Everybody dreams of getting rich and in Rise of Venice your task is exactly that. As the Captain of a ship, and eventually your own fleet, your objective is to rise through the ranks of Venice’s political hierarchy, using gold to gain influence and power. Keep in mind that no political advancement can occur without a fair bit of personal espionage to your adversaries, so in many ways Rise of Venice is true to life. All political cynicism aside, the gameplay is very similar to Port Royale 3, and with good reason. Kalypso Entertainment is the driving force behind both of them, but where Port Royale 3 seemed to stumble, Rise of Venice continues the journey, taking players around Italy’s coastline and over the surrounding seas. The objective is simply: to monitor the goods that each city produces and those that each city needs. You purchase goods at low cost, then sail them to a city that will pay you enough to make a profit. Rinse & repeat. Granted, it’s never that simple, as outside variables seep into the equation that can make or break your family.
The most accurate and perhaps pointed description of the gameplay is that it’s a slow burn. It’s a grind, and players who aren’t willing to sit down and dedicate themselves to reaching a higher status should simply walk away. This is not a title that you can easily master, having unlimited funds at your disposal after only a few hours of play time. No, mastering the market is a learned skill and is made all that much harder in the beginning, when you’re sailing with just two ships. Two because your uncle, an old seafarer himself, has agreed to captain one of your vessels, allowing for your convoys to sail the seas to buy and sell goods. As you slowly begin to make money, you’ll find yourself gaining status at different ports, depending on whether you’re delivering goods that they need, or if you’re buying everything they have to offer and leaving their citizens without materials themselves.
Thankfully players don’t have to simply sit back and wait for each ship to make the voyage -- sometimes taking days of in-game time -- due to the ability to speed up or slow down time as necessary. This will allow certain actions to be “rushed” or, if you’re the type of player who wants to investigate each and every detail, paused. With such a lengthy game, why would you want to pause the action, you ask? As you complete tasks and missions, assigned as part of your steps for advancement or as side missions to increase your reputation in towns and with the Council of Ten(the guys who decide whether you’re promoted or not), you’ll get notifications about problems that cities are having. Droughts in Acre, fires in Venice, not enough building materials in Alexandria -- each have varying consequences, but each can be manipulated to give you profit, depending on how you react.
Admittedly, I didn’t finish the game’s main story and the primary reason for that is due to the extremely slow pace of the game, even when set to maximum speed. There are unique areas to visit outside of the cities, but most of them, even those that give you different options on how to interact, have static responses, leading to nothing more than some flavor text that ends up getting bland after the fifth or sixth area you find. Additionally, there were no cities or other areas, at least in the 10+ hours of gameplay, that were unlocked to provide additional scenery. Players are expected to simply complete missions, typically consisting of delivering items to a particular city or erecting a unique building, then maintaining a certain level of wealth to earn the ability to rank up. Juggling reputation with the Council of Ten can be tricky, but you can bribe them for a small bump to your reputation and, when the time comes for a promotion, only five of the Ten need to vote “yes” for it to pass.
Sea combat also exists, though if you’re able to build your convoy in a way that includes escort ships, your “muscle”, you can avoid most battles. Should a pirate get brave enough to pick a fight with you, you have an arsenal of defenses at your disposal. Assuming you’ve armed your sailors, you can attack the enemy with a variety of options that can cripple their manpower, destroy their sails, or damage the ship directly. If you’re looking to add action to what it otherwise a mundane, brain-teasing title, the ship-against-ship combat is the answer. Though not particularly difficult, it adds a change to the normal gameplay that will be surprisingly welcomed.
Rise of Venice has far too many intricacies to detail each and every one of them, but the game is a unique title that will have a niche audience. With a premise that’s similar to the stock market -- buy low, sell high -- it works due to the interface and the beautiful, colorful design of the landscape. The ability to zoom out and manage your convoys mixed with the ability to zoom in and provide personal attention to each of them as they complete missions is a nice touch. It’s easy to navigate and, despite the considerable number of captain abilities, goods and services, options for trade routes, and individual city maintenance, it’s not confusing to learn and provides players with a gradual learning curve as the game begins. Still, if you’re looking for a one-off, a game you can play for just a couple minutes a day, this is not it. But if you’re looking for something that is difficult to master and, despite the tedious nature of the gameplay, provides an interesting take on business-meets-videogame , Rise of Venice may be for you.
Overall score 6 out of 10