FredDude posted this nifty sneak preview of Privateer 2 from the October 1996 issue of Computer Gaming World. You can see they're pretty excited. The author spends quite a bit of time talking about the dark and cutthroat environment that the game exists in. There's also some hints of the devious storyline highlighted by a number of star actors. They're almost more optimistic about it than WC3/4, and it's perhaps these lofty expectations that affected the general perception of the final game. You can find their somewhat disappointed final reviewhere
(although they did still end up being jazzed about the unique story).