Master Of Orion Review: A Remake With The Soul Of A Classic
Strategy space exploration games once dominated my gaming imagination. As one of the deepest games in my PC library, Master of Orion was THE standard for my strategy gaming experience early on. Creating a spacefleet and dominating the galaxy with it and my ever growing colony list made me feel like a self righteous version of Star Wars’ Empire! Sequels occurred and while the second game felt like and improvement, the third game just felt like a chore. About 13 years have passed since Master of Orion (MoO) III and Wargaming.net has joined the fray of rebooting a classic masterpiece. Thankfully, their version of that classic strategy recipe is just right!
When anyone steps into a strategy game, three things always stand out:
When it comes to making or breaking a strategy game, having simple and easy to use menus to control and manage your fleets and colonies is key. Thankfully Wargaming.net found the sweet spot for both the menus and the screens. Each aspect of your galactic empire is reachable by appropriately designated icons at the top of the screen. Click on each one and you get (for the most part) one screen representations of each dimension of your galactic power. Everything from espionage and starship blueprints to colony development and research.
Probably the best example of the simple yet effective use of one of these screens is the colony screen. On it, you get a very complete and easy to understand representation of every stat and dimension of the colony from how secure it is from espionage to pollution to what kind of planet it is. All of this information is key as you will find technology to build and optimize the efforts of your colony’s workforce. Select and move populace icons between the three important aspects entitled Research, Food, and Production and you have the baseline for managing every colony in your empire. Taking a step beyond that, there is even a ‘template’ that will manage the populace for you. The template allows you to select areas for your colony to focus on which allows you to focus on other aspects of your empire when it gets a bit too big to micromanage. This option is certainly key for those late game moments when you’ve grown your empire so big that it could take quite a while to check on the status of EVERY colony as they grow. Let’s face it, strategy games already are a time-suck so streamlining the action (or at least providing a way to do so) can be a must-have for some Emperors.
The pacing of Master of Orion is and was what set it apart from many other strategy games. In a way, I like to think of this as the spirit or soul of the game. Defined by the AI and other little nuances of the gameplay, Master of Orion typically didn’t have that ‘impossible’ feel to it. As you play, there is the early exploration stage, then the colonial stage, then the technology rush, and finally the diplomatic/wartime late stages. Even in the midst of a heated war with another species, it is rare that you feel as if they are quick to ‘eradicate’ you and yours. You can easily determine which stage your game is in as the galactic map quickly shows you how dominant or pitiful your reach is compared to the rest. Each game session feels like it paces itself just like I remember it. Wargaming.net got that part of the game down.
Lastly, the combat. Here, I’m on the fence. I’ve yet to find a strategy game that manages to ‘perfect’ this aspect of the gameplay. Oftentimes this part of the game is a ‘whomever has the largest fleet or the greatest tech’ battle that is acted out by the CPU. Maybe I’m missing something but being able to effectively use strategy to defeat a fleet larger or stronger than yours seems like a lost cause in most of these kind of games. Master of Orion is no different. You get a good numerical representation of the offensive and defensive capabilities of each ship and your fleet. Then, even before you attack, you get a probability from the CPU of whether or not the simulation will end in your favor. After a while though, as with many other strategy games, you’ll sim to the end and let the quick graphic determine who wins each battle. While this aspect of the gameplay works, a part of me still kind of hoped for something innovative and different.
Much like playing the new version of XCOM, Master of Orion hits that amazing sweet spot of modernizing a classic without losing the spirit of what made it so appealing. There aren’t really any drastically new or innovative features to speak of which isn’t a bad thing. Getting it right is certainly more important that surpassing what we’ve all come to know and love. Wargaming.net has recruited some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in many games to vocalize the different species and their diplomatic and scientific advisors. The results are fun and rarely something you want to ‘skip’. This adds to the spirit and of the game and the immersion of each session.
With that said, there are a few things we all could hope for in a DLC or patch in the future. First of all, multispecies empires (as is featured in some other strategy games) would be very interesting. Maybe discovering a planet leads to a discovery of a species that hasn’t learned space travel yet but still has their own advantages and disadvantages when compared to the other spacefaring ones. This could add a whole new complex dimension to managing colonies with possibilities like espionage started rebellions and even unique technologies or resources.
As stated before, combat (both in space and on the planets) is very simple. While that isn’t a bad thing, it kind of tosses aside the possibility of Admiral Thrawn-style battles (see Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars content) where just the right moment or well timed reinforcements can turn the tide of any battle. Sometimes this has led to sacrificing another element of the gameplay but with this beautifully crafted core game, maybe we can hope for the future.
With infinite replayability, Master of Orion is the remake that strategy buffs have been waiting for. While some modern day strategy games do have some innovations and features that go beyond what Wargaming.net has provide, few have the spirit of a classic to call their own.
RATING: 4 out of 5