TL;DR – A good entry into the 4X genre, but it does not quite have the staying power of others in the field.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
2016 is turning out to be the year of the 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) games, with a number of quality releases not seen since the mid-90s golden age. Already this year we have had the quite good Stellaris, and as well as this, soon we will get the sequel to the great Endless Space and then the next entry into the granddaddy of 4X Civilization. At this point, it should be clear that I love me some 4X, whether it’s turn based or real time, bring it on. So I was interested to hear that one of the classics of the golden era Master of Orion was getting a remake/sequel/reinterpretation, so now that it is out of Early Access I thought I would pick it up to see how it goes. Now I need to say growing up I did miss the original Master of Orion games, I was playing more Civilization at the time and we didn’t have the luxury of Steam or GOG for those more obscure games, but I did get to play some of the games it inspired, like Birth of the Federation, so while I won’t be able to personally compare Master of Orion with the original, I will be able to compare it with the 4X genre generally speaking.
I have to say I do like the design of the different races and how they take that personality into the game. So when you come across the Psilon, the if the Xcom aliens were a nice race, you know that if you don’t annoy them you’ll be science trading bros or the bird-esk Alkari which you know will always be that self-aggrandising pain-in-the-ass no matter how well they are doing. All the races have a unique set of skills, well at least at the surface layer, and this combined with their unique personalities means that they do all feel different. This is quite an achievement because it is quite easy to have them all play the same and come off feeling a bit bland like Civilization: Beyond Earth [Full Review]. That being said, I would have liked them to take that these differences a bit further and actually have them play differently. Because every race follows the same tech tree, builds the same buildings, there is no real radical changes from race to race, even the Silicoid which are the most out there race in terms of gameplay still feel locked into the same course.
As well as the races, just in general the design of the game is really quite good, the in-game videos all look really nice, like the nice slow pan as you colonise a planet, that thankfully you can skip once you have seen it. The music is quite good, it does not really fall into that epic space opera style but a more constant companion. The voice acting is also generally good, though some seem to be more emotive than others, well in the case of the Sakkra science adviser, maybe some more restraint would have actually been better.
Gameplay wise, the Master of Orion plays really quite well because it feels like it has used some of the best features of recent 4X games and combined it with that classic gameplay. There are a lot of really cool little features, I really like the research mechanic, where a lot of techs give you and either/or option, like Xenobiotics that gives you a choice of Soil Enrichment Facility that boosts your food or Deep-Sea Cooling that gives you a science boost, this gives you the dilemma do I pick the thing that will help me now or the thing that will benefit me in the long-term. This in itself is really quite interesting but what is really cool is that if you pick one option and another race picks the other, you might be able to trade for it during diplomacy. The battle system all worked rather well, but I never felt compelled to do anything other than auto-complete, but this is a problem that other games like Endless Space had at the start. One area that will take some getting use to, is the way you move around solar systems. Master of Orion uses a model that riffs a bit on Endless Space, so while like ES or Sins of a Solar Empire you jump from one system to another, in Master of Orion each system is broken up into each individual planets. This means you can move anywhere in the system in one turn, but that you have to move to a jump point (1 turn) and then move to the next system. This makes moving around a feel a bit clumsy and more than one time you will get caught out trying to escape a system only to get taken out by the enemy at a jump point. There are some features that do feel like they need some more work, for example, the anomalies which function like out of the way goody huts from Civilization 5 feel like a missed opportunity, I have to say the one thing about Stellaris I like over Master of Orion was how they dealt with anomalies, here they just felt like a waste of time. Along with this vein, pirates feel like they are so underpowered as to why bother, but just powerful enough so you can’t ignore them, so they are more annoying than anything. While all the combat, diplomacy and economic systems work fine, I do feel that they do need to work more on the espionage system, also why no terraforming of Volcanic planets?
As far as performance goes, I have a reasonably good PC and I only saw some slight issues with performance towards the end game on huge maps, so it is reasonably well optimised but there is a still a bit of work to do there.
Overall I did like Master of Orion, and I think it is at just the right price point for what you get out of it, however at the moment, there is nothing there for me to see myself playing this six months let alone a year from now like other titles in the genre. But this is the way I thought of Endless Space when it launched and after a number of updates it became a classic, so all the groundwork is there, and with some more refinement and maybe a few features Master of Orion can get there too.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Game Direction – Andrés Chilkowski
Game Design – Leandro Sena
Game Design/Writing – Matías Paolini
Developer – NGD Studios
Publisher – Wargaming