Master of Orion Preview

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IMPORTANT: This is an early access preview. The game is still not finished, there are some features still missing and we can be sure that things will be changed, balanced or removed entirely. This is not a final review, but simply a state of the game at the early point of its early access phase.

Let me make one disclousreclear right of the bat; I am a huge Master of Orion fan. I played the first two games at the time they were released, in 1993 and 1996 respectively, developed by Simtex and published Microprose. Old names, by all means, Simtex closed down in 1997 and Microprose eventually faded into obscurity. But the legacy they created carried farther then anyone from them may have anticipated, the first and second part of Master of Orion games being heralded as the creators of the 4x genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate). Unfortunately there was also a mess of a game called Master of Orion 3, but we do not talk about it here. Ever.

Upon hearing that Wargaming.net was going to make a pay-to-play game, I was both curious and a bit suspicious. Would they know how to create a game on this model? What will the DLC policy be? How about the final retail price? But most important of all, is Master of Orion going to be a success?

Now, after having had the early access version in my hands for couple of weeks, I feel confident to say that, after all these years, it seems we have a worthy Master of Orion sequel.

eXplore

Ok, the suspense is off, now we can calm down and examine the game in more detail.

It is obvious that the creators of Master of Orion wanted the game to be exactly like Master of Orion 2 (the reason why I won’t be mentioning Master of Orion 3 in this article is plain and simple – it was a horrible mess of a game that was a huge insult to good taste and to the legacy it was supposed to uphold). I salute that. Too many gaming studios make a mistake and try to reinvent the hot water. Thankfully, this was not yet another case of such failed thinking; if you have a winning horse, don’t change it.

Wargaming’s Master of Orion feels and plays like a crossing between Endless Space (in terms of graphics) and the old Master of Orion (in terms of gameplay). It works and it is perfectly sellable even in its early stage. All the ten original races from the initial Master of Orion games are back, and they are represented through animated ambassadors and scientists. One of the most impressive parts is the fact that Wargaming actually went with some of the best known names from SciFi universe(s) to spice up the things. We are talking about Mark Hamill (Star Wars) in addition to Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Kat Cressida (Haunted Mansion), Dwight Schultz (A-Team, Babylon 5, Star Trek: TNG), and Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street).

It would be best to check out this video, in case you haven’t seen it yet:

 

eXpand

As I’ve mentioned before, the new Master of Orion is very similar to the Endless Space in the terms of look and feel of the galactic map. There are no more direct travels from two stars, but instead there are traffic lanes, a sort of warp trails that lead from system to system. More important system can have up to 5-6 lanes interesecting, and such real estates have special strategic importance. There is also the case of unstable warp lanes that can be traversed only with a specific technology that comes longer down (or up?) the research tree. These unstable lanes can also have a special meaning to you

 

eXterminate

 

Out of all aspects of Master of Orion gameplay, I found the space combat to be the most disappointing one. In the legendary predecessor, Master of Orion 2, space combat was turn-based and it had a tremendous amount of tactical depth, especially in the very beginnings of the game with you your entire race progress will depend on how good you conduct yourself in initial space battles. This time combat in Master of Orion is real time and it lacks tactical depth that the predecessor has offered. Essentially, there are two waves of ship’s steering towards each other, firing rockets, lasers and other weapons at each other, and then circling around each other until one side gets atomized. There is some little control one can have in setting up formations or manually controlling ships, putting the more vulnerable ones behind and pushing the tank ships ahead, or even using special modules that will enable a short-term boost to the shields or engines or a micro warp jump across the battlefield. Overall, space combat is probably the most lackluster past of the game and, as it is right now, it simply isn’t sufficiently interesting. With some lack, this segment will also receive some tactical depth of MoO2, and it doesn’t have to be turn-based to be excellent – it just has to be exciting and stimulating.

Research

Research in Master of Orion is not as complicated as I have feared – some recent 4x games really have had a hard time making the tech tree overview intuitive and easily managable. However, it is far more easier and it is far more forgiving than the MoO2.

In the old Master of Orion a player had usually three possibilities to research in research round. Basically, what that meant was that you had to decide upon one of those three  inventions and forsake the other two. The only way to circumvent that was to custom tailor your race or play with Meklar which had a “creative” trait.  The “creative” race was the only one that could research all three inventions on each level of a specific tech development. The new Master of Orion’s research is far more forgiving than it was in the old one, because there one usually gets all 3 inventions. From time to time, however, you have to choose between one of the two or free inventions in the same stage, but these occasions are truly rare. This makes technological advancement in the new MoO game much easier. I am not quite certain I like it, even though it make a player’s life easier. It simply takes away the necessity to negotiate for the technologies, steal them or obtain them through conquest. This is still something that might change in the near future.

What is not so good with Master of Orion?

No, Master of Orion is not perfect. It is a very good game that I enjoy, even at this stage, but I cannot see myself playing it for longer periods of time – not if the following issues aren’t fix or significantly improved upon:

  • space combat
  • ship designer
  • espionage
  • ground combat
  • endgame
  • AI warfare

Now, this seems like a lot of issues at once, right? In fact,

My greatest issue with this game so far is the fact that the AI is not up to the game at all. This cocnerns both the dipllomatic as well as the warfare AI in the game.

Diplomatic AI in Master of Orion: The Faults

In one of my games, while playing Bulrathi and deciding to force a showdown with my close neighbors, the Sakkra, sooner rather then later, I decided to start the hostilities with some threats and outrageous demands. Who knows, with some luck, they might declare war on me, which will bring me into the position where I don’t take the blame for a conflict and the possible resulting penalty with other species. But Sakkra, being in all things at least equal with me – same fleet strength, same technological stand, same number of planets – surprisingly and without any apparent reason grant my ridiculous request to surrender one of their top colonies to me. I am so surprised that I give up from waging war with them, instead focusing my efforts elsewhere, and keep checking every ten turns or so if my silly demands will be answered in the same fashion again. Alas, it doesn’t work – after the initial present, Sakkra get mad and refuse to talk to me ever again.

There is a number of other equally poor moves by different races to different times where they are refusing extremely beneficial deals or threatening me even when they are faced with destruction.

Another ridiculous example was the war with humans; we met, both races situated on opposite sides of galaxy, dozens of systems between us, no conflict of interest. The humans – heavily sculpted based on Federation from Star Trek, which is not bad at all – happily signed a non-aggression pact with me, exchanged technologies as well as conducted several trade and science treaties. However, out of blue, they decided to insult me and demand 200BC (which is declined) after which they have promptly declared war.

After that, I haven’t seen any fleets from humans (except a couple of scouts flying around) coming to secure their border systems. In fact, nothing happened at all for the next hundred turns or so, after which I attacked their worlds. Bottom line? Humans had no reason to declare war on me (not even the possibility of foreign spies setting me up with something, because that feature is not implemented yet) since we had no immediate or foreseeable conflict of interests. They just did it, without following up with a massive fleet incursion in my empire. Which brings me to the second point regarding a flawed AI…

Warfare AI in Master of Orion: The Pacifists

There were dozens of situations where I was a system to system with a race with a far stronger fleet then mine, with them doing nothing once we entered a state of war. Once I had a ratio of enemy fleet to mine own of some 5:1, and yet they sat still in their system, on the warp point that led to my world, without doing a single damn thing. They could have easily steamrolled all of my worlds, but that was not the case, and they chose instead to play a defensive game. I took my time and invested all of my production in building a massive fleet, right before their nose, and eventually came knocking on their door.

Simply put, the warfare AI is several lacking, and it needs to be far more aggressive.

The latest game I am playing on very hard setting is equally confusing; while on border with a Klackon empire (at least 3-4 times stronger than me in any aspect), they are refusing to go to any conflict with me, although our fleets are massing on the single neighboring system and the tensions are rising. They could easily steamroll me any turn now, but they are sitting tight. Quite disappointing. If I win, it should be because I managed to face against all odds and come on top, and not because the AI has a PTSD when it comes to attacking the Big Bad Human Player, even if I am several times weaker than it is in every possible aspect…

 

List of suggestions & requests

Give us the ability to exterminate conquered alien races. This existed in MoO2 and is, well, a part of the genre definition – exterminate!
Conquer & gain technology. Conquering planets from higher developed races does not give – as far as I have witnessed – any technology.
Enslave other species. Give us the ability to assimilate other species as our vassals, ie give them the option to surrender to our culture when defeat seems inevitable. Not sure if we will get features like this until we have Stellaris on our hands.
Aggressive Warfare AI. Make AI more aggressive in war.
Ship Designer. We want one. We want the ability to mod the shit out of this game and give it Star trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica or whatever else faction we want to. We will probably get one, too, but we shouldn’t forget to mention it explicitly from time to time.
Research more demanding. This might not be a popular demand, but I think that it would be far more interesting to have a tougher, less frogiving research system, where one would constantly have to choose between three options, unless gifted with the “creative” trait.
Housing. Like in MoO2,

Preliminary verdict

Speaking directly and honestly, yes, I would recommend strategy fans  tobuy and play Master of Orion even in this current state, but at this state it is a game with the greatest unfulfilled potential I have ever played. I sincerely hope that the developer team will go that extra mile and invest all they got to make this THE 4x game of all times. The changes that were made when the second phase of early access rolled out give me all the possible reasons to feel good about the future developments.

I have a good feeling about this one.

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About Author

Vlad The Impaler

Vlad is an old school gamer, all the way back from the times of Commodore 64. Yes, with 30 years of gaming and some 15 years as an editor and author, writing reviews for a number of magazines and online gaming portals, he is the true OG of the gaming generation. Cake is a lie. The chicken is real. The truth is out there.

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