Master of Orion Review
Remember last year, when we all got back from PAX AUS and I did a quick spiel about that beta test by War Gaming Labs, Master of Orion? Well the finished product is now out and it is amazing!
Master of Orion is a turn based strategy game that was originally released back in the early 90’s for MS-Dos and Mac OS. The reboot has taken all the things that made the original great and turned it into a nostalgic new age Sci Fi experience, with high levels of strategy and immersion. Although at times challenging, the 4X genre defining game gives you plenty of options to flex your need to eXpand, eXplore, eXploit or eXterminate (hence 4X) your way to victory.
So back when I did my original piece I mentioned that War Gaming wanted as much fan input as possible so that they could make the game everyone really wanted. Their aim was to create a Master of Orion (MoO) that would give the legacy gamer a nostalgia hit, but would also be accessible to a younger generation. Although a long drawn out beta test can sometimes be an embarrassingly premature death of a game, the fan feedback on the early access version was super positive, despite it being unpolished and a little glitchy. Players really got involved and provided heaps of great ideas. Like I said in the beta review, “it’s not every day we ‘as gamers’ get to help design a game”. I personally think it worked out in the end after seeing how MoO turned out.
I feel that the lack of any campaigns is a bit of a downside, a little bit of “in game” lore can add depth and purpose to the gaming experience. A campaign would also provide an opportunity for the game to explain in a little more detail how the research tree works, or how to best customise your warships. Although there is a tutorial I feel it takes a little too long to explain basic game mechanics and doesn’t really go very deep as far as strategies are concerned. This does however give you the opportunity to take advantage of the turn based rhythm of the game, and really nut out your research tree and strategies before going online. Another slight disappointment, if I had to be picky, would be the battle scenes, the battle UI is designed for strategy with a distant “graph like” open view of the battle, so I understand the scale back on the graphics but I was hoping for something a little more graphically impressive. It would be appealing (to me) if when you zoomed in on the carnage that there were a little more detail, screaming crew members being sucked out into the vacuum of space, with large portions of the ship breaking off. Maybe I expect too much? Arguably though, some gamers (myself included) do prefer the gratifying pleasure of a well thought out strategy paying off over the cheap thrills of cinematically designed boss fight
On the plus side, the strategic depth this game goes into is what holds it above other strategy based games, as we know War Gaming are the kings of strategy and have been successfully publishing incredible strategy based award winning titles such as World of Tanks and Warships for over a decade now. These games always come out well polished and fun to play. But when it comes to Master of Orion I really think they have stepped it up a whole-lot-a notches. The way they have filled the game with in depth NPC development, personality, disposition and reactions, artificial economics, planetary pollution, population moral, planet biomes, different types of solar systems orbiting certain types of stars, random events, and so on and so forth, make Master of Orion what it is! The gritty overtone of the universe, the back stabbing, political espionage and the untold story that goes on in the background of every game you play is what gets me hooked. Each game you start will have a unique ending, some races seem to behave differently depending on the other opponents in the galaxy, and what might be known as a generally hostile race may be begging for help depending on how well their strengths match up to that of your other opponents.
But the real reason you’re here (be honest) is for the ultimate side goal of the game, to find and settle on the legendary Orion! Not only is Orion usually the hardest planet in the galaxy to find it is heavily guarded by the infamous Guardian; a large automated cybernetic space creature, obviously a lasting remnant of an ancient civilisation. Obtaining Orion gives you massive boosts to your population, production, and research and is in itself a game ender for the rest of the galaxy. You would have to play your cards extremely poorly to lose the game after conquering Orion.
I could literally go on for days about the impressive functionality of the game but you’re better off giving it a go for yourself, it is an experience that will leave you challenged, engaged and overall I think you’ll be satisfied with your gaming experience. So to that end here is some helpful info I wish I had before getting stuck into the masterpiece that is Master Of Orion.
So when you first start up Master of Orion, you’ll have a few options before getting into the game itself, firstly, play online or single player with the AI? My personal preference was for single player because, to be honest, I think that’s where all the fun really is.
Next up choose your race; there are so many advantages and disadvantages to each of the 10 races it would be folly to try deciphering them all in one article, so a brief overview it is;
Humans: very diplomatic, charismatic, with a gift for trading, but internal conflict reduces their overall planetary security.
Alkari: The avian humanoids (bird people, not unlike pigeon man) are natural pilots with a tendency to live in high gravity, with research bonuses.
Bulrathi: I want to say Bearlike in appearance (not the cute teddy kind), this race are ruthless fighters and ecologists, with an extremely high ground combat rating.
Darlok: Shapeshifting “cyborg-like slendermen” great at espionage and infiltration. They are extremely stealthy and very two faced *cough* I mean diplomatic.
Klackon: Industrial, ant like, creatures. Their collective “hive mind” consciousness makes these oversized insects extremely efficient; although their creativity and capacity for research is quite low.
Meklar: The best way to describe the Meklar is to call them the physical embodiment of the internet, while these cyborgs are extremely industrious, they are also erratic and unpredictable due to the constant buzz of program subroutines and application requests jolting around their collective consciousness.
Mrrshan: Basically Space Khajjit. ‘Nuff said.
Psilon: Are basically the Asgard from Stargate but with four arms. Although they offer no real military edge, they are tremendously great at defending themselves and have a thirst for research.
Sakkra: Large lizard like creatures, geared for expansion and with a boost to population growth, most other races are disgusted by their appearance and lack of creativity.
Silicoid: Silicon based rock monsters with an unbelievably long life span and very low population growth, they can withstand harsh environments like volcanic planets.
And finally the Terrans; These guys are basically an evil version of Humans (“Nazis” is a term that comes to mind) amazing strategists, extremely militarised with a surprisingly high morale. Not at all interested in negotiations and likely to crush you without flinching.
You can also pick from a bunch of traits to make up your own customised race, but try to play through a few rounds to get an idea what your play style is if you want to be effective.
Once you have picked your race it’s time to set up a game, Although the best game is a long game you can gear the environment to make things move along a little quicker, choose the right enemies select fast population growth and production, choose a small system over a large one, pick fewer enemies, etc.… There are also seeds to spawn the galaxy with, so it’s a good idea to write down the seed numbers at the start of a new game so you can keep track of certain environments you may prefer.
As the game is turn based, you have plenty of time to organise your empire, and strategize for your next few moves. The GUI is fairly straight forward offering a list of tabs to help manage your strategy. In the old days Legacy MoO players had to keep track of their empire using paper spread sheets and a calculator, thankfully this isn’t necessary with the modern revival as it’s all built into the games GUI.
From the Empire tab you can view each of your planets current populations, productions, income, pollution, morale, biome and so on… you can also adjust your taxes and your empires focus.
The Research Tab will bring up a tree chain of research options, this is a place for your empire to discover new technologies to increase your effectiveness in 4 general areas: 1. Government increases economics and diplomacy, 2. Physics increases your production as well as improving on a wide range of technologies, 3. Biology helps to improve food production and population growth along with pollution reduction and terraforming inhospitable planets, and 4. Engineering, which basically helps with all the gadgets you will need to outfit your military ships and defences. There are over 70 different technologies to research but you have to decide very early on which ones are going to benefit you in the short term and which are going to come in handy later.
The espionage tab (which only becomes usable after you’ve built a Spy Centre) allows you to train anti-espionage spies to either slowly populate your colonies with or send off to your enemies to cause any number of internal political disasters. Just remember if they’re caught they might be deported, but more likely killed!
The Blueprints tab allows you to edit and modify your ship designs, you unlock additions through researching engineering technologies along with some benefits for other categories in the technology trees. Be careful though, just because something is new and shiny doesn’t mean that it’s going to be better than what you already have. For example, some new technologies might increase defence at the risk of dropping attack power, so it’s a good idea to dedicate yourself to one approach, or compromise for a healthy mixture of the two.
Both the Planets tab and the Fleets tab are fairly self-explanatory… here you have a brief overview of known planets and current fleet locations and objectives.
As mentioned before there are many paths to victory. You can annihilate your enemies to achieve victory through Conquest, or for a technological victory divert all attention to research and reach technological advancements that your enemies could only dream of, or squeeze every penny from your galactic flat mates and be the slum lord of the galaxy for an economic victory, and buying or earning votes for the galactic council will eventually pay off for a diplomatic victory. You have a limited number of turns to achieve these feats so keeping track of your enemies in the Path To Victory tab is a must.
Random events throughout the game keep you guessing, never get too comfortable with your “allies”, make one small mistake and you will discover how much damage a “friend” can make. Occasionally you’ll be hailed by the other occupants of the galaxy, sometimes they offer you splendour and fortune others times they want to trade research or embark on a peace/trade treaty. Never give more than you can get, or you may find yourself with nothing. The occasional appearance of giant space eels and galactic pirates can catch you off guard and keep you guessing, so exploring your surroundings is a must.
Master of Orion is addictive and just so much fun. I personally think I could sink 200 plus hours into this game before getting bored (I’m already at 60 and still loving it).
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About: Simon Mawson
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