Master of Orion pioneered the 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) genre over 20 years ago. Pretty much every 4X game that came after it owes its origins and success to the original Master of Orion. The sequel, Master of Orion 2 is widely considered the best 4X title ever made. Suffice it to say, developer WarGaming had its work cut out for them when they announced they had acquired the rights to, and were developing a brand new Master of Orion game. Would it be as successful as the previous games? Would it be as hardcore and difficult as MoO or MoO 2? Let’s find out together, shall we?
In Master of Orion, you start out every game picking a race that will compliment your playstyle. There are 11 races to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages for certain things. For my review play through, I chose the Silicoids. The Silicoids are described as an “outcast race that can handle intense environments.” Oh, and they eat rocks. PERFECT! It made for an…interesting gameplay session to say the least.
Gameplay, much to the chagrin of some of the hardcore fan base, is incredibly welcoming. This was pretty surprising for a genre that usually intimidates newcomers rather than celebrates their arrival. New players have the option of getting an advisor to let you know what to do, what you’re missing, and so on. It’s a pretty impressive and comprehensive way to learn the systems and ins and outs of the game and I found it quite enjoyable. WarGaming did give players the option to turn this feature off, however, so the hard core fans have a nice bit of challenge waiting for them. My favorite activity became Espionage. Spying on other races and learning more about them was an incredible experience. It, and the other “professions” were just as easy to get into. Again, a surprising choice given the genre, but welcoming overall.
Exploration is incredible. Exploring the galaxy, you’ll uncover new planets, develop colonized planets with a seemingly endless stream of defenses and upgrades, and make new friends and (of course) enemies. The choices you make will tie into the overall strategy of the game, so it’s important to not only think about what you’re doing as you’re doing it, but the implications it could have down the road. Do you want to be a diplomat or warmonger? Do you want to be an expansionist? Or do you want to do a little bit of everything? The choices you make are deep and have real meaning in how the game plays out for you. It’s an incredible thing to see in a gaming world where so many titles have claimed that “your choices have real consequences” only to have the reality be “your choices allow you to pick from one or two sets of endings”. The Galactic News Network (GNN) returns from the original titles and breaks up the turn based game with information on world and galaxy events.
Master of Orion’s simplified nature works well in many areas but it does have issues in some others. For example, the technology tree is so streamlined that you’ll forget you’re playing a unique race halfway through a game. Sometimes it feels as if this always ends up in the same place, and bottlenecks can be formed quite easily during more challenging play throughs which will limit your mobility throughout the galaxy. It’s a shame that more attention wasn’t paid to how this could be solved.
Combat is another diversion from the original series. Turn based battles give way to “real time with pausing” fights. This allows you to take control of your units directly instead of simply playing God and watching from afar. This take on combat is a welcome change in some cases and infuriating in others. Overall however, I found myself preferring this modern version of combat to the original turn based strategy format found in the original series.
Master of Orion’s sights and sounds are phenomenal. The characters and races all sound incredibly well done, the GNN looks and “feels” like it should. The ships all look impressive and real for the galaxy created. The soundtrack was obviously very lovingly put together as the music swells and dips at just the right moments in game.
It's great to see how far the game has come since we originally spoke to the dev team at E3 2 years ago (wow, has it been that long?) about this 'work of passion'. Ultimately, they picked up the IP due to their love of the franchise and wanted to make new MoO for themselves more than to turn a profit. You can check out our original chat with the team below (and see a combo of a terrible haircut alongside an impressive set of facial hair):