Patrician 4 is the latest in the trade simulation franchise from Kalypso Media. You begin life in the 14th Century Hanseatic League as a humble Grocer with one little trading ship, eager to build an empire and reputation. As you gain wealth and reputation through trading goods with other cities in the region, you will be able to buy more ships, build production buildings and houses, and eventually work your way into government, striving to become Alderman.
Whether you play the campaign or free play mode, you start off in Lübeck and begin your venture to become a man of influence. I say man, because even though I picked a female character the game decided to refer to me as “he” throughout. That’s just one of a few localisation issues I noticed; in a few places you’ll find the original German text which is a bit of an oversight, but will hopefully be patched out at some point. I couldn’t see much difference between the campaign and freeplay options, except that in freeplay you are able to select up to 26 cities rather than 20, can change the difficulty and starting population, and are unbothered by tutorial elements.
Patrician 4 features a “ranks” system which works much like XP and levels, but with wealth being the primary indicator along with other factors such as number of workers and number of ships. As you increase in level, you are able to gain new benefits such as the ability to join guilds in different cities, build production buildings for the rarer “local” goods, and sending out an expedition across the Mediterranean to purchase rare and always-in-demand spices. You also need to build reputation with the various cities in order to gain these privileges, which can be done by selling them the most in-demand items, but if you entirely empty their warehouse when purchasing goods from them you’ll lose reputation again. The stock levels are denoted by 4 “pips”, and because of this reputation feature I wish the Market Hall would have had an option to “buy all until 1 pip left” to save fiddling around with the trade sliders constantly – it gets a bit tiresome to manage it in minute detail constantly to avoid losing reputation.
The campaign mode features a number of tutorial videos as you progress through the game, which are quite helpful for new players like me. Impatient as I am though, I do wish they had a fast forward or a textual summary as well; especially if you just wanted to go over something which was said in the last part of the video again. Or alternatively, if they had stuck to the traditional tutorial style of “here’s what you do, now you do it” it would probably have stuck better in my mind as well as made me feel more involved, rather than sitting there being schooled about the game. I also think that, since they made the effort to make these videos, they could have been a little bit clearer and more thorough in their explanations. Case in point – given that the main point of the game is trading, I really found the trade routes menu to be quite unintuitive. Although the in-game video tutorial was somewhat helpful, it neglects to tell you how to specify to your captain whether you wish to load or unload goods once you reach your destination city. Maybe I’m just thick, but the button to do this has been, in my opinion, quite unclearly labelled as “Trade Mode” and is in an entirely different area of the interface to the place where it declares “load” or “unload”. It really threw me off to begin with. That said, once you finally work it out, the trade routes are entirely customisable and mean that you can increase the scale of gameplay much more than if you have to micromanage all the convoys and transactions yourself.
A similar annoyance I had with the interface was that, when you learn about the Market Hall where you trade goods, you are shown how to trade between your convey and the market and are set the initial task to go off and do this. All good and well, but by the time came to learn about the Counting House, where the goods you produce yourself are monitored, and start moving goods between storage and the market or my convoys, I couldn’t for the life of me find how to do this. Again, maybe this just calls into question my own mental state, but nonetheless it turns out that trading between your ship and the city in the Market Hall is only the default option, and there’s actually a gold circle in the Market Hall interface to switch between your convoy, the Counting House and the Market Hall. But since the game teaches you about your Counting House much later on, and shows you that you can monitor your storage there, that’s where I was expecting to find an option to transfer. That you actually do it via the Market Hall was unintuitive to me and should have been clearly explained in either the Market Hall or the Counting House video. Granted; you are advised that you can do this in the “info” button on the Market Hall, but when you only become aware of your own production and storage facilities later in the game when you learn about the Counting House that’s not the most helpful thing in the world!
Combat is a change of pace to the trading element of the game, as you are able to manually control your ships in realtime. The style is similar to that in Total War, albeit less sophisticated, and you chase your enemies around constantly trying to get into a firing position without being smashed by their cannons in the process. With a larger crew, who can be hired in the taverns, There are three different types of shot you can fire; Balls, Chains and Shots, though I have absolutely no idea what the difference is since the game didn’t tell me. They seemed to do a fairly comparable amount of damage to one another. I found it quite fun to try to manoeuvre the ships to avoid the enemy shots once they had been fired, but you’ll spend more time circling around each other than actually fighting. In addition shots can only be fired when the game determines that you’ll actually be able to hit – the enemy will get a red ring around their ship – so this takes away an element of skill as well. That would perhaps have been a good optional gameplay feature.
Why on earth Kalypso decided to do away with the multiplayer option which was available in Patrician 3 is beyond me. Although you do have competitors in the game who will berate you from time to time for setting up businesses, they didn’t really seem to… well… compete with you. You can build up your own wealth just fine and dandy in spite of their existence, and unless you make a giant blunder (or forget to pause the game when the phone rings – not that I’d ever do that), it’s really pretty hard to put yourself out of business. So you can just keep plodding on until you reach Alderman, but quite frankly who cares? Multiplayer would have seriously increased the “game” element of Patrician 4, rather than it feeling purely like a trading simulator. As much fun as it is for a while, the replayability really suffers because eventually you just feel like, “so what?” I feel it’s really a missed opportunity as similar trade games such as The Guild 2 – despite its own flaws – really benefit from being able to interact with other human players through aspects such as the government system which includes the ability to bribe and blackmail people, and justice systems. Anyway before I get too carried away; none of this exists in Patrician 4, and I think the game does itself a real disservice in this regard. Patrician 4 is a fun trading simulation and the additional elements such as combat, production, politics and missions do give it some depth, but it suffers from a case of unrealised potential and could have been so much more!