Blastoff! Master Of Orion Leaves Early Access

Master of Orion [official site] released in full this week, leaving early access with a launch day patch to ensure things got off to the right start. It’s a revival of Simtex’s original interstellar 4X strategy games, and was developed by NGD Studios under the watchful gaze of some of the series’ initial development team.

Rather than a pure remake, Master of Orion stands on its own with a fresh story and updated mechanics. Players will compete to explore and spread their influence across the universe, either negotiating with new alien races or conquering them.

NGD went all out, hiring some impressive voiceover talent for the game’s ten races, including Alan Tudyk and Mark Hamill (don’t worry, they saved room for Troy Baker, too). Master of Orion also features customizable ships and over 100 unique galaxies, to help keep it fresh.

Master of Orion also got a launch day patch adding an intro video and making some much needed improvements to the AI, along with some other balancing work. Nab it on Steam or GOG for £22.99/29,99€/$29.99. If you’re really dedicated, the team’s also made up a nice Collector’s Edition that comes with the original three Master of Orion games, the official soundtrack, an artbook, and some in-game goodies, including the ability to play as the Terran race.

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  1. fearandloathing says:

    Hope it’s strategical dimension won’t feel as lacking as Stellaris’. Same goes for the AI, mid-game, late-game, diplomacy etc.

    • Zenicetus says:

      It’s a much more lightweight space 4x game than Stellaris. That’s the niche it aimed for, along with hitting some nostalgia marks for MOO fans.

      I bought into the early access and have played it off an on. It’s easy to learn; very different from Stellaris in that respect. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t exactly push the boundaries either.

      Keep an eye on Endless Space 2, which should be in early access soon. That one might be a contender for a modern space 4x classic, along with Stellaris after a half-dozen DLC’s.

      • Harlequin says:

        I thought Stellaris’ tutorial did an amazingly well job at easing you into the game.

        • Replikant says:

          I thought Stellaris didn’t have enough game to be eased into. Or maybe they hid it to well under that awful UI and I just didn’t find it.

          • Malarious says:

            I mean, if you thought Stellaris was simple, MoO isn’t any deeper or more complex. 4X games deeper than Stellaris include… Aurora and Distant Worlds, I guess? GalCiv 3 and Endless Space are both paper-thin. Doesn’t mean they’re bad games, they just don’t have much depth.

          • cookiesnap says:

            Played both and while i may agree that stellaris lacks content i’d say you’ll be surprised that MOO ain’t got anything particular

      • Jeroen D Stout says:

        I was under the impression it would be rather hard to get much simpler than Stellaris.

        • Zenicetus says:

          It’s simpler than Stellaris for several reasons. All the different factions play basically the same way. You don’t have to learn and deal with the various implications of combining Ethos and Government types as in Stellaris. There is just one FTL travel method instead of the three in Stellaris that can complicate territorial expansion and wars. There are other things like joining Federations in Stellaris, which is not currently working well, but a major update is coming.

          I think it’s clear that whether you like Stellaris or not, it’s a larger and potentially deeper framework for a space 4x game. It just ain’t there yet. Definitely a work in progress.

          I can’t say the same for new MOO. I’m sure it will receive some post-release patching, but I can’t see it being successful enough to justify spending even more money on those expensive Hollywood voice actors to expand the game in any major way.

          • P.Funk says:

            The wider framework doesn’t necessarily translate into depth. CK2 has lots of different frameworks for how the various factions work. In the end though the wildly different structure to an Islamic character’s game makes no different to how a Christian leader has to deal with him. Its still just a big old empire on your doorstep and few mechanics intrude to offer unique gameplay options for dealing with it. In the end that you’re of different religions is it.

            So I think Stellaris still needs to prove that its got depth just because its got more different bits in it than others.

          • mike2R says:

            While that’s a valid criticism of CK2, the way they’ve shoehorned very different systems of government into the landed feudal model isn’t a symptom of lack of depth. Its precisely the reverse – the system was designed to model western European landed nobility in considerable intricacy, and then got a reskin and a few surface mechanic changes to try and represent completely different systems. The problems come because its still all built on the original concepts of landholding and inheritance, not because its too shallow.

            EU4 has a vastly shallower way of modeling governments, and it works as a global game because of this – they can just change a few modifiers and write some specific events, and they have a system that works as well for India as it did for France.

        • Chalky says:

          Stellaris isn’t a particularly simple game. It’s simpler than other more mature paradox games, but it’s one of the more complex space 4x games you’ll come across. The main issue with it is that the content variety is very much early game focused, with the familiar slog of mopping up weaker factions in the later game.

          • Thurgret says:

            I only played one game of Stellaris – it took 17 hours – and more than half of it was slog. I didn’t finish that game. I steamrolled some sort of extra-dimensional threat that the AI wasn’t even really responding to. General disappointment all round, here. Maybe it will make for a good game in a couple years, but if they start selling heaps of DLC for it, I won’t be buying it piecemeal.

      • Farsearcher says:

        I worry about Endless Space 2 now Sega own Amplitude. They might DLC it to death. Total Warhammer was great but I was expecting just major faction DLC. Now they’re selling main army units as DLC too.

        I really hope they don’t screw up Dawn of War 3.

        • LordZon says:

          Give me a break!

          Total War: Warhammer is a complete game out of the box. You whine about a 7 dollar DLC that pays them to keep programmers on the game, expanding it. And it’s quality work. Boo hoo, you had to pay for more content. Do you have any idea what salary developers make now days?

          You spoiled entitled brat. Get a job if 7 dollars breaks the bank.

          • Replikant says:

            That is your opinion, which isn’t automatically more valid, there is really no need to be rude.
            And in my opinion the tendency to split content off from the game and sell it in special editions and DLCs is growing and worrying.

          • syndrome says:

            Well, you know, as much as I agree with you, what do you do?

            People want more content -> Content costs more money -> Development gets more and more expensive (contrary to popular belief) -> You need more people in a studio -> You can’t sell a game for more than $60 (which isn’t enough to keep you going), so you have to think up something smart, to keep people interested and paying up -> Besides, you have to think in advance, it’s money you’re after, after all….

            If you don’t like this train of thought, stop coercing developers into heavy-duty publishing deals, start paying them upfront to chase their own dreams, preorder more, put more trust, understand and research how much does development cost, try to make your own game etc.

            People can’t decide which model is better, as neither is clear cut.

          • Farsearcher says:

            I should probably make my previous comment clearer

            I don’t have a problem with DLC per se but I dislike the drip feed of small pieces.

            I’ll happily buy a £25 expansion with significant content – the Witcher 3 comes to mind as a great example of DLC I do like – but I won’t buy bits and pieces of DLC. I was talking about this with a friend of mine and they argued that expansions will fuel sales of the base game whereas dripfed DLC might put people off.

            While I understand DLC helps play developer salaries the end result for me is that I’m disinclined to buy any Sega published titles at full price again. I’ll be holding off Dawn of War 3 for example because I won’t be sure what I’m buying into.

            With developers I do like I’ll often buy their games at full price because I want to support them even though I have plenty to play at the time. I’ve also backed a lot of Kickstarters both because I liked the sound of the game and I wanted support indie development.

          • Josh W says:

            The first problem of DLC is what “content” is; in skyrim you can have all kinds of weird mods adding elements to the game in isolation, because the dynamic of the game supports random disconnected things, but look at something like broodwar; that expansion is good partially for the excellent single player content, but also because it added a collection of units that interact in an interesting way.

            To some extent content is not merely a new idea added to the game, but reshaping the game around it to make it fit, which means that in a game with a strategic element, it shouldn’t be possible to just chuck in something else without it changing the game, particularly if you buy a variety of different things.

            Now this is based on a tabletop wargame, where that is precisely what happened; people added new expansions in magazines that introduced new units to the game, and so in a sense people had to buy the magazine and the models to “unlock” the new content for the game. But the difference was that the code of the new content, their rules, was easily copy-able, and something that local groups might choose not to accept.

            In other words, as with modding skyrim, you could try something out and decide if you’re going to add them to your game. You can do the game design role in trial form before you commit financially, and that encourages you to take the role that the “content providers” are offering you; try out this tweak to the game, does it seem like something you want?

            You’re not installing inherent upgrades to your game, you’re customising it.

            So that’s the first problem, that fragmentary DLC takes away the sense that the game designer is trying to make a good game for you, and shifts towards them feeding you assets that you make a game out of.

            The second problem is the nature of purchasing something; in theory, if you’re buying something, you think it’s cool, you make a little assessment of if it’s worth it, and then you buy or don’t.

            The publisher or designer assumes there’s going to be this slight reticence based on budgeting, bundles up a series of smaller changes into a bigger thing you’re willing to spend money on. And then you get on with playing your game, having happily purchased an expansion.

            The other solution is to try to get under that budgeting reticence, into impulse/compulsive purchase land, where people don’t really work out the value of the money they are spending and just chuck it into something out of habit.

            Loads of games follow this model, mobile games and collectable card games particularly, and the problem is that their marketing is based around getting you to spend your money without thinking. It’s designed around making lots of small purchases and only later looking at your bank balance uncomfortably.

            There’s also something in between, where people just make content releases of pretty much random size, whenever they feel like it, for whatever amount of money makes sense to them.

            In the first case, the designer has recognised that spending money is something you should care about, and has tried to react to that by creating a “value proposition” to justify your purchase, in the second case, even though it’s something you should care about, but they want to try and get you to stop caring and spend accidentally. In the third case, they don’t care enough about it to try to push you either way, and so the audience buying it has to do all the work of working out what bits are worth it and which are not.

            (There’s also subscriptions, which are actually pretty good as a dlc model, as good as “meaty expansions” but that doesn’t feel like dlc in the same way.)

            In short, DLC tends to get you to do more cognitive work determining how this game fits into your budgeting, or fixing your budgeting after the game skews it. Being able to just buy games or get subscriptions is so much easier. I don’t want to think about my real life pounds all the time, I just want to play games!

        • Zenicetus says:

          Assuming they can retain control and resist their Evil Masters, the studio has done a good job with DLC in the past. They combined free additions along with DLC that wasn’t very expensive and added interesting content to Endless Space and Endless Legends. So I’m not too worried.

          Also, Endless Space 2 will have an Early Access period (AFAIK). That means they won’t be able to pawn off a game that feels like content has been stripped out for DLC. Unlike say, Stellaris, we’ll know exactly what the game is like — all the pros and cons — before it goes into final release.

    • PhilBowles says:

      It is nearly a pure remake of MOO 2 with a few interface adjustments. Surprisingly good for what it is, but very much one of the best strategy games of the late 1990s rather than anything that stands with modern strategy games.

      Space 4xes have evolved little enough relative to Civlikes that it’s not that much shallower than recent offerings, and like Stellaris and unlike nearly all other space 4xes out there it has personality – something desperately lacking among the likes of GalCiv and Endless Space.

      As for the Stellaris criticism, this feels like backlash from a ‘grand strategy’ fan expecting Stellaris to have been a game in that vein, when instead it was just a straight space 4x. By Paradox standards Stellaris is indeed highly simplified, and like the new MOO it brings nothing very new to the space 4x genre – but it certainly has a level of narrative detail in its quests and a level of population management that isn’t present in MOO (4).

  2. aepervius says:

    I did not buy it. judging by the video reviews and the gameplay videos, the dev choice are the opposite of what I would have done, and they seem to have ignored the last decade in 4X. I may nab it at a sale when it falls below 10euro, but at 27 right now it is far too expansive for what seem to be mediocre.

    • aepervius says:

      Drat forgot to add : maybe I am not in the majority but what I liked for MOO and MOM is the details turn based battle with some complexity. Removing that already remove all benefit I see for MOO over the competition.

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        Nauallis says:

        Yep, probably not as much usage for the heavy-armor two-shot MIRV missile ships. Oh well.

      • PhilBowles says:

        There’s been a lot of criticism of moving the combat to real-time, but I think that misses the main selling point of the MOO games: they allowed you to customise and control your spacecraft, and different modules and specialisations played differently rather than just being bland stat upgrades. All of that carries over in the new game – what’s missing is the tedious movement of every ship a couple of tiles a turn, and in retrospect the game is all the better for that.

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          Nauallis says:

          Thanks for sharing this perspective! It’s the first time I’ve read anybody making light of it rather than just damning it without any preamble.

        • Someoldguy says:

          I can see some people thinking that way, but it’s not for me. There’s no point in having clever combinations of modules that the AI is too stupid to use effectively. MOO had the nice option of allowing you to turn by turn if the battle warranted it or auto if it was not worth the effort. In the original the AI was pretty ruthless about the way it used its ships too. I can remember many a time that it swept past my defences like a mongol horde and dumped bio bombs on my planet because my super ships just couldn’t whittle down the horde fast enough.

          The steam reviews seem to suggest that tech areas have been stripped out, battle control is weak and all the AI races play the same way, so I’ll definitely be holding off and waiting for a consensus of professional reviews before going anywhere near it. I don’t need another simplistic space 4x.

  3. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I didn’t play this in my youth, but I recently started playing Endless Space and was looking forward to this, so I watched some trailers and bugger me if they aren’t exactly the same game!

  4. malkav11 says:

    The moment they announced that the battles would be real time (pausable, I think, but still) I lost all interest.

    • Zenicetus says:

      It’s realtime with pause, and there are some tactical commands you can issue while paused. You can split up your fleet for flanking, or holding longer range ships back. You can issue movement commands for ducking around asteroid cover. Nothing very elaborate like targeting subsystems, but you do have some hands-on control.

      No other recently released or upcoming space 4x has any hands-on tactical control at all (AFAIK), so that’s the niche for this game. It’s not very well developed but it’s there. Maybe they’ll keep building on it.

      • malkav11 says:

        I have no desire for real time in my strategy games pretty much at all. It’s why I’m also not super into stuff like StarDrive II, which was trying to take a crack at the MOO II successor label itself. But it’s a particularly dramatic misstep when you’re literally licensing Master of Orion itself.

        • Replikant says:

          This, pretty much. It’s not as fast, it can be tedious, but at least turn-based doesn’t turn into the chaotic clusterfuck that is real-time.

      • KasrkinTrooper says:

        Sword of the Stars II comes to mind. I found it was a better 4x game than stellaris and I loved designing my own ships and space stations in SOTS2, and the design actually matters in combat so your not just bolting stuff on the ships randomly since it cost money to prototype each. Only problem i with the game is dev support is dead since the publisher pretty much droped it plus the game suffers from serious performance degradation at 250+ turns and sometimes saves being currupted due to some database errors with the save

        • MadPen says:

          Sword of the Stars 1 is still the better game, imo. And for my money, probably the best 4x ever done. It’s got a janky combat UI that takes some learning, and with the expansions the micro gets a little out of control late game, but aside from those two issues, it’s just about perfect.

          I’m excited to try this, though. Moo2 always had a lot of personality (so that it felt epic) and it sounds like this does too.

  5. Zankman says:

    The reviews on Steam, when I checked it out, were actually quite, quite negative – citing many issues and omissions.

    I’ll have to see what quill18 has to say about it.

    • causticnl says:

      quil never does negative reviews, if he stops playing it, that should be more then enough info.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        Quill doesn’t do reviews per se, does he? He just plays games. But sure it’s usually a positive indicator if he makes more than one video series about a game after its launch.

      • Zankman says:

        Well, you know, you can also listen to his actual worlds and see what he says, haha.

        But yeah I’ll check out the amount of videos too.

      • P.Funk says:

        “quil never does negative reviews”

        Hence why the youtuber is still as yet not the most reliable replacement for the more traditional critic.

  6. Replikant says:

    So, it”s a leightweight space 4X with leightweight realtime combat. Oh well, at least they did not convert it into a MMO, a MOBA or a zombie survival crafting game.

  7. zsd says:

    The great news here is that Master of Orion 2 is now available for sale separately and no longer buried in the $50 early access package.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      You’ve been able to buy MOO2 for years and years now, on GOG at the very least. I think it was a 1+2 bundle, actually, but the price was low enough that you may as well just be getting one free.

      • zsd says:

        Yes, but I tend to lose track of games I have that aren’t in my Steam library. So, this is a win for me.

  8. pgunn01 says:

    I’ve had early access to it for awhile. Broadly, it’s a lot of fun in early game but starts to drag late-game. I don’t know if it makes it better or worse that the default victory conditions will normally cut the late-game off very abruptly. Also, combat kinda sucks both in it being hard to out-technology your foes (or ever defeat monsters) and the “take control” mode is very far from the highlight of the series (MOO 2); I have no idea why someone though the current design would be fun.

    I still replay it occasionally, but only for the first hour.

  9. Hobbes says:

    And the crowd goes mild.

    Wargaming tried to make a “4X for the masses” only to find out when you do that you end up making a sub-par 4X that lacks any real depth or lasting character.

    The MOO license deserved better, hell, even Stardrive managed better, and Stardrive’s *single* developer managed to entirely forget several aspects of the -entire game- (diplomacy, I’m looking at you right now).

    So, yeah. This one can sink gracefully under the waves.

  10. lastfreethinker says:

    It had so.mich potential and they pissed it all away. So sad.

  11. syndrome says:

    Here’s a transcript of what happened, translated from Belarusian.

    Wargaming’s Wife: Honey, your nephew called. He’s broke and asked for a job, you should call him back. I told him you were in a garage, tinkering with your Maus.

    Wargaming: Who? Vlad?! Oh my god, that kid is sure in trouble. I’m not sure I can get him a job, those generals back in the office would mock him all day long.

    Wargaming’s Wife: But he plays games all his life, why don’t you at least try…

    Wargaming: Sugar, it’s not that simple. He plays (whispers) sci-fi games. You know… The completely unreal ones..

    Wargaming’s Wife: Honey, shhh. General Zabyakov hasn’t gone fishing today, he might hear you. You know how much he hates (whispers) fantasy.

    Wargaming: I know, love. That’s the problem right there. If only he’d open his own gamedev studio, I could funnel him some assets, but insofar Vlad proved to be quite incapable of making normal, real games, everything he thinks of is a business disaster, an ugly mixture of real-time and turn-based, real and unreal. Besides, nobody plays sci-fi games anymore, he’s just crazy.

    Wargaming’s Wife: Shhhhh, you shouldn’t say that word out loud, honey, we can’t mention those unreal things and ideas when you know there are three WoT fans right under the window. Maybe if he could do it in a different country or something?

    Wargaming: I’m not sure. It’s not that easy. Oh, throw some premium keys at those people outside, I forgot on my way in.

    Wargaming’s Wife: (Opens a window, reaches for a bag, throws a couple of metallic plates, hits someone in a face) Maybe if you hook him up with a franchise that can’t fail? A game everybody was waiting for a decade or so. Oh, I know, you should also call Mark Hamill!

    Wargaming: Oohh honey, you’re smart, that guy’s like a secret ingredient to every success in lousy gaming, ever. You know what? Give me that phone… I’m going to secure MoO franchise for him. If he absolutely must make an unreal game, this is the least uncle can do for him.

    Wargaming’s Wife: I love you honey, you’re the best.

  12. geldonyetich says:

    The production values look great, but this talk of dumbing down reaches my ears in the same tone of hearing of a nefarious world-ending plague.

    $30 is a good introductory price for what they’ve delivered. In light of the accusations of dumbing down, I’ll wait until they halve it.

    Maybe Wargaming didn’t get the memo: the casual market is a dead end. It turns out that people who don’t play games much don’t actually play games that much. Core gamers might be some of the most difficult please beings on the planet, but at least they’ll buy and play your games. (At least the ones that aren’t pirates.)

    • Zenicetus says:

      I think the “dumbing down” talk is mainly about the change from turn-based tactical combat to realtime-with-pause, since that was one of the most beloved features of MOO2. It’s not that bad in the current game, as there is some hands-on control. But for some people this is a deal-breaker and I understand that.

      The rest of the game is not so much dumbed down, as just settling for what space 4x games used to be, instead of pushing any new boundaries. It’s an old-style game with modern production values like polished graphics and voice acting.

      I’m also not sure the “casual market” is such a dead end. Are hardcore grognards the only people playing strategy games these days? No “casual” market at all? It’s not like this is a $60 title after all.

      • syndrome says:

        No, he’s actually right.

        In order to cater to the casual populace, you need to factor in recipes for good player retention, and then you probably also want to drive the price down, and in turn consider the microtransaction model, which is highly incompatible with the MoO franchise.

        Everything I’ve seen so far suggests that their business model is ridiculously flawed. This might explain the odd decision to incorporate a real-time combat system, and also to litter the game with charming Disney-like characters and voiceovers, which is annoying to say at least and substantially deters their own target audience.

        High production values mean little for a game that originally penetrated the market with an extreme modesty in the UI department. This wasn’t a coincidence, as this is exactly what made its deep strategic core highly accessible.

  13. jezcentral says:

    At least it came out. M.O.R.E. looks increasingly like it won’t manage even that. (Not that I have expected it to, for years now).

  14. willowroolz says:

    FWIW, I’ve come to MOO off the back of Stellaris, GalCiv 2 & 3, Endless Space, StarDrive 2, and other non-space 4Xers, and I’m finding it to be a really enjoyable and entertaining game. Sure, it’s not perfect and it is pretty straightforward, but I’m kind of liking that after the slog of Stellaris, which I loved at first but got bored with quite quickly (shall undoubtedly return to it when it’s been fleshed out a bit).

    I’m about 30 hours into MOO now, and just started my third game. In my second game the Humans declared war on my Mrrshans quite early on (typical Humans!) and the ensuing war lasted a good couple of hundred turns. There were a few truces in there, and a lot of retreating, counter-attacking, seizing systems and consolidating. Unfortunately the Bulrathi were on the other side of the ‘huge’ galaxy obliterating the other races, and ended up winning an economic victory. So I was still standing at the end, but I didn’t mind losing because I’d been having so much fun.

    Personally, I’m not particularly bothered by the real-time combat in MOO (it’s more involving than at least four of the games I mentioned before, I think) but I do understand why others are, plus I think planetary invasions could be spiced up a bit and a little variety-per-race to the tech tree would be good.