Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants Review

There's plenty to do in Port Royale 3, but little of it is fun.

We tend to think of the Age of Sail as a time of swashbuckling pirates, lusty women, and fortunes to be made in Inca gold, but the truth is that most of the time, it was a pretty basic, scrape-to-survive lifestyle for the people who really lived it. They owned shops, traded stuff with each other, had the occasional setback, and generally woke up every morning to a day that would be substantially similar to the last. In that sense, Port Royale 3 is an accurate simulator of Age of Sail living for most people: not much happens, ever.

If you like maps of the Caribbean, you'll get plenty of looks at one in Port Royale 3.

You're a sea captain, working (at least initially) for Spain. You can choose to play the main campaign as a trader or as an adventurer: the latter option ostensibly makes this a fire-and-brimstone, crossed-cutlasses action game, while the former is for those players who prefer microeconomic challenges. In point of fact, though, you spend most of your time in either game mode simply looking at an overhead map of the Caribbean and aimlessly sailing around. While Port Royale 3 spends a great deal of time on tutorial videos, hand-holding, and tooltips for the control system, it totally fails to give you a sense of context for what you're doing.

For example, there's a complicated popularity system for your alter ego, both with individual cities and the countries that control them, but it comes off feeling like an abstract number that goes up and down based on simple, controlled stimuli. Get your popularity high enough by trading the right goods and avoiding the wrong ones, or by doing missions, and you unlock the ability to construct buildings in a town, or hire more sailors there. If it's really low, well, not a whole lot happen. Your fluctuating popularity, like so many other aspects of Port Royale 3's gameplay, doesn't feel organically integrated to a larger ethos, but instead feels tacked on.

Towns are the game's hubs. Get respected enough, and you can start to build structures in one.

When you're not confused as to why you're doing what you're doing, you find yourself confused as to where you're supposed to be going. Often, combat or search-and-rescue missions have you head to a general area ("southwest of Corpus Christi," for example) to seek out a target. But this target is often himself in a moving ship, and you have a very small circle around your own vessels in which such ships are revealed on the map. This means that you spend far too long sailing in an endless loop, searching for the proverbial needle in the oceanic haystack of the Caribbean, while your money and time drain slowly away. When you do finally get into a fight, you find that combat, like just about everything else in Port Royale 3, is competently handled, but not particularly exciting. It's heavily based on statistics, like how many guns you have in your convoy and how many sailors you have per gun, and has little to do with how you prepare for and control the fight, so you feel very divorced from whatever action there may be.

If you prefer, you can avoid fighting pretty much entirely and simply focus on trading for a living instead. Here, however, Port Royale 3 stumbles in its attempts to create a realistic economic model. Buying high and selling low is the name of this particular game. You can buy a certain number of the two dozen trading good types at any port, and some ports produce certain goods and demand others. However, Port Royale 3 has a ridiculously sensitive supply-and-demand mechanic working in the background: if you start to buy up goods at a particular port, even a port that produces those goods in quantity locally, the purchase price rapidly rises until you cannot possibly sell the goods you're buying at a profit anywhere else (no one in the world of Port Royale 3 has ever heard of futures contracts, apparently).

This means that, because ports have everything in tiny supply compared to your average convoy's cargo capacity, you always find yourself buying very small amounts of goods and then searching desperately to find a port where you can offload them without bringing the sale price down to nothing as the buyer's supply increases. The upshot is that it takes forever to make any kind of serious money by trading, as no matter how big your fleet is, you can never get a decent supply of goods at a decent price. It can take hours of real time to earn mere thousands of gold pieces in a game where tens and hundreds of thousands are necessary to have any real impact.

You can attack towns if you like and annex them for yourself or one of the four empires of the game.

Bottom line: trading in Port Royale 3 is a terrible, slow grind that sees you spending your time moving sliders back and forth ever so slightly so as not to affect the price too much, and getting very little reward for your precision. And since ship-to-ship fighting and treasure hunting are so hit or miss, you spend most of your time in Port Royale 3 trying to decide between being bored selling goods or being bored searching for something interesting to do. Multiplayer, though technically available, will likely serve as cold comfort, as it's all but impossible to find an opponent.

The saddest part of all this is that Port Royale 3 looks good and plays smoothly. It also, at least in theory, has a lot of facets: trading, ship-to-ship combat, ship-to-shore combat, two separate story campaigns, and multiplayer. But none of these offer anything that's much fun to do.

The Good
Multifaceted gameplay
Extensive tutorials and in-game guidance
The Bad
Gameplay is meandering and boring
Trading mechanic is poorly conceived
Various gameplay elements feel disconnected from each other
5
Mediocre
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28 comments
setherj
setherj

 I have to agree with the majority of this review when I compare PR3 to PR2. The gameplay is much more tedious especially once out of the campaigns. And its not that I don't like management games! PR2 is either #1 or #2 on my favorite games of all time list.

1wikkid1
1wikkid1

5.0?! Wow, I didn't expect GS to mess up *this* badly. Seriously though, you guys need to figure out which genres are enjoyed by which reviewers. Reviews like this are actually counter-productive. It's obvious that people play this type of game exactly for the reason that this review takes points off for, micromanagement. That's the game's MAIN feature, that's what it was made to do, and that's why fans buy the game and play it. It makes no sense letting somebody with no patience review a game like this, obviously that person won't like it, and it's understandable. What's not understandable is why this person got to review this game in the first place.

This game is not meant to be Sid Meyers Pirates! Port Royale knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do, and does it well. This game truly deserves a noticeably higher score then a 5.0.

jessydog
jessydog

love the game and the 20 million  dollars i have built up in a day what the hell is the reveiwer on about. mind you i do wish that bitch would just marry me already. bit more info on some of the objectives and how to acheive some of them would be good.

Freewaylimo
Freewaylimo

Send this guy back to FPS and get a proper reviewer in. Always enjoyed previous games and although nothing drastic has occurred from the previous instalment it feels pretty good. Combat is a bit annoying but otherwise can be dealt with.

 

A must buy for liker s of the series. the price is great too. 

ydnarrewop
ydnarrewop

Well I'm not sure what to think. I've always wanted an Uncharted Waters type of game. Is this it?

denaz
denaz

Reveiw couldn't be further from the truth. GREAT game, just don't be expecting an all out action game... which this was never designed to be

danbolivar
danbolivar

I think this reviewer should go back to playing Call of Duty because he or she has NO CLUE what he or she is writing about.

avengerb
avengerb

Who is this reviewer..I hope its not Kevin VanOrd.. bcuz you sir Royally suck at reviewing... 

Were you playing pacman or this game?

You have never played a single game in your entire life other than tetris i think.

 

I have played this game and its amazing. It is slow for people who play FPS games.. but they should not even be here reading or writing comments on these kind of games. 

 

ALL in all i would like humbly say that the reviewer is a moron. 

 

DeZZaDK
DeZZaDK

What a pitty .. I really hoped Kalypso could revive the narrow pirate-ship simulation genre :'( ...

etacet
etacet

For starters I think that this GS review is half a****.  I bought the game prior to reading the review and that is just as well as the review would not have helped me make an educated choice about whether or not I wanted the game.  I get that the reviewer was bored but that in no way excuses the unprofessional treatment.

 

Trading is actually pretty decent and can be done successfully IF you have the patience to figure it out.  Grinding like the reviewer did proves to ummm... a grind.  However, the system is much more amenable to a strategic approach.  Combining manufacturing with the easy to use trade route system (two mechanics completely left out of the review) takes out most of the grind and provides a reasonable challenge.  Once you get things rolling you can rake in millions from trading.

 

Quests in the game aren't too bad and are worthwhile (in fact essential for high powered merchant play) when you find ones that fit with your infrastructure/play style.  It seems like they could benefit from a bit more variety.  This perception is probably caused or at least exacerbated by a poorly implemented semi-random pop system which makes you sift through many impossible to complete and/or counterproductive quests.  I have mostly done free play and not much of the actual campaigns so it is likely that questing is at least somewhat better handled in them.

 

I found combat (both ship to ship and ship to shore) to be extremely weak and frustrating due to a combined lack of control and poor AI.  Plundering the odd pirate fleet is reasonably profitable (if you manually capture them) and can be a good way to build up your fleet.  I have not yet delved into pirating or privateering, but my perception is that if you can get over the frustration factor, the impact they have on diplomacy etc could be reasonably interesting.  Perhaps there are successful strategies to work around the limitations of the combat and make it work.

 

All in all, the depth in Port Royale 3 and the things it does right are enough to in large part make up for the weak points.  Unfortunately figuring that out requires the gamer to push through some boring and/or irritating moments.  Shooting from the hip I would say probably worth a 7 / 10.

spartan_jedi
spartan_jedi

Your best bet for deciding if you will want to play this game is to find player reviews on youtube and actually watch videos on the game.

Mark701
Mark701

The reviewer failed to mention one of the most important aspects of the game-manufacturing.

 

Each town has 5 different items it can manufacture out of a total of 20 or so in the game. If you want to manufacture an item you have your raise your popularity. This is done by trading things the town wants. At first, the only way to do this is by purchasing the few items available at nearby ports and selling them. This might seem tedious but in the beginning of the game, it doesn't take a lot of selling to become popular. Once your popularity hits a certain percentage, you can purchase a license which will allow you to build a warehouse and two houses. When they are constructed you buy another license to build manufacturing buildings. You can build as many as you want as long as you have enough materials and gold.

 

Of course it costs money to run your new factories, but then again, they generate a lot of gold too. Some manufacturing requires supplies to keep them running. For example tool manufacturer needs a steady supply of wood and metal. However many things, like fruit and wheat only require you build a farm. The money generated by selling these maintenance free products can be used to build the infrastructure required to manufacture more sophisticated items like clothing, cocoa, rope, textiles etc. Currently I have 15 frigates and liners with a storage capacity in excess of 5000 and 4.5 million in gold. The problem I face now is I have to buy even more ships to move goods that are overflowing my warehouses.

 

My only beef with the game is that it's Port Royale II, only with better graphics and a few minor changes.

 

A final note.  Manufacturing is a critical part of the game whether you intend to be a pirate or merchant. I'm stunned it wasn't mentioned in the reviewers comments. This may have been because he only played the game for a short time or perhaps because Steam has the online purchase rights?

ronnet
ronnet

So... the elements are there they just aren't implemented well enough. Looks like this was rushed out, which makes sense as earlier trailers depicted an later release date.

 

Hopefully they'll be able to patch it up, until then I'll wait for the X360 version.

garcia_jx
garcia_jx

I want to play a great pirate role playing game or sandbox game.  Exploring the ocean floors would be cool

C4sS1uS_BrUtU5
C4sS1uS_BrUtU5

Sid Meier's Pirates ! is the best pirate game of all time

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

Actually trading is better than the review paints it, not much though. Solid 7 I'd say.

Reckyourless
Reckyourless

how disappointing game. i thought this game is pure action.. 

gix47
gix47

so a lot like port royale 2 then..

Efeler
Efeler

From the trailer i thought ship combat'll be like empire total wars' or new total war series', oh well :) im now pretty disappointed since i loved the sequel..

Telekenesis123
Telekenesis123

This is just what Port Royale 2 felt like after not long, a drudgery and grind and I was hoping they would fix it in this version but I see they just repeated the same mistakes if not made them worse.

holtrocks
holtrocks

its not an action game it slow and about buliding yourself up and up and up

spartan_jedi
spartan_jedi

the graphics are awsum and the youtube vids get me all excited but I just can seem to get into this game,it lacks action gameplay.

Efeler
Efeler

i felt like its a bad clone of patrician 4

danbolivar
danbolivar

 @etacet Yours Sir, is an EXCELLENT review of the game.Gamespot should really screen their reviewers for knowledge.

escalon91
escalon91

 @etacet Well said! I was just getting ready to leave a comment on the review when I read yours. Reading the review I can't help but to think that one of the Gamespot reviewers let their 14 year child write the review. 

 

The combat system sounds like it needs some work. That does not give the excuse to talk negatively about the game. If you want a combat game, go play MW3 or something like it! This is not that kind of game. 

 

What I did get from the review, is that it is a semi-simulator from the era. You have to travel vast oceans, not really knowing exactly where it is you're going (no GPS in those days), you have limited line of sight (no high powered binoculars and such) and you have to explore what treasure/trade items are profitable, and deal with the constant change in supply and demand. Sounds a lot like what our ancestors did around the time this continent was discovered.

 

Seems to me that this a good game for those who want that kind of experience. I'm not saying the review was bad, but it was seriously lacking an objective write up. It doesn't sound like this is your typical learn the basics and you can master the game. I think it is a nice change in pace from all the high energy, fast moving overly aggressive games that are out there.

Logixyz
Logixyz

 @Efeler Agreed it feels very much like a clone of "Patrician 4", only the location is different.

 

However I seem to remember that fighting pirates in Patrician was easier. In "Patrician 4" I would rarely lose a ship in a fight. But in Port Royale I always lose 2 of my escort vessels. So if you don't even count the cargo I might lose, the cost for those ships are 120,000+ and that's for the ridiculous 10,000 I get for killing the pirate. I agree with the review that feels disconnected.

Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants More Info

  • Released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    In Port Royale 3, players will embark upon an epic adventure through the Caribbean during the 17th century.
    6.4
    Average User RatingOut of 83 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants
    Developed by:
    Kalypso
    Published by:
    Kalypso, E-Frontier, Russel
    Genres:
    Strategy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    All Platforms
    Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Violence