After more than 3 years of development the newest part of the most renowned space-strategy series ever hit stores. Many things have changed in the since the inception of this franchise. The former publisher Microprose is long gone and turn-based strategy games seem to be on their way to the crypt too. After the umpteenth game using the Civilization-concept, Master of Orion 3 was the sole hope for many gamers around the world.
The following review shall clear things up and answer the question if MOO3 is the savior of turn-based strategy or just another brick on the genres road to heaven.
“Graphics are not important” must be a rule in the “How to make a Turn-based strategy game”-book as I can hardly remember any title of the genre using a neat graphics-engine or having any kind of inspiring presentation. We, the people who buy such games, never complained but what Master of Orion 3 offers in graphics is an insult for every gamer. It not only threatens my eyesight but also dramatically decreases the general feel and playability of the game.
Limited to a resolution of 800x600 pixels the first thing we see after starting a game and having created our race is a big bunch of variegated dots (planets) which are connected through simple lines (starlanes). Like in MOO2 the menu can be found on the bottom of the screen and the important information and some submenus are placed on the top. The position of the menu reminds me of the games great history, and the meagre use of eyecatching goodies is familiar.
Besides the substandard appearance of the graphics, it also introduces some difficulty with the interface. The zoomable starmap is the best example for that. Only in the lowest zoom level the names of the system are shown. As the map does not fit on one screen the player is forced to scroll around with the mousewheel. This problem could have been easily solved by using a higher resolution.
Anyway, after having played my first turns I thought about having a little fight with some other ships close to my location and what I saw really illustrated a new low point in the game. Combat consists of dots shooting dots at other dots, and the expanding dots are explosions. I guess. I really can’t even tell. Fortunately, there is an option to let the computer handle combat, and from that point on the computer did.
Too be sure to avoid any further fights I went to the diplomacy screen to establish some contacts to other species and sign peace treaties with whoever I could. The animations of the alien races are simply amazing and I can hardly remember seing better ones in other games. Unfortunately they could not make me forget the many flaws the graphical presentation of Master of Orion 3 has.
Overall the graphics of the game can in no way meet today’s standards. To sum up the graphics, I have had more animated and entertaining screensavers.
The music used in the game is nothing special but somehow fits the genre of space games. The ambience is nice and doesn’t have an 'in your face’ feel. The same goes for the sound effects, including the standard “blip-voice buttons” as found in almost every space game. Compared to the graphics in combat the sound effects used for this part of the game are satisfying. The only time the games sound is far better than standard is during the diplomatic sequences, as the sounds used for the languages of the different species really do the nice renderings justice.
The user interface is lacking. It is not at all intuitive, and could have been improved. Due to the complexity of the game, keyboard shortcuts are a must but they also have to make sense.
One word in advance, if you liked Master of Orion 2 you were most likely a fan of itÃ‚Â´s micromanagement capabilities and itÃ‚Â´s overall complexity. Unfortunately Moo3 does not have perfect gameplay and will never be known as one of the best games of itÃ‚Â´s kind. ItÃ‚Â´s definetely the worst part of the MOO-series and in my opinion does not even deserve the famous title in itÃ‚Â´s name.
When you start the game you reach the race selection screen. Here you can choose from 16 different species which include some familiar races involved in former games of the series.You can also choose to design your own race, however this feature was implemented better in MOO2 as you had more influence on the actual strengths and weaknesses of your creation. After having chosen a race we proceed to start the game.
As already mentioned above the start of the game may be quite a shock for those who expect neat graphics, but even worse than the presentation is the large number of features simply missing or being automatically done by the computer. You can colonize other planets, explore new systems or decide on what things to research but as soon as it goes into detail the computer starts doing everything alone. No longer you can build Automated Factories or Research Laboratories yourself, everything is automatically done by the computer. Next thing to deal with is the construction of DEAÃ‚Â´s (Dominant Economic Activities), which are similar to Sim City divided into several sections (e.g. Industry, Research, Bioharvest) and serve as a place to construct the different buildings. Those DEAÃ‚Â´s can be build manually but as the AI does quite a good job here there is no need to do so.
Research is the essential part to gain the technlogies necessary for allowing construction of new kinds of buildings or more powerful spacecrafts. Unlike in MOO2 you can no longer select a precise aim to research on but have to arrange your complete science capability on several different research types (e.g. Mathmatics, Economics, Energy...). In my opinion the new research system is inferior to the one used in the games predecessor and Quicksilver would have done better not changing this many things.
Another change that was made is the new classification system for the planets which complicates the matters of finding suitable. The complete system has been changed and where MOO2 was easy to understand this game is simply much too complex and poorly elaborated.
Once change that Quicksilver has pulled off quite successfully is the expanded Espionage features. Spies are now divided into several sections including military, economic or scientific Espionage. This gives the player the opportunity to finally decide on what your spies exactly do and makes this part of the game a lot more powerful than in other titles of the genre. After having trained a spy you insert him into any empire you have already established contacts with and if you are lucky he will be able to fullfill his task and help you on your way to victory.
Fortunately the ship design part has been barely changed. You can still equip your ships with the newest kinds of technology and give them any name you like.
The leaders also haven’t changed much. They still exist but somehow it felt as if they were of less importance. A new thing is that leaders die after some time and can be assassinated by hostile spies.
Perhaps the most important part of the game and the only one which really improved compared to MOO2 is the diplomacy screen. Here you establish contacts to other races and try to hash out any kind of deal including research treaties and trade alliances but the really strong feature is the newly formed Orion Senate which allows a completely new style of playing and winning the game. Once you are a member of the senate you can make proposals on numerous different things. Want to lay an economic embargo onto another race? Want to have the galaxy declare total war on your main opponent? No problem! If you are good at diplomacy and you may even win the game by becoming the leader of the Orion Senate. However you can also win the game by annihilating every other alien race or finding the five Antaran 'X’, a new win mode which requires the player to find five locations spread over the whole galaxy.
Playing the game in multiplayer was the first thing I did, remembering lots of thrilling and interesting games of MOO2. Basically playing a multiplayer match is completely the same as playing a soloplayer game. It rarely crashed and was running nice but there never was the typical Orion-feeling.
Another negative aspect about the games multiplayer part is that the Orion Senate is a much too powerful weapon as even in early stages of the game. You can ruin game early by proposing total war or embargo bills.
To sum it up, this game sucks. Quicksilver took a quality name and pasted it on a seemingly half thought out game. Instead of keeping the perfect basic gamedesign of Master of Orion 2 they tried to do something new and completely failed. The DEAÃ‚Â´s and the meager number of possibilities to influence the actual course of the game combined with the lack of many cool features we knew from this series makes Master of Orion 3 the biggest dissapointment of the last years, with the exception of Christina Aguilera’s new hair color.
It seems as if the developers tried to automate as many features as possible and sometimes the player really feels useless as his only task is to locate and press the “Turn”-button. This is what makes Master of Orion 3 feel more like an interactive screensaver than a game.
Technologically antiquated and altered beyond playability, the game will hardly be able to find many players and keep those who already played the series before. Instead of being the eagerly anticipated savior of turn-based strategy games this title may turn out to be the grim reaper of the genre.