When I went into Port Royale 3, I didn’t even know what to expect from it. Having never played Port Royale 1 or 2 (or even having known that they existed at all), I was going in blind. What kind of game was this? How would I compare it with the other games in the series? Normally, I make it a point to have some context on a game before I review it. For Port Royale 3, I decided to go in blind, and I have to say, that probably helped me enjoy it a bit more than I otherwise would have. What also helped was a basic knowledge of economics, as I came to grips with the game’s well designed, if over excitable, demand and supply trading system and learned how to manipulate it in sensible and not so sensible ways.
So, before we go any further, I believe it bears merit to actually try and describe what kind of a game Port Royale 3 is. Self described as a ‘strategy’ game, and variously referred to as a ‘simulator’ and an ‘adventure’ game, I believe it’s none of those three, but somehow a mixture of all of them. Think Sid Meier’s Pirates (an excellent game, by the way, and one that I whole heartedly recommend), and you’ve got a rough idea. Unfortunately, where Pirates was absolutely brilliant, Port Royale 3 seems to falter somewhat in several key areas. In other areas, it seems to make no sense, as some of the mechanics it introduces- such as the ‘popularity’ system (why am I, as a trader, concerned about my popularity?)- fail to add anything meaningful to the gameplay at all. In spite of that, it plays decently, and will actually end up taking more of your time than you’d imagine. Eventually, you’ll stop playing and realize you just spent hours on the game. You’ll then stop and wonder how it managed to do that.
Port Royale 3 is a game that allows you to play two ways- either as an adventurer, or as a trader. The former option is where the most tedious mechanics of the game show up most often, such as the combat, or the missions that mandate you sailing through the empty Caribbean seas as you hunt down some rogue pirate ship in a vague rescue mission.
On the other hand, you can choose to focus on just trading, and this is ultimately where the game begins to show its strength. It’s not a convincing economy simulator, and it can often be a bit too simplistic, but it is incredibly addictive. Of course, you might ask yourself why you would be interested in playing a glorified economics 101 sim in the first place, but the simple answer is, it’s fun and it’s addictive, and almost unexpectedly so. You have several ports, and you can buy or sell goods on each port. You can either buy them in bulk, thereby reducing the total amount of good in supply locally, causing its prices to rise (this means you can sell your own goods for a tidy profit), or you can try and sell them in bulk, causing prices to crash as you flood the market. Generally, these turn out to be zero sum strategies, and you will be better served trying to trade in more reasonable quantities across different ports.
The model is demanding and exacting, sometimes unfairly so. The game requires a healthy amount of wealth for you to accomplish anything meaningful, but the economic model of the game forbids you from earning any reasonable gold in anything less than a few hours. Trading, while fun, tends to get tedious after a while, and might prompt you to eventually undertake one of the previously mentioned missions, to set out on an ‘adventure’ to break the monotony. Unfortunately, that in itself entails aimless wandering, and then some combat that, while requiring a bit of foresight and planning (the outcome is predicated on pre determined stats, such as the number of weapons your ship and crew have, and their distribution), it feels completely uninvolved, since you don’t seem to have any immediate effect for that very reason.
Ultimately, Port Royale 3 is a game of missed opportunities. The combat, the trading, the ‘adventuring,’ all seem to be sound in theory but flawed in execution. Some of its mechanics are absolutely nonsensical, and add nothing to the game whatsoever and even detract from it, like the popularity system. And it can be mind numbingly banal. And yet somehow, you pour hours into it before you catch yourself. It might not be the best game ever made, but it does take up a lot of your time. At least you can’t accuse it of being poor value for money.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
The in game economy model is nice; offers multiple ways to play; the game is unexpectedly addictive
Everything it does fails at some level: the economy is too basic, the combat too detached, the sailing too boring
It might not be the best game ever made, but it does take up a lot of your time.