Rise of Venice Review (PC)

Rise of Venice starts a new spin-off series in the Gaming Minds saga of trading sim games. Following on from past releases Port Royale 3 and Patrician IV, Venice makes a number of key changes, which coupled with the new setting, hopes to take the franchise forward into a new era of prosperity. Venice was renowned for being an economic powerhouse of the Mediterranean back in the day, so focusing a game around it seems fitting. Like always, you play as the young up-and-coming head of a minor(ish) household, and it’s your job to bring great wealth and fame to your family. Rise of Venice’s campaign deals with a lot of the politics and intrigue of the time, and this theme is quite well supported by the mechanics.

The set-up of Venice is a mix between Port Royale 3 and Patrician IV, mixed in with a bunch of other changes that make this iteration stand out. For starters, you only have access to some of the games total available goods to trade at the beginning of the game. Also, you only have access to three out of the game’s 25 ports, and you have to buy trading licenses with the rest. You won’t have access to all of them though, no matter how powerful you become. In the game’s renaissance era, Venice had a rival – the city of Genoa. In Rise of Venice, many of the cities are either loyal to Venice, or Genoa, with the rest being neutral ports. Locations that are under the control of Genoa will require you to bribe them, at considerable costs. As you level up in rank, you get access to more and more goods, and as you get richer, you can start acquiring licenses and trade in more and more places. Venice’s conflict with Genoa means that you can attack ships and blockade ports without hurting your reputation in places where it matters. Piracy seems less of a thing in this game.

The combat interface. No frills, clunky controls... water looks nice, though

Probably the biggest change is the fact that you no longer load into a separate ‘city view’ – everything is now integrated onto the strategic map. Cities are scaled up in size, but as you zoom into them, you can see the individual elements and buildings, along with people walking around. You can either right click on the towns to bring up the menu, or you can click on the required building to go to the bit you want – Market stall for market, city hall for permits, etc... Venice, as your home town, has more options available to you. Venice itself also has a couple of add levels of interaction. Firstly, there is the Senate – the Council of Ten – which you can aspire to get on (and from there, become Doge), but who also control your promotion. You can technically meet all the requirements, but if the Council don’t like you, you’re stuck. Bribes, intimidation and running missions are ways you can improve your standing there.

Rise of Venice also features, for the first time, actual ‘rival’ families. Most of the trade and traffic of the world is just neutral shipping, but there are three other families that are given ‘personality’ and a bit of an AI upgrade, that you also have to compete with. If you got to a tavern you can hire specialists to do all kinds of things like sabotage their ships, steal the goods and sabotage their relations, all in the name of profit. This feeds in nicely to the game’s newly revamped multiplayer mode, where up to four people can compete on the map to try and become the most profitable trader – it’s more a-synchronous then not, as the ultimate way to win is just to get the best score, but the usual options of sabotage etc… that you have in the single-player experience are also available to you. From what we’ve played so far though, these are not actions you necessarily spend a lot of time doing, so always concentrate on the trading and making money.

The new city interface. You can either click on individual buildings, or right click (when a fleet’s in port) to bring up the ‘menu’ for a city

There are a few important things I want to say about this game – first off, the economic system is quite excellent. I’m not a long-term fan of the series, but I’ve been on board since Patrician IV, and I don’t mind saying this is the best expression of the economics side of things so far. Saying that, I think it falls a bit short in other areas – the strategic map, whilst it looks lovely, is so empty! So much land-mass left unused, and the game doesn’t even have Patrician IV’s attempt to mimic the events of the time. Sure, there are natural disasters that can affect individual towns, but considering there are several major powers in existence in this time, nothing is done to reflect that, and how it would impact on trading. The Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire butted heads a lot, and war on such a large scale would open up a lot of interesting options as far as trade went.

Also, the single-player campaign isn’t the best – Past games have done a better job of easing you into the mechanics and the flow of the game. Even from a semi-veteran’s perspective, things could be a lot clearer, especially when you’re dealing with certain elements for the first time. Side-missions where you have to find things, getting used to the complexities of the automatic trade system, even simple things like hiring sailors and equipping them with enough weapons and ammo can initially seem confusing (the interface for that last one is kind of hidden, and the fleets magically work without sailors. So yeah.), although to be fair once you start picking these things up it all kind of falls into place.

Venice and Genoa are fierce rivals, and attacking the less-famous city is a good way to increase your standing

I also want to talk a bit about the combat. Gaming Minds have always said they don’t really want to create a naval combat sim mode, and that’s fair enough. This aspect of the game has changed little from previous games – it’s just as arcade and, well, bizarre as ever. The series is at a critical point though where it needs to evolve. I’ve seen games like East India Company and Commander: Conquest of the Americas, which managed to provide a pretty good trading mechanic, AND an engaging naval combat engine – better than even Empire/Napoleon Total War. These games were the debut titles from that particular studio, and if they can do it as an opening act, then I personally feel Gaming Minds should consider upgrading. As it is naval combat is best avoided in Rise of Venice – you only get to control one ship at a time, the controls are a bit unwieldy, and if you want to do anything complex like capture a ship then boarding is a bit of a pain. Not that I expected anything different considering this isn’t a focus for the team, but some of the main story objectives basically force you to go in manually, so I feel I’m allowed to bring It up.

So Rise of Venice then. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for the series as a whole, but I can’t help but feel Gaming Minds have held out on us a little bit. . It’s a shame really as this game was supposed to take the best bits of Port Royale 3 and Patrician IV and clearly raise the bar. Admittedly, there are a lot of things that are good about this game – I don’t think I could go back to loading into the city view again – but I also think that Rise of Venice, instead of being the clear choice, is now more of a third option, as Patrician IV and Port Royale 3 can still hold their own in some areas. The core mechanic of the game though is as solid as ever, so if all you care about is making money, then once you get over some initial stumbling blocks you’ll be fine. The improvements to the tech also mean that any games after this should be something special, and all things considered it’s a pretty fun game to play. Can’t argue with that.

Top Game Moment: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Happiness.



By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Oct 01, 2013
Not enough there to entice me from "Port Royale 3", nor "Patrician III" (as I save for "P IV"). What a missed opportunity, as "March of Eagles" shows that you can take just one aspect of a larger game, and refine it in different ways to lighten it's depth or some such thing, and yet be enjoyable to play. Even "Sengoku" managed it.

One thing though, Joe, and this from an ardent naval warfare gamer:
"East India Company and Commander: Conquest of the Americas, which managed to provide a pretty good trading mechanic, AND an engaging naval combat engine – better than even Empire/Napoleon Total War."

Are you kidding? The naval combat in the two first titles is kiddie's stuff compared with "TW"'s naval warfare, and I've played them all.
Not to mention "EIC"'s DLC "Battle of Trafalgar" which remains to this day a travesty for naval combatants. There's more to do in the "Ironclads" series than in "EIC" or "M:CotA".
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Oct 01, 2013
No word of a lie Hero - I played EIC and Commanders, went back to Empire or Napoleon (can't remember which) and I hated the naval combat. The other games did it much better for me, but that's just my opinion there.

The overall point was that other games have managed to provide a more in-depth naval combat engine. If they can do it, so can Gaming Minds.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Oct 04, 2013
True, even "Port Royale 3" does it better and that's saying something.