Port Royale 4 improves the merchant sim formula by expanding the map and changing the combat, but probably doesn’t do enough to entice skeptics.
Port Royale 4 brings the franchise’s trademark Caribbean merchant gameplay to new consoles, with a focus more on streamlining and improving the formula rather than a complete gameplay overhaul. Developed by Gaming Minds and published by Kalypso, Port Royale 4 is a mixture of a few different types of simulation to create a unique, niche naval experience that’s better and slightly more accessible than its predecessor, but might not be enough to entice a wider audience.
Port Royale 4 puts players in control of a governor during Europe’s colonization of the New World during the 1500s. A huge map expands from the Carolinas down to the northern shore of South America, with the ability to seamlessly zoom in to the point where citizens can be seen strolling the streets. The main focus of the gameplay is commerce and trade. The player sends convoys across the Caribbean sea, manually or on set trade routes, to buy low and sell high. Town-building is also a factor, where strategically placing residential areas, farms, and mines can lead to greater production and therefore more profits. In both Free Mode and the more guided Campaigns, tasks are assigned from the player’s Viceroy that increase their fame and allow increased access to special buildings and perks. Setting up trade routes brings up wind patterns and where storms are most likely to develop, tasking players with finding the fastest way around the Caribbean; it’s not quite as robust as Sea of Thieves, which recently received a new update, but it adds another layer of strategy.
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Related: Why Port Royale 4 Is Perfect For Port Royale 3 Fans
One of the bigger changes over its predecessor is the combat, which has changed to a turn-based system. This allows for a more strategic planning when it’s time to fight off pirates – or become a pirate, instead. Captains also can use their Tactic, a special move that can change the tides of battle. Raising the Jolly Roger is risky, especially early on, but can yield great rewards in the form of free commodities and gold. Sailing off the usual path can also pay off through discovering shipwrecks or treasure map pieces, along with random tasks from towns that need a certain commodity within a certain amount of time.
Port Royale 4’s tutorials, while comprehensive, are a little overwhelming to newcomers. They throw lots of terms and mechanics at the player but do little to prepare prospective merchants for what to do in the game’s open-ended Free Play mode. In general, the mode lacks the hook of the excellent Crusader Kings III, which constantly keeps the player engaged despite lacking any concrete goals or win conditions. Instead, Port Royale 4’s Campaigns offer a better alternative, particularly to newcomers. Each campaign is structured around one of the four colonies, and the tasks evolve in a satisfying progression without completely directed the player on how to achieve their goals. Players can also easily customize how difficult the game is through options that determine where resources grow and how automated trade routes are.
The appeal of Port Royale 4, as with past games in the series, will revolve on how much the economic gameplay entices the player. Town-building and combat are substantial additions to the gameplay, but not enough to totally carry the experience if the act of buying low and selling high grows weary, which is possible. The control scheme on consoles is decent, although the game is definitely designed for a mouse and keyboard – still, it’s miles ahead of a more recent port of a naval game.
Overall, fans of Port Royale 3 will enjoy the new strategic combat, larger map, and various tweaks and improvements. Those on the fence, or really starved for anything to do with pirates, could be swayed by the new entry but might grow tired after a while, but anyone skeptical that they would be entertained by a merchant simulator likely wouldn’t find this game to be an exception. In the end, Port Royale 4 isn’t the world’s greatest strategy game, but it builds upon a solid foundation to cement its role as the flagship merchant simulator.
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Port Royale 4 releases September 25th on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was given a PS4 key for the purposes of this review.
3 out of 5 (Good)
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About The Author
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Toby Arguello is a writer based in New York City. He specializes in animation, having worked on Nick Jr. and PBS. He likes watching cartoons, reading pirate books, and playing the harmonica.
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