I had the privilege of checking out a beta release of the anticipated return of the Port Royale series, Port Royale 4. If you’re not already a fan of the series or not familiar with what it’s about, it’s basically a 17th-century economy simulator with in-depth city building and turn-based naval battles. In the final release of the game, you’ll be able to choose from Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. Each of them will provide different benefits (and downsides) that will keep each playthrough unique. Only Spain is available in the beta, so that’s what I’ll focus on.
You can play a campaign mode for any or each of the colonial nations that I mentioned or dive into the series favorite free mode. The free mode offers an impossible to explain the amount of customization that allows fans of the genre to get deep into the weeds of colonial trade in the Caribbean sea.
I need to say upfront that I have never played any of the installments in the Port Royale franchise. In fact, I have very little experience with the city builder/economy simulator genre. I hope that my ignorance gives me a unique perspective on the game, especially for other gamers who may be new to the genre but interested in checking it out. And speaking as a newcomer to the genre, there is a fairly steep learning curve to Port Royale 4.
Thankfully, there are a ton of in-depth tutorials that will get you into the minutia of trade routes, buying and selling goods, managing the ocean currents and fighting at sea, etc. To that point, the campaign, which can be finished in 10 to 20 hours for experienced players, is a great way for beginners to get into the game. The occasional hand-holding and constant objectives keep you moving (mostly) in the right direction. After playing the campaign for hours, I can see the beauty and potential of the free play mode.
Speaking of beauty, the massive 3D world of Port Royale 4 is gorgeous. You can zoom in and out the world with ease and it’s beautiful to see from any angle. And let’s be honest, this is as close as most of us are going to get to the Caribbean any time soon. Zoom out to see the ships sailing to any of the sixty or so cities. From here, you can monitor the currents, and keep your fleet from storms or pirates, or zoom in close and watch people walking around the cities while monitoring the production of some of the many goods each city can produce.
Whether you’re producing rum, sugar, hemp, fine clothes, furniture, or any number of the available goods, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. Port Royale 4 may not be the most in-depth city builder, but with fifty different buildings to choose from, including 25 production sites to keep the goods flowing, it was overwhelming for me at first. Much like at home, keeping the citizens of each city happy takes a lot of careful consideration and a few compromises, neither of which are my speciality, but it was fun trying. Some folks like the rum to flow, while others really like the finer things in life like nice clothes and expensive furniture. The trick is that each city can only produce 7 things, so you’ll need to procure yourself some building permits to build in your neighboring cities.
Whether you want to be a legit businessman and take over your portion of the Caribbean with shrewd business decisions and hard work, or tip the scales in your favor with some light piracy. Maybe you’ll want to go fulltime pirate, that’s up to you. Whether you go legit or full pirate, you’ll eventually have access to 18 historically authentic ships from the late 16th and the 17th century.
As a fan of the old-school turn-based action, the decision to change up the naval battles from real-time to turn-based is one that works for me. According to the devs, some of the battle animations aren’t completely finished, but they were still fun to experience. Maneuvering your ships so they could fire the cannons on either side of the ship was a different strategy for me as a newcomer to naval strategy games. Hiring a good ship captain makes a big difference in these battles and really helps raise your fame. And I’ve watched enough period pieces to know that being famous and leaving a legacy is a big deal. Playing Port Royale 4 may not make you famous, but if the beta is any indication, it’ll be a blast to play in your spare time while you try to leave your mark in the real world.
Port Royale 4 from Kalypso Media is scheduled to release Septemeber 25 on the PS4, PC, Switch, and Xbox One.
Disclaimer: This preview was conducted using a pre-release PC build of the game, provided by the publisher.