Port Royale 3 Preview

 

Sid Meier’s Pirates! casts a long shadow over its strategy successors set in the Caribbean Age of Sail. Things are no different when it comes to Port Royale 3, but the franchise’s distinguished pedigree and attention to detail suggest that the game has lots of potential in its own right.

Essentially an economics game, Port Royale 3 takes place in a fully simulated closed economy with 20 different commodities. Players will have to have a keen understanding of supply and demand and a penchant for micromanagement and economic manipulation to succeed.

 

Gameplay revolves around setting myriad trade routes, finding canny ways to dominate markets, and – above all – making lots of filthy lucre. Along the way, players will grow towns, complete quests to please factions, and gain a keen understanding of Caribbean geography.

Most of the gameplay is seen from a map view, which is rendered in the bright colors and slightly cartoonish style one expects from the genre. Lush islands sit like gemstones in an azure sea, while hundreds of tiny sails flit to and fro. Town management takes you to a separate screen, featuring a passably realistic portrayal of a teeming Jacobean port.

 

Though Port Royale 3 is essentially a sandbox, two campaigns will introduce the game’s mechanics, which are many. In singleplayer, the end-goal is to become more popular and wealthy than other nations; achievements are also included to provide plenty of replay value. Particularly intriguing is the game’s multiplayer mode, which enables players to customize their own starting and ending conditions. This provides much-needed control over the amount of time invested; you can set up the game to be a breathless sprint to 2000 gold, or, if you prefer, create a marathon.

The game will be available on both PC and console, though a representative from developers GamingMinds was careful to point out that the two versions will have two completely different interfaces. To help console players struggling with the game’s complicated mechanics, the German studio provides an overview panel, available at the press of a button, to direct their attention to various crises.

 

Ship-to-ship combat, of course, is an essential genre feature, even in a game as economics-focused as Port Royale 3. Battles can be automated, but viceroys wishing to slug it out are whisked into combat mode. Players select one ship to control directly, then choose multiple AI-controlled wingmen, whose general tactics can be adjusted like a follower in an RPG. RPG mechanics are also applied to a stable of captains, who gain experience in six different categories. When they die, however, they stay in Davey Jones’ locker.

The combat itself is an arcade-y romp in Sid Meier’s grand tradition, providing the usual choice between ammunition types and the countdown timers that ensure you’ll have to pick your broadsides carefully. Wind isn’t a huge factor – you’ll never get caught in irons – but weather conditions can change, and deadly reefs will appear when a sea battle is fought close to shore.

If you’ve been jonesing for some Caribbean swashbuckling after the disappointing Pirates of Black Cove, keep an eye on Port Royale 3. Just don’t expect anything other than a deeply wonky, economics-driven experience.

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