1993 was a great year for gaming; Wolfenstein had already smashed into the home computing scene like an epic World War II opera without a coherent story, and Doom was well underway. The one thing that everyone tends to forget, however, is the strategy genre, and while there had definitely been some experimentation into turn based strategy (Operation Combat anyone?), the 4X genre was more than a bit lacking.
Before we go any further, what does 4X mean exactly? There is the implication that 4X means ‘big’ and that’s not entirely wrong. The name is an acronym in and of itself with the meaning of: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. The four X’s bring games like Master of Orion a step above the typical strategy game in a number of different ways. Let’s take a game like Command and Conquer for example – it’s a great game with a definite strategy theme, but the battles are played out on tiny maps that will only last for about twenty minutes unless you manage to break the mechanics and prolong the game. A 4X game is something different entirely, however—it is a game that is meant to be explored, exploited, enjoyed, and lived in. This is exactly what Master of Orion is, and it’s a game that is undoubtedly going to take up a lot of your time.
Master of Orion – The Granddaddy of 4X Games
The first thing I want to say is that the original Master of Orion has always been pretty easy to get into when held in comparison to other 4X games and I can definitely say that the new Master of Orion was roughly the same once I got past the opening bug.
As I started the game and jumped into the universe, the tutorial told me that I needed to click on the “A Fleet Needs Orders” button which appeared nowhere on screen. If you choose to jump into Master of Orion I’m going to advise you that you don’t start out with a fleet and therefore bypass the bug that the ‘A Fleet Needs Orders’ button is not immediately available. In fact the entire time I was looking for it I swear I kept hearing “A Man Needs a Name” in my head.
In any case, there are other buildings and productions you can start, and you might even choose to build your first fleet, which will of course be very basic. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk a bit about the game itself.
Not an Uncomplicated Start
To put it lightly, Master of Orion didn’t come with an uncomplicated start. Like the original game there were plenty of races to choose from including:
As expected, all of these races have backstories, and those stories are actually told with superb voice acting which will definitely suck you right in. The only thing that bothered me was the fact that the characters or representatives for each race were gender locked – though that doesn’t really matter too much. In any case, if you aren’t a big fan of the available races then you can go ahead and make a custom race with its very own attributes based upon one of the existing templates. This allows you to play the game in your own way, which is how any 4X game should be.
Getting into Master of Orion
There are a few things you’ll need to know in order to effectively play the game: you need to make sure that you are making enough food, and that you have allocated enough workers to the different industries on your planet. You can easily set your planet to focus on a specific area of production which is something you’ll want to explore once you begin to colonize different planets. Right off the bat I noticed that pirate ships began coming out of the woodwork and parking over my planet, though their attacks didn’t actually do much in the early game – they’d save that for later.
On the subject of industrial focus, you can choose from one of the following for each of your planets:
Like I said before you’ll want to save the micromanaging until you start exploring the universe but the game doesn’t make it too difficult; all you need to do is build a colony ship and head over to the nearest inhabitable planet, even if it’s in the next system over.
The game is easy, I won’t deny that, but there are some economics that you need to take into account. For example, you are free to tax the citizens on each of your planets and you can change the amount as you wish. The increments go from 1 BC up to 5 BC, with BC standing for ‘Billion Credits’. Of course, the number of credits you’re exploiting from your people won’t matter if you don’t fight off the pirates, and you’ll find that if your numbers drop into the negative, the deficit will cause you to scrap a ship every turn until you’re in the positive. It’s very disconcerting to see your fleet drop in numbers while you’re warding off a pirate attack.
As you build your empire you’ll find that you can either wait several turns for your structures and ships to be completed or you can pay a credit price to have them completed immediately. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there isn’t a single problem that you can’t just throw money at – especially in Master of Orion. If you run low on credits you can simply wait for several turns as the people pay their taxes, but you will also find that merchants occasionally donate money to your empire, even if it’s not very much. Every bit helps, and the universe seems to know that.
Heading into Combat
Just like the other Master of Orion games, you can auto resolve combat if you wish, but you can also choose to go directly into combat, at which point it actually turns into a real time strategy game. It’s pretty cool I have to say, and if you don’t want to auto resolve you can definitely put some strategy into use here. It’s also a great way to see your ships in action, which is awesome if you’ve spent time developing them and customizing the loadouts.
Just remember, you do have the option to auto resolve if you feel you don’t have that kind of time, but you can never tell what Master of Orion is actually doing with your ships and you might start losing a lot of them. Then again, it’s nice to have a computer to blame when things start to go horribly south.
It’s a Social Universe
You’re going to run into the Master of Orion races that we mentioned at the beginning of this review, though how many depends on the number of opponents you decided to place in the galaxy at the start. As you play through your chosen scenario you will run into them, and you will more than likely have to decide whether you want to fight hem or be friends with them.
A word of warning: some of them are friendlier than others. One of my first encounters with the Alkari led to the exchange of star charts which helped significantly, and introductions with the other races were very much like Civilization. To be honest, the game is quite a bit like Civilization in space, but that’s not a bad thing at all – it’s a formula that works.
In addition to meeting with other races you’ll also have to deal with the news which I think comes at the most inconvenient times. During certain milestones or at various intervals, the game will stop and flash you to a newsroom where GNN fills you in on the ‘State of the Galaxy’. This is somewhat useful information which serves to tell you which empires have the most colonies and who has made the most progress. It will also tell you about any significant events, such as plague outbreaks on your planet or others.
This is a cool feature but I have to say the acting here was a little wooden. The voice was clearly made using a synth and not very well I might add. In fact, the entire thing is just painful to watch and it pops up way too often, ruining what is an otherwise very enjoyable 4X game. As far as I’m concerned, this is the biggest shortcoming that the new Master of Orion has.
The only other shortcoming that I’d like to mention is that the game seems very slow in the beginning as you acquire new planets in Master of Orion. Pushing forward however, as you occupy more planets and fight battle son all fronts, it starts to pick up momentum and almost feels like real time strategy in a way. The game is much different from beginning to end, and it’s a must buy for any strategy gamer.
It plays much like any other great strategy game, and like I said, my biggest problem with it was the news interruptions that added very little to the gameplay and were just painful to watch.
There’s not much to say here; it’s Master of Orion. It looks different, it plays a bit different, but at its very core it is the same as any other 4X strategy game. That isn’t a BAD thing, by the way! It just means that the developers have created an amazing game that follows closely in the footsteps of its predecessors.
Both the music and sound in this game are superb and you’ll find that the battle effects are pretty satisfying. If you’re looking for an immersive experience, Master of Orion can most certainly provide it for you.
Value for Money 8/10
The game is going to lose a few points here because at the moment it is actually a $40 game. I’m not saying that developers shouldn’t be paid for their hard work; they absolutely should, but if you’re looking for something different from all the other 4X games in your library then you’re probably not going to find it here. In fact the sole reason this one differs from Sins of a Solar Empire is the turn based play over real time, which is definitely something that you should go for if you enjoy it. The general idea here, however, seem to be to bring back that old Master of Orion feel, and at that they definitely succeed. Should you buy it? Absolutely, but should you wait for a sale? Well, that’s a matter of discretion on your part.
-Badly Scripted Tutorial
-Slow to Start
Related: 4X, Master of Orion, Review, Single Player, Space, Strategy