of different products. You don’t want them all producing the same ones though or you aren’t going to make any money. This is where the city-building aspect comes in. You’ll need residential zones to attract workers. You’ll then need to find those workers’ jobs. So as an example you might want to distill your own beer. To do this you’ll need permission from your Viceroy to grow wheat, you’ll then need a distillery and finally workers to man it. You can then buy the product that you’ve now got lots of for peanuts and then make a killing by selling it to another town that doesn’t have any of the above.
There is also an amount of people management at play here. Most people don’t like living right on top of smelly, polluting industries so you need to be careful where you’re putting your buildings. If your workers aren’t happy their satisfaction rating will drop. This affects production but also the simple fact that nobody will want to move to your town meaning no workers. No workers, no products; you get the gist.
Building is crucial to successful trade
To be able to build anything useful you’ll want permits from your Viceroy. These individuals will always have tasks they want completing and if you keep them happy they’ll have no problem making you more famous and giving you things like permits. You need these to recruit captains for your convoys, create industry, and also if you want to go to war. You kind of need your country on your side before you start sinking enemy ships. It’s called politics apparently.
This is where the adventure aspect comes into Port Royale 4. You’re a big floating target for pirates so you’ll need ships in your convoy that are combat-ready. Pirates are also very good for hunting down and killing off. They’re a scourge to the trade waters and any Viceroy will be pleased to see them missing and reward you accordingly. You will also be able to find treasure maps and the like which lead to … well … treasure so there’s an element of adventure there too.
The Viceroy. Keeping him happy will yield many rewards
There is very much a sandbox feel to Port Royale 4 in that you can do things largely your way. This being said there is still a campaign so there are tasks to complete. As I mentioned earlier some of these are set by your Viceroy. Towns will also have their own jobs for you to complete, though. These range from buying items they have too much of or bringing them much-needed products, to more character-based things like finding a little girl’s father who has gone down in a shipwreck. You don’t have to accept every mission so there’s still a feeling of being able to play as you see fit but there is still enough of a framework there to give the game body.
As a general rule being a pirate is frowned upon. You’re given the option to do this in the main game but it certainly comes with its risks. So what if you don’t want to play fair? Well, this is where the Buccaneers DLC comes into play. This allows you to be the pirate you truly wish to be and thus adds another welcome dimension to the game. It’s nice when DLC blends nicely into a title without feeling like it’s been glued on as an afterthought with a big glowing placard saying, “I’m DLC!.” This is very much the case in Port Royale 4, it’s a welcome addition but in no way does it feel like an intrusive one.
Your ships. You’ll have fleets by the time you’re done
There is just so much to do in Port Royale 4 that things never really start feeling stale. Having said this, the fact that there’s so much going on means that you need to be the sort of player that likes spinning plates. This comes back to my earlier point about tutorials. I strongly recommend playing all of them. There are quite a few lessons to learn but they aren’t particularly long and you get a nice sparkly ship for completing them all so there are rewards there for you as well. There is also a lot of replayability here too. Port Royale gives you four separate campaigns to play with, one for each nation in the game, (Spain, France, England, and The Netherlands,) these unlock as you go so to take control of one you need to complete another. This is great because it keeps you coming back for more. There is also a free mode that allows you to play without limits but I’d probably wait until you’re seasoned first.
Nuts and bolts-wise there’s so much about Port Royale 4 to love. The graphics, to begin with, are stunning. I have to admit to being a little concerned that my aging rig wouldn’t like all the gorgeously rendered visuals. This is another huge plus for the game. Everything ran silky smooth and for those of you with newer PCs than mine, it will probably look even better. The sound is fitting so thumbs up to the audio. The story is there as much as it needs to be to set the scene without forcing a narrative, which in this particular instance is no bad thing. All in all, everything is tight and very well thought out. Then we get to the controls .
Port Royale 4 is a game that could have been overcomplicated really easily. There is a lot going on at the best of times and I was expecting to have to navigate a bunch of clunky windows and menus. I was also expecting to have to learn and memorize a ton of different controls. This is not the case. Yes, there are a lot of windows to open for various different things, but everything is so well laid out with really self-explanatory tabs that this never became cumbersome. After that, the control system is either point and click or a mix of mouse and keyboard. It’s all very intuitive. Even the battles could have made you learn their own complicated set of commands but even these are tactical and easy to pick up. In a nutshell, I’m very impressed indeed.
Port Royale 4 is a brilliant choice for strategy enthusiasts. I’ve talked before about strategy being a really personal thing in the past. This is where the game loses a point or two but I’m being very picky. This isn’t a game for everyone. If you like mammoth gaming sessions in your favorite world then Port Royale 4 is a no-brainer for your collection. The same applies if you love games that give you a lot to do. If, however, you’re the sort of gamer that wants more of a pick-up-and-play affair or like your strategy more stringent and structured there may be less here for you. This is obviously a very personal thing but still worth a mention. Personally, I’m quite eclectic when it comes to gaming styles and I’m having a blast! This is one that I’ll be playing for quite some time to come.
Overall – 8.2
Port Royale 4 has a lot for gamers who are into the following things: city building and management, tactical naval battles, and testing the theories you’ve studied in economics class. When I say it has a lot, it has a lot. To the point that there’s at least an hour of tutorials that don’t seem to make you feel confident that you have learned at least the basics of the game. You’ll have to experiment a lot to get a feel for this title.
It seems quite daunting, as there is a lot of elements to Port Royale 4. At first, you’ll have to figure out how to set up your city, which consists of what commodities and/or goods it will produce based on the city’s natural resources. You’ll then have to find that perfect balance of where to place residences, businesses, as well as manufacturers since the placement of these will affect each other. Residents will always be annoyed at the manufacturers and businesses near them, and manufacturers get a bonus for being near businesses that produce the goods that they need. Again, this may be easy to figure out at the beginning stages of a baby city, but a developed or larger city (that you may inherit) will definitely need more finessing to get that copacetic harmony.
The second aspect of Port Royale 4, is trading with the other colonies. First, you’ll need a ship. When you can afford one, you’ll then need to figure out what goods and commodities to sell from your existing pool of resources. When that’s figured out, you’ll then have to find colonies and figure out what they have to offer that your colonies need. Your colony will always need the items that they do not have (which is a commentary on real life, by the way), and providing those through trade will affect the overall economy of the world.
Then again, Port Royale 4 adds another layer to that trading element: managing your ships. First, you have to figure out the best trading route. Not only do you have to plan which colonies to trade with and how much to buy and sell from them, but you also have to map out the best possible route with the wind directions. Yes, based on the wind currents, there are paths that are inconvenient for the ships (like going against that current). Fortunately, you can have your ships go through automatic routes, provided that you set them up first following the steps above, which is a godsend for those who have at least five ships or more in their colonies.
The best part of Port Royale 4, at least for tactical strategy lovers, is in the naval management aspect of the game. Each ship is manned by a captain and his crew. Captains have their own skill sets, and as they level up, they get better at those skills. As ships go through their trade routes, they are sometimes attacked by hostile forces, may it be an opposing nation or pirates. You can also opt to be a rogue and attack other ships as well. When opposing forces happen, you are notified and can then choose whether or not to participate in the battle (i.e., automatic or manual battle).
The manual battles are your tactical strategy bread-and-butter. Each ship gets a turn. Those turns are given some points to allocate for maneuvering and attacking the enemy. The strength of each ship is based on what type it is, its number of crew, and the captain’s experience, and these are what make the likelihood of winning a naval battle predictable.
The developers of Port Royale 4 figured out that the players really enjoyed the naval battles and decided that the first DLC, Buccaneers, focused on exactly that. Gone are the restrictions of being a rogue in the base game (i.e., you’re penalized for acting out your pirate side. You’re managing your colonies and your ships, and you’re appeasing the viceroys, or the national leaders, in order to win). In the DLC, when you enable being a buccaneer after starting a free game, piracy is the key to winning. The game now shifts to incentivizing you to pillage other ships, grow your naval troops, and conquer other colonies by besieging them. It also lets you enjoy more of those tactical battles more often than a campaign in the base game.
The Buccaneers DLC is a refreshing enhancement of Port Royale 4, as it is already a huge game in terms of gameplay elements. In fact, after explaining all of what the game entails, this doesn’t scratch the advanced gameplay elements of this game. It shouldn’t shock veterans of this game genre, but it would overwhelm casual players and gamers not versed in this style. My advice for them would be to either play a relaxed game, (a difficulty option,) a free game or slowly trudge with saving often when tackling the main campaigns.
Overall – 7/10
Look and feel - 8/10
Replayability - 8/10
Story - 7/10
Challenge - 7.5/10
Value for money - 7.5/10
A memorable voyage
Port Royale 4 and its accompanying DLC provide players with a lot to love. The is a massive game with plenty to do. If you happen to be a gamer that loves an epic gaming binge and is really looking for something immersive, this title is a great call. All in all, we can recommend this game for any lover of grand strategy and you could do a lot worse if this is the sort of thing that floats your proverbial boat. Casual and less seasoned strategy fans might struggle a little here but there is still enough to love to warrant dipping your toes in.
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to...