Well it’s time for some seafaring action with Port Royale 3!
The Brief: Port Royale
In the 15th century Columbus “discovered” America and 10 years later Giovanni Cabotto started mapping it. The settling of America would not take place until the late 16th century when the first missionary settlers felt they should bring God to the natives. The natives of course rejected this and the first encounters between natives and Europeans was notoriously bad.
The Europeans saw the Chinese as an ancient and advanced culture (which gave them gunpowder) and had parallel technology. The Chinese and the Indians had proven to be a civilized educated culture worthy of their praise. The Africans had proven to be a weak and backwards culture willing to sell its own people into slavery for weaponry to control the lands and become local warlords.
So when the Europeans arrived in North America they saw neither the civilized culture of the orient nor the “gorilla” slave culture of Africa. What they saw was something far simpler, a simple nomadic people who had no sense of property or ownership. First attempts at slaving the local native people’s failed because Europeans lacked an understanding of what these people wanted.
The Port Royale system (royal ports) was setup in such a way that they would settle along the coast and leave the interior to the natives. Slowly they would offer natives advanced weaponry, cheap goods, and slowly co-opt the natives on their side. The natives who were very communalistic accepted this and so slowly they started importing more and more Europeans to these ports.
Port Royale (located in Jamaica) became the centre point of trade for the entire Caribbean and often shifted between control of the Dutch, French, British, and Spanish (the four major powers at the time). Because these were all largely island nations all of the Tropics often switched hands based on what power the local population was supporting.
This lead to privateering with private trade fleets and private pirate fleets in which they would often switch loyalties based on who controlled the precious resource they were after. A coffee merchant for example may have shifted from British to Spanish in the 1730s when St. Kitts switched hands (and then back to British control).
Port Royale: Gold, Power and Pirates was a massive flop. When it released in 2003 the simulator market was largely dominated by EA owned Maxis which gave us Spore, The Sims and Sim City 4000. At that time it was inconceivable to release a simulator in a market that was demanding more shooters and RPGs. Ascaron Entertainment went against the status quo anyway and released Port Royale… which flopped.
It was a chance at bad luck. The hope was that the Hollywood blockbuster “Master and Commander” would bring a new interest into seafaring… it did not. Master and Commander despite being a rich and historically accurate film was not one that captivated audiences. In fact people found interest in sword fights and pirating because of Disney’s successful Pirates of the Caribbean film. Port Royale offered neither of these options.
Port Royale 2 would be released one year later. Reviewers felt this game was worth a playthrough but even while you are playing you get bored. The problem most felt was that Port Royale lacked a story line or a campaign.
In the past simulator games could get away with having no real story because they were simply management processes. However in the modern age most gamers want a story dangled in front of them every 30 minutes or so to keep them playing. It is not enough to simply have good gameplay but one must also have great story.
The gameplay of Port Royale 2 was nothing bold either. Ship to ship combat had nothing more complicated than turning your ship and shooting at the proper angle.
Ascaron went on to make Sacred and another Patrician game. The reception of these games was just awful and the company declared bankruptcy.
Kalypso Media was becoming a hot shot developer having developed the very popular Sins of a Solar Empire. Kalypso moved in and bought most of the properties from Ascaron including Patrician Tropico Disciples Darkstar One and Port Royale.
Kalypso created a new studio to make Patrician IV which was a whopping success. They created Tropico 3 and 4 both of which were big successes. They also had in the back of their mind making a seafaring, business simulator with the option of being a pirate…. Port Royale 3.
Their promise was simple, unlike previous Port Royale’s this one would have a campaign. Although the gentlemen at Kalypso can barely speak English, Simon Heilwig and Stefan Marcinek said all the right things.
Port Royale continues in the great tradition of the 17th century nautical game. There are two nautical professions at this time, pirate and trader.
It’s becoming better known by the large majority of people that empires at this time did not have massive fleets and could not patrol any of the seas. Because of this pirates were charted to attack other nation’s fleets and some were given a Letter of Marque to attack. The Letter of Marque allowed privateers to attack ships on behalf of The Crown without being under the command of a main body… they were legal pirates.
The other profession was that of the ship trader. Traders could be split into two types, international traders and local traders. A local trader’s job was to maintain the day to day lives of colonial tenants. International traders would trade resources from India, Africa and/or America to their home country in Europe. The international traders were often sponsored by The Crown and profits were earned for the Crown. The local trader was a private businessman trying to do the job that a transport truck driver does today.
The game primarily focuses around Southern America, Mexico, and the Tropics. Although today these are not the wealthiest regions at this time the great climate made people want to live there and the local stores of gold, silver, coal, tropical fruit, tobacco saw this become one of the most sought after economic zones in the world.
The map stretches as far south as Montevideo and as far North as Savannah. The game features all of the original names of ports of the time and so it might be odd seeing Jacksonville named St. Ville Marie.
Each historical port creates four resources. A port that builds cigarettes needs a supply of tobacco. A port that builds rum needs a supply of sugar. A talented trader will be able to make these trades and give every port a supply of everything (except what they make).
As an alternative a person can just make a large trade route and the game will automatically make the profitable choices.
These ships can be raided by pirates (or you). In this there is a battle which is entirely mouse based. You click on the location of the ship and the ship moves there. You click on a cannon button and the cannon fires off one side. The best ships are those that can zigzag their movements properly to inter-mittedly fire. There are four types of cannonballs. One is standard, one hits sails (chainball), one hits hull (sinker), and one hits people (scatterball).
The combat system sounds easy but it’s not. It is very fast paced and you are making a lot of micro decisions very quickly. You also have the option if you are very slow at movement that you can just automate the battle.
The game features two conflicting story arches. The first is of a trader who is competing with an adventurer for the grace of a woman and the second is of an adventurer competing with a trader for the grace of a woman. These campaigns act as a tutorial for the main game mode, sandbox.
In each town you can build a number of infrastructure pieces including homes to rent, structures to produce trade materials and large lush estates.
As you perform actions your rank will go up. Rank will permit you to build more buildings in an area and build favor with that nation. This allows you to play a middle man between all of the world powers.
You can also take control of territories. You can do this through trade in which you have to attain certain amounts of friendliness towards them and make it into a prosperous state. The other way of doing this is directly conquering the town. This brings the town out of control of a nation and makes it into your personal private enterprise. In this the end game allows you to conquer the entire world and bring it all under your control.
The greatest single weakness of the simulator has always been the inability to transition from gameplay simulation elements to a story arch that will keep us interested. Because of this weakness people have had a vast inability to understand simulators work until after hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Port Royale 3 does a great job in introducing you to the game through an interesting story that makes you work towards advancing it by doing game relevant actions.
There are rarely times when “Small” is a good thing, but in the case of this game small is good. Nautical games often have fleets treking across the globe in a highly unrealistic fashion. You see these massive trade routes that over-simplify the markets of the world. ”Really?” You might ask. ”Goa only produces tea?” How the world worked in the 17th century isn’t too different from today. People still have needs and there is still a need to trade with local populations. Most games are really weak on this.
Port Royale operating on such a small part of the world allows you to realistically trade in a local setting all of the basic needs of people.
- Too Easy… or Too Hard
- No Depth
- No Town Defense
There is an eminent design flaw that persists in the game… that it is too easy… or too hard.
Manually trading is insanely hard. You might go to one port and have 100 tobacco available. As you slide up the bar to purchase the more you want the more each individual tobacco will cost. When you sell tobacco the more you sell the lower the price is. This means with every single sale you have to find a comfortable level where you are selling a portion of what you own at each port.
Now I understand this is realistic but it is particularly tedious and unfun. The ending result to this is that you end up using Trade Routes instead… which actually make the game too easy and too unengaging.
Similarly with pirating you can choose to fight with an insanely complicated high action super hard super precise battle system or click the Auto Fight button. In the combat system you manually control the directions and flanking patterns of three ships. You can choose to board but it is very very hard to do. Also while choosing the ships you have to shift between various ammo types that have various functions. The difference in results between manually firing perfectly and auto deciding battles. The difference between a bad battle and an autobattle is huge though. So you are always inclined to do autobattles.
Having the ungodly hard difficulty or the choice of a cop out makes for a poor design flaw. I understand combat in these types of games is hard to make but this is something else.
The major problem with the game is a total lack of depth. After you finish both campaigns you really do not feel like playing the Free Roam mode because of how insanely simple they are. Their other game (Tropico) has free roam replay value because of the humorous setting, the large number of buildings a person can make and the constant missions you will get.
This game doesn’t really have an ‘end game’ which you are constantly working towards. It sort of just pointlessly goes on forever with no real conception of a score or something to work towards. I hate to say that gamers need to have a bell dingled in their face… but they do.
This leads into another point. lack of town defense. In the game you can attack towns and take them over. However, unlike most games you have no ability to build stationary defenses to defend them with… and so they can be swiped back with relative ease. This leaves the game kind of blank. This could have very well been a great end game point, the development of towns and owning them all. However it is not. With towns you capture being taken back instantly some time you are often plagued with the problem of going nowhere.
Another major problem that plagues this game is how everything is so uniform. All the ships look exactly the same. There is really no UI to manage all of your fleets effectively. All of the buildings in town look almost identical. In a town of over 200 buildings it becomes impossible to tell which buildings do which and what buildings are even yours. This is a pretty serious UI/customization problem the game features.
Kalypso Entertainment took a chance on this franchise. The risk may not have been worthwhile considering that Port Royale was the series that sank Acharon.
What Kalypso has done is made the game simpler and far more fun. However, Kalypso did not make a great game (like Tropico). Instead it is just another seafaring adventure game that goes nowhere. It is average at best and unfortunately not worth more than five hours of play.
In truth this feels like a dead franchise and honestly Kalypso should drop it before they go any further in debt withi t.