Wargaming.net Modernizes On Master Of Orion
(originally posted on GamingPrecision.com; reposted with some additions)
When you say Wargaming.net, what do most people think of? Tanks, right? Well, believe it or not, the studio has a rich history with RTS and strategy games such as Massive Assault and Order Of War. Both longstanding titles led up to the breakout MMO tactical action game World Of Tanks. Their success with WoT has spawned World of Warships and World of Warplanes. Well, back in 2013 in an interesting move, they acquired the rights to Total Annihilation and Master of Orion from Atari in an auction. This, while a little surprise, actually nestles in perfect alignment with the talents existing at Wargaming.net not.
When it comes to strategy games, Master of Orion is a legend. As one of the founding games of 4X strategy, “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”, you lead an entire galactic empire in hopes of total domination. That endgame can be reached in a variety of ways be it diplomacy or even complete extinction of your foes. Still, always present in each Master of Orion game was the existence of an ancient civilization with extremely advanced technology. Overcome them and the game is essentially won. At least, that was my understanding of the game. For many years I poured countless hours and hours into planning configurations for my military space fleet (for both defensive and offensive purposes), and then determining how much time I’d have to explore new systems to colonize or attack nearby foes to absorb. Throw in the ability to randomize the galaxies and the size for each play session and you have a game that to this day could be played with supreme enjoyment. Ok ok. Looking at the first and second Master of Orion games today would be a bit of a pixelated eyesore for some, but for this strategy hound, they are pixels of love.
In steps Wargaming.net and my imagination is running wild at what their ownership of the property could mean. Sure, they will release an updated version of the granddaddy of space 4X strategy games, but what innovation or new ‘feature’ will be integrated into the game to make it their own?
Now one of the biggest things that made Master of Orion superior even to many of the games that are done in the same genre today was its amazing balance of difficulty and sense of achievement. Many games in this genre tend to have more features or great UI or extreme fleet customization, but then the normal difficulty is such that a session will be done and unwinnable in less than a dozen hours. Trust me. When you get into a good Master of Orion session, you are certainly talking dozens of hours of gameplay before you recognize the futility of your actions!
Master of Orion gave you a sense of control over each planet as well as the buildings and defenses you could arrange on each. Then there were armies that would continue the fight or defense for you. The game also helped you arrange trade agreements to supplement the resources you had excess and a dearth of on top of being able to boost colony sizes by moving colonists from one planet to another quickly. Then as the various events occurred during each turn, you felt as if you could or needed to tweak the direction or goals of each of your planetary colonies just a bit to ensure they were both safe and productive for the coming turns before you made your next ‘major’ move.
Now that Wargaming.net has the helm, I wonder what trick up their sleeve they will pull out? Slowly but surely, race descriptions are being doled out to the website to flesh out the goals and tendencies of each individual race. As with other games (like Star Drive 2 for instance), there are a number of races you can helm and each have their strengths and weaknesses. Star Drive’s strengths were in that they gave you champion ‘units’ that could affect the performance of each colony that they are assigned to or even to a fleet that they can command (including their own ship). Star Drive 2 also has a very deep and customizable ship creation system. While I didn’t particularly enjoy this system too much, it is packed with options and multiple ways to make a variety of battleships and fighters. A part of me wished that there was a bit of attention to allowing for non-military tech to be placed on ships to allow for a number of different things like asteroid mining, spaceport building, research vessels to study uninhabitable planets, or things of that nature. Science is about more than just destruction in space as we all know.
From what I can remember about Master of Orion, exploration via ships and your technology was another focus that widened the possibilities for resources, ancient tech, and so on. I would send probes and other fast ships just to see what was out there. Often times I would run into another race and spawn yet another phase of defensive building and diplomacy that I wasn’t prepared for. Still, it always made for exciting moments when that ‘fog of war’ dissolved from my map.
Where I think the NEW Master Of Orion will improve is in the combat. As a recent video suggests, much attention was given to the fact that the skirmishes and fleet combat needed to balance the excitement and pacing of the other aspects of the game. An encounter shouldn’t take an hour or so to complete despite the potential for intense tactics to overcome a superior enemy. Instead, it looks as if real time commands (much like you’d see in a Homeworld game I think) is the direction they are aiming for.
While I don’t think we’ll see hero units in Master of Orion, I would like to see Wargaming.net possibly add some of their experience with action titles to liven up or change the way that combat is controlled or carried out in game. Maybe it can be evolved to play out like a lite version of World of Warships in some way. I’m certain that is a ‘down the road pipe dream’ of mine but it would be nice to add a bit of skill to the strategy fights so that it doesn’t feel like two spreadsheets doing battle against each other.
I’ve also seen that many other 4X strategy games don’t really take into account the planetary assault aspect as Master Of Orion always did. With technology to upgrade ground troops and their offensive and defensive capabilities, that was always an interesting dynamic of Extermination. I doubt there will be an expansive combat style to this part of the game but I do believe it should be included. Games like Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators had a very interesting (if not fully unnecessary) ground combat RTS portion of its game. While I don’t think that direction is desired by ANY strategy buff, one could dream of another engine handling the ground combat quickly as well.
Still, I’m quite excited to see what comes about as Wargaming.net takes on this beloved franchise.