Master of Orion – review

First off, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to play and review a new Master of Orion game.  From my youth, MOO1 is still one of my favorite games and frankly stands the test of time just fine vs other 4X.  Props to NGD for taking this project on and putting the resources and time into this game that so many people love.  The shoes they are trying to fill are vast and were filled with space piss from MOO3.

So, I’ve got over 30 hours into the new MOO and I figure it’s about time for a review.  I just finished a medium sized game and I’ll use that as a backbone to discuss various systems in the game and how they work.  I have a lot to say, but I’m going to keep this at near exactly 2000 words!  This is PRE-ANTARAN update, which changes the game in a few ways (and crashed on me too much this weekend to update this review).

If you don’t want to read further, I like the game and I cannot see going back to MOO2 ever again.  MOO1: I would play that again for kicks, but there’s a lot of jagging around getting it to work right in DOSBOX with the himem sys and shit like that.  The new MOO is an easy game to play, it’s not extremely complex and it plays fairly fast, but it’s a slow game compared to MOO1.  You will finish a medium size game in about a week of playing a couple hours a day.  This is in keeping with what MOO1 was– a lighter (and awesome) 4X game.  It has elements of MOO2, but not overwhelmingly so.

This is what the fuck I'm talking about.
This is what the fuck I’m talking about.

This is not a review of multiplayer.  Haven’t gotten a game of that yet. Maybe soon.

Aliens!

First off, I like playing Humans.  I’ve always felt that the AI attacks the player-controlled races more than the others, and Humans have some abilities that stave that off so you can better choose when to go to war.   They are fairly average in everything except shield tech, diplomacy and trading but really what do you need the most?  Money.  So this is with the Humans.  Think they are boring? Fine.  I also dig on the Meklars for just out producing everyone (even the Klackons).

The other choices are pretty standard because originally, they SET the standard! Most of the alien races, in MOO style, equate to some sort of animal.  Dogs, Cats, Birds, Ants, Lizards are all represented and the designers didn’t hold back in the redux trying to make them NOT be directly anthropomorphic.   A few of the aliens don’t fit the animal mode, and generally these are the stronger races in the game.  Psilons, Darlocks, Meklars and Silicoids are all stranger aliens.

Darlocks looking good
Darlocks looking good

Planet Management

I lean towards the Total War style of ‘base’ management as in, I don’t want to do all that much of it, nor do I want to deal with a bunch of CIV style tricks that are required for optimal play. I just want it to be enough planet management to feel like I’m making interesting choices, and not too fuckn detailed.

I miss the sliders, but planet management in the new MOO is fairly easy.  You pop open your planet and move your little guys around from farming to science to production (sorta sliders) and queue up what you want to build.  Planets, based on their size and environment, dictate the capacity of the little guys you move around.  Switch your environment for the better or pollute the shit out of your planet until it’s envirofucked (like our planet earth), and your amount of little guys goes up and down.

Buildings are pretty much what we had in MOO2.  Hydroponic farms, Automated factories, research facilities, planetary shields, missile bases.  What MOO does well is not having the same building being rebuilt in an incremental upgrade, like the lazy design of having Missile Base v2,  Planetary Shields V, etc.   When you get a tech level that allows a new type of planetary defense, it’s usually something very unique and non-mutually exclusive from what you’ve already built. The old building doesn’t go out of style to build, because it’s usually cheap!

Pollution is an important, but not too annoying concern.  Production planets where you constantly build stuff get polluted and you need to dedicate time to clean them up.  Leave pollution to hit a certain threshold and the planet will turn to shit, population will die, less production in the future.  Simple and also a useful mechanic for disasters and invasions/bombardments.  There has been an update since I started this review where  you cannot explicitly ‘work off’ pollution like you used to could– so I’m not sure how that effects the game, yet.

System Management

Moving out from the planetary level is the system level that can hold multiple planets.  Systems are just like the ‘points’ in MOO1, except they have specific points within them where they connect to other systems.  Your ships can only move from systems along these ‘tunnels.’

You will need a colony ship to inhabit the other planets in your first system, you can’t just jump people over there with transports.  This means it’s as costly to colonize in-system planets as out of systems.

At each tunnel entrance, you have the ability to build military installations or ‘listening posts.’  Military installations block any non-allied aliens from moving past into the system.  While easily destroyed, they are a good idea to build all over the place to stave off nasty surprises.  Anything built at the entry-points of systems will stave off the enemy for a turn as they will typically destroy whatever’s there instead of hitting the planets right away.

Overall, system management is more complex than MOO1 because there are multiple planets within each system.  However, fleets fight it out within systems and not just at ‘points’ in space, increasing the ability for tactical play.  Sometimes you will share systems with other races in harmony.  Most times not.

Galaxy Map

Outwards from the systems is the galaxy map. This is where most of the action takes place from a strategic level.  There are various configurations of galaxies, some of which start with a mosh, and some are turtle-esque.  What to watch out for is if your race is bounded by RED warp lines as these can only be traversed by your ships much later in the game.  I’ve been cornered off from most of the galaxy instead of thrown into the plague pit from the start and it’s a different game.

While most ship movement is forced along the warp lines, you can build jump gates that connect two different systems in a straight line.  Your ships still have to move at their rate between them, so it’s not instant.

I can’t find a way to AUTOMOVE built ships from my factory systems to the war front. Need to look into that.

Overall I dig the look of the galaxy map.

Make the fucking text bigger!
Make the fucking text bigger!

silicoids

Diplomacy

The diplomacy in MOO1 was built to piss you off so you attacked all the aliens relentless.  They would talk shit, make stupid requests and be generally annoying when you were trying to deal with them in any meaningful manner.  In newMOO, I found the AI not annoying,  more logical but more silly.  They still have stuff they say that will pysse you off, but not at the same level as the old MOO games.   You can make much better and more robust deals with them, and other than most strategy games I’ve played, they actually sometimes accept these deals instead of never accepting anything.  The “What would make this work” button helps a lot to speed up diplomatic actions and guesswork, which I appreciate.  Playing the Humans, I use diplomacy a lot, and have no complaints here.

Ship customization

MOO1 had two types of useful ships.  Big ones with the massive weapons that would destroy whole stacks, and small planetary bombers that you could build thousands of and clear out whole areas of space of aliens by bombing their planets, and leaving their fleets to rot.

The new MOO has almost an Ascendancy level of customization, where you add on modules and hope for micronization tech so you can fit more shit on a ship.  I really don’t care about this part of the game very much, so did little customization, feeling that if I built enough of the stock ships, it would be fine.  You do not have many ship slots, so if you build a custom ship type, it better fucking work well or you will be deleting it before you get many of them into space.

I think a key part of making custom ships is that you run them in real time combat.  Otherwise, just build and upgrade the base models and build enough shit to overwhelm everyone!

Combat

This is where MOO1 has it over MOO2 (and MOO3).  The way the turn-based system worked in MOO1 was excellent, where you could make a couple moves, then let the AI take over to finish off the battle with out dealing with the tiresome grinding and moving when you know you’ve won.  You could still see what’s going on with your weapons’ effectiveness, but you controlled what you wanted and then stopped when your control didn’t matter much.

In the new MOO, the designers chose to go the Total War route: real time battles.  I think this was a good move as certainly I have a shitload of mileage in TW games and really enjoy that part of the games the most.  Like Gratuitous Space Battles, it’s all about those key battles with massive fleets that take up the whole screen.  While the combat is certainly better than say, Endless Space, MOO2 and Birth of The Federation, I have some issues with it being sorta fuckin boring.

Coming to new MOO as a Total War fan, I expected the real time battles to have benefits to some tactics and maneuver.   In TW, you can win battles or cost the enemy dearly if you use the correct tactics for the situation at hand.  For example if you are a non-horse archer empire in TW (I pity you!) you’re going to be hunkering down in your castles a lot.  If you use your army to attack and destroy a horse archer opponent’s infantry (of which he won’t have much), he will have a very, very difficult time in later sieges against you, allowing you to whittle down the rest of the horse archers at you leisure.   So far as I can see, there’s nothing like that in the real time battles in MOO except kite around and shoot missles, which I’m not a fan of doing, it bores the shit out of me.   You can target specific ships and try to take them out, but I found in the games I’ve played that it just didn’t matter that much. You throw your ships across the void and just watch the explosions.  Making a couple choices here and there.  Overall I just run most combats without going into the tactical view.  I hope they improve this (just fucking copy Dominions 4).

Spying

It’s there, you put dudes on planets and try to do stuff. As you succeed, your spy starts to unlock more bad stuff he can do.  I didn’t do very much with spying in my games, but it seemed fine.  I’d have to play as the Darlocks to really get in on this as a ‘catch up’ mechanism.   I like all the different spy portraits for each race– there are tons of them and they are beautiful.

moo1

Aesthetics

Space monsters look stupid with the exception of the Guardian.  The alien portraits and animations, voice, all that stuff that gives the aliens character: it’s grown on me.  When I first saw the cat lady there was an OH JEEZ, yet MOO1 was campy and they’ve followed through with that.  There’s not much you can do when more than half the alien races are anthropods right out of the gate!  There are races I hated in MOO1, that I would always destroy immediately (Silicoids, Sakkra, Klackons) that I feel differently about in MOO1 based on their graphics and presentations.   They’ve captured the feel of the aliens, but if there’s one thing that MOO3 did well (and only one thing) it’s the alien design/animations.   It was great.

Ship designs are descent, but not really inspired.  We just don’t see the level of art here that Endless Legends has.  All ship levels have two types of chassis so at least you can tell your carriers from your warships, bombers from frigates, etc.

Overall, it’s functional, looks fairly good and most importantly, isn’t annoying.

Final thoughts

Unlike MOO3, MOO is not a cascade of space piss into my open mouth, nor is it the greatest 4X game ever made (like MOO1 is).  That said, MOO is a really good game and I’ve been playing since early release.  There have been a lot of addons and changes to the game that has fleshed it out quite a bit, so I don’t think they are done with development (and the recent Antaran patch proves it).  They have made some LARGE shifts in the gameplay based on player comments since early release, ripping out minor races and then putting them back in fixed up, which is pretty cool.  Despite having to suffer people pissed off because new MOO is not a direct rip of MOO2, over– very vitriolic complaints as people on the internet are wont to do.

MOO does not grab me like Empire or Rome 2 Total War* did where I can’t stop playing for months, but I do not believe that was the ultimate aim of the developers; MOO is a lighter 4X.   I can sit around on a Sunday, put a few hours in and get a good game going that I can finish up by early the next week with a few more hours of play.  The game has enough depth to feel meaty, but it’s light enough for me to just want to jump in and not feel like I have to relearn the spreadsheet like Civ players do.

Lastly, the game crashes and hangs up fairly often late game, and sometimes games cannot be recovered. This is no different than MOO, MOO2 or Birth of the Federation, but I think we’d all love if this didn’t happen!

mooundecided

*my favorite thing in TW games is the real time battles within the campaign context.  For example, to be fighting an enemy for a long time on the campaign map and finally catch their big army short or in a bad position where you can watch the slow, methodical slaughter of their entire force for 15-20 minutes or so is just my meat and potatoes.   Especially when you trap a huge amount of them in city streets and slowly grind them down where they have no where to run.  The battle was over in the first 5 minutes, the rest is just raw butchery.

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