Buy low and sell high.
Kalypso’s Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants sets the player into the raggedy clothes of a recently rescued at sea lad and charges them to make their fortune in the Caribbean. This can involve trading goods across different ports, running errands for local governors and even fighting salty pirates. Sounds exciting? You should perhaps lower your expectations…
Port Royale 3 is a stat-crunching, menu-driven title and, as such, is slightly short on any type of action or excitement. That’s not to say that it won’t be enjoyable for players who like that sort of thing, but for those picking the game up on PS3 or Xbox360 after being lured by the promise of pirates, it may be a little disappointing.
From the offset, players are offered two campaigns, with one concentrating on trading and the other on adventuring. These campaigns are, in reality, extended tutorials to teach the player all aspects of the game in preparation for the free mode or multiplayer. Playing through each of them, one after the other, will set the player up, in a round about way. The problem comes from the fact that things are not explained especially well and, due to a certain amount of cross over between the campaigns (adventurers will still need to trade for money and traders will need to fight) some things that the player really needs to know in one campaign will not be revealed until they play the other. The game is well loaded with video demonstrations and tool tips to get the player up to speed. But often this help makes assumptions about what the player already knows, or uses different terminology that can cause confusion. The lumbering menus don’t help things, being far from straight forward.
The result is that the player will find themselves constantly restarting after missing some important piece of information and going bankrupt, or being wiped out by pirates. It means that learning how to play the game properly is an exercise in patience and takes far longer than is perhaps necessary. Once you learn how to play the game, it is actually quite enjoyable in a hands-off, laid back kind of way. But the trek to get to that point is so long, I fear many will give up before they master the intricacies.
The two main mechanics found in Port Royale 3 revolve around trading and combat. There is a lot more to the game, such as controlling towns and expanding territories, but the largest part of the game will see the player using a fairly robust supply and demand mechanic to make their fortune. However, once again patience is required. When visiting a port on the world map, which happens to be where the player will be spending most of their time, they can bring up a menu which shows all of the different tradable goods in the game, and how much of each, if any, the port in question has. It also shows what is available on the players ship, and trading is a simple matter of sliding a button to the left or right. The nature of the game mechanic is that when a port has a lot of any one item, the price is cheaper and if they don’t have much, they are willing to pay more for it. Things get a little tiresome though as the value of goods fluctuates as the player buys and sells. For example, as the player buys up the tools from a port, the price increases as the ports stock goes down. On the flip side, as the player sells items to the port, the price they are willing to pay goes down as their stock increases. Frustratingly, this means that players will need to buy and sell in only small quantities to get the best prices, and amassing a decent fortune becomes a slow, drawn out process.
The combat mechanic is a little more interesting. When entering combat, the player has the option to control one of their ships should they choose, or allow everything to be handled automatically. As the outcome of the battle relies mostly on the stats once again – how many sailors are on the ships and how many weapons they have, what type of cannonball they are using – there is very little benefit to getting hands on with the combat and, given how much the game is drawn out anyway, it is just quicker to let the AI handle things.
There are other little quirks to the game that seemed unnecessary, such as how complicated it is to actually select your ship, missions in which informants explain the location of targets with absolute vagueness, and the varied time between autosaves. It is not an easy game to enjoy, and I hate to think what this must play like on the consoles for gamers who are perhaps not quite as used to menu-driven gameplay as the PC gamers.
Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants has its good points. The game looks lovely for the most part, and runs smoothly. Stat hounds will likely find the slow rise to wealth enjoyable as they squeeze every last penny out of the port governors in the Caribbean. However, for the average PC gamer and almost all console gamers, the game is just too slow to really enjoy.