Master of Orion Review

Written by Rick Lane

October 3, 2016 | 17:02

Tags: #master-of-orion #stellaris

Companies: #wargaming #wargamingnet

For the first few hours Master of Orion is perfectly enjoyable. The initial twenty turns or so are rather muted, as you've only got a handful of ships to command, and you must wait for the population on your colonies to increase before you can produce more. But once your economy has a healthy foundation, the game begins to tick along nicely. This is aided by a couple of interesting changes to the usual formula. For example, Master of Orion minimises resource management. The only currency in the game is BC (Billions of Credits), and this is used mainly to instantly resolve a building project (which can otherwise be constructed for free over a number of turns).

Master of Orion Review

Indeed, if there is a key resource in Master of Orion, it's speed. The game is all about outpacing the other civilisations, using your bank balance to kickstart a new colony's food growth, building research centres and Moon bases to speed up research times, researching new ship drives for faster travel, and decreasing build times by constructing production-focussed structures. Your ability to advance your civilisation isn't limited by how much hydrogen you can mine, or how much energy each planet produces. It's all down to how well-oiled your interstellar machine is.

This particular focus fits well with the simpler nature of the game. In addition, Master of Orion boasts fully 3D, real-time combat, letting you duke it out with another fleet of ships in a circular segment of space, give move and fire orders to your ships and arrange them in a smattering of formations. Like the rest of the game, it's fairly simple, but with a little tactical manoeuvring you can affect the outcome of a battle. Trying to keep behind enemy ships, or using the occasional appearance of 'cover' such as asteroids or dust-clouds, can help you emerge victorious in battles where you're outnumbered.

Master of Orion Review

The espionage system also comes as something of a surprise. Once you've constructed a spy training facility, your civilisation will automatically produce agents over time. These you can send to colonies throughout the galaxy, and assign them a tiered series of missions that increase with difficulty. For example, you can command your spy to infiltrate certain alien organisations like CyberCrime or the trade unions, which will provide you with information about that particular planet. Then you could command them to hack into the CyberCrime database, or incite a revolt amongst the trade unions, which removes control of that colony from that faction for several turns.

On paper, Master of Orion sounds decent enough. But that's the problem, Master of Orion is only ever decent enough. None of its systems are either deep or innovative enough to sustain the player's interest. The race you choose has little bearing on your overall trajectory for the game. Although some races are better at certain things than others, all of them utilise the exact same tech tree. Similarly, while the game encourages you to specialise your civilisation, ultimately you end up researching most of the available technologies anyway.

Master of Orion Review

A particularly good example of this is exploration, an element of 4X that Stellaris did so well with its abundance of weird and wonderful discovery opportunities. In Master of Orion, when you encounter an anomaly, it's nearly always turns out to be an abandoned ship you can add to your fleet, or a handful of credits to add to your coffers. Genuine surprises are few and far between. Diplomacy too is oddly toothless. It's extremely easy to become friends with all the aliens, even when two opposing factions grumble at you for having dealings with their rival.

I admire a lot of what Master of Orion attempts. Visually and aurally it's a treat, it has a sense of flair and fun that few other 4X games do, and I think having an entry in the genre which prioritises accessibility is a good thing. That said, I'm unsure whether that game should be Master of Orion. The series' legacy is one of proud innovation and forward-thinking, and I don't think that a flashy yet deeply traditional space-strategy is what fans will want in a reboot.

Master of Orion Review

Hence my conclusion is this: if you're looking for a way to get into 4X gaming, NGD Studios' effort certainly wouldn't be the worst place to start. If you're looking for the next Master of Orion, however, you're probably best looking elsewhere than Master of Orion.
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