Port Royale 4 starts off as a trading sim, but once you break through a few more layers the core of the game is based around empire management from the seas to each and every town in your empire.
Initially, you’ll start off as a small convoy of one or two ships moving from port to port buying cheap before moving on to the next port to sell your wares at a higher price, each town will have a handful of items they produce so stocks are usually high, so utilising what a town produces is a sure-fire way of building funds early on, while the menu system takes a little getting used to, you soon get used to checking what goods local ports have in abundance and which they’re calling out for.
This leads from building trade routes to automatically ship goods from one port to another and as funds continue to grow you’ll expand your convoy to give more storage capacity or provide protection from other nations or pirates.
You’re not limited to your own nation and you’ll soon be able to start trading with other countries, however, you’ll have to build up funds with local trades to buy a trading license which can prove quite costly if you’re not creating trading opportunities for goods required by nearby towns.
Management isn’t confined to the seas, as you’ll also need to work on your home town by adding locations such as a chapel, more residential housing or a larger shipyard to help your home prosper.
You’re not limited to your home town as you’ll soon become known in the locations you trade with, and, for a price, you’ll be able to start strengthening their own surroundings and economies and before long you’ll have the confrontation of other ships, nations and pirates battling for your towns and trade routes.
The heavy emphasis on trading makes for a nice angle, however, some may find it repetitive to get through before you can start strengthening your economy and starting to set up the trade routes or attack other nations to try and steal away their towns.
This is really the deciding factor for many people, as working through the actual economy management plays out as much more of a strategy game, while the trading sticks solely with management as you carefully start to judge distances, time, costs and what goods are with importing and exporting.
For me, the whole trading direction reminded me of the original Elite game, where you’d spend hours slowly increasing funds to carry larger quantities and more expensive goods.
I found Port Royale 4 does start to spread itself a little thin when you’re tasked with moving on from trading to handling the towns and economies all over your empire, just as I’d start building strong trade routes and making thousands of dollars with every journey, but I felt obliged to quickly build up convoys and automated routes and move past the trading to strengthening the towns around me.
Graphically, Port Royal is fairly impressive, although screenshots are misleading as you’ll spend most of your time zoomed all the way out to try and keep journey times down. Using the right analogue stick you can zoom right out to view the surrounding area, and then seamlessly back down to sea-level where you can see and interact with individual ships or specific parts of a town, this long zoom will automatically speed up time when you zoom right out which makes it perfect for tracking your convoy on long journeys, but it’d be nice to have a separate command that would let you speed up time without having to zoom all the way out.
Up close I found I’d never quite zoom fully, as the camera would drop to the sea showing 70% of the sky, but just short of that you can get a great close up view of your ships or any towns.
Graphics are also well detailed and while it would have been nice to see a little more variation between towns, it’s mostly kept familiar so you can easily recognise important areas such as the town hall or shipyard when you get close to another location.
Audio is pretty high quality with plenty of voice acting, but it can often feel a little light on ambience especially when sailing long distances between towns and you’re forced to zoom out to speed up time.
Port Royale 4 certainly has plenty of depth, so much so that newcomers are likely to find it all a little overbearing, but for those familiar with the franchise they’ll find a general improvement across the board.
As mentioned previously it’s a pretty difficult balancing act between the trading and the overall empire management and while I found myself preferring one over the other, getting used to the general progression of the game and mastering all aspects is likely to lead to much more enjoyment beyond the first few hours.
For those more familiar with gameplay will want to check out the online play, personally, it’s an area I prefer to avoid due to my preference for taking it nice and slow wit the trading side of the game, but if you think you can get your economy prosperous quick enough to take on other players vying for control of your towns.
Port Royale 4 reminds me of a hard-boiled egg, once you crack through the tough outer shell, there’s plenty to get through with a strong trading system, but you’re left with a crumbly centre as the game ushers you into the weaker area of trying to manage individual towns.
If you’re looking for a heavy empire strategy game, it’s hard to recommend Port Royale above games like Civ6, however, if the trading side of gameplay is what you’re looking for, enter free play and enjoy, because you’ll spend many hours fine-tuning those trade routes and building up relations across the Caribean.