Wot I Think: Master Of Orion

Master of Orion [official site] and its sequel (the less said about the third entry, the better) spawned a horde of 4X and space strategy fanatics, sending them out into the galaxy to explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. Wildly ambitious, full of fascinating aliens to meet and kill – they’re rightly hailed as classics with a legacy that continues even two decades later. Death to the past, I say. There’s a new Master of Orion now; fresh blood with an old name.

Just try to ignore the fact that it’s wearing the tattered and worn skin of its progenitor.

Unfortunately, the one big surprise that Master of Orion has in store for us is that it’s not fresh at all. Underneath the brightly shining stars and slowly spinning marbles, it is as musty as my grandfather’s slippers.

Gosh, it’s a shame to have to write that. My experience with the Early Access version suggested that I might come to this conclusion, but I’d hoped that over the course of development a massive injection of vigour would have been thrust into its veins. Nope! What we have here is a game that’s competent, sure, and polished, but entirely devoid of surprises; a game that acts like you’ve never played a 4X title before and thus will be satisfied by a string of extremely conservative features.

It has all the stuff you’d expect from a 4X, presented through a slender but legible UI. There’s a checklist somewhere with a lot of big ticks on it. From turn one, it follows the all-too familiar pattern of picking technologies to research from a flavourless tech tree, building stuff on planets to increase food, production and research, and sending out ships to explore the galaxy and eventually fight. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this pattern, but it should be a foundation on which more novel systems can be built. In Master of Orion, it’s essentially the whole experience.

Through the first phase of the game – where exploration and peaceful expansion takes up most turns – I found myself going through the motions: working through the clear but dreary technological paths, constructing the same types of buildings with increasingly larger numbers ad nauseum, uncovering the same mostly featureless star systems as I hurled ships down the network of starlanes. It didn’t help that I was playing as the Psilons, a race of boffins whose special ability removes some decision making from the tech tree. You see, most races are presented with a choice when unlocking certain techs, forcing them to specialise, even though the options are rarely stimulating. Not so with the Psilons, who get it all. Ostensibly, it’s a benefit, but it makes research a bit mindless.

My experience playing as the Psilons certainly didn’t make a good first impression, then. I played peacefully, for the most part, but with exploration and construction containing little nuance or interesting spins on old formulas, Master of Orion is not a game I recommend playing as a lover rather than a fighter. Things got a little more exciting, however, when I took command of a more aggressive faction. Conquest! Mayhem! All the best parts of being a space emperor.

As the Terrans, a rather mean human off-shoot who can be summed up as the ‘space arseholes’ of the game, there was simply more going on. Sure, diplomacy remained nothing but a collection of bland treaties and demands, trade continued to be almost non-existent, and the galaxy never stopped being a disappointingly shallow place, but there was at least a bit more tension as I found myself facing a multitude of enemies. On the default settings, those enemies posed little challenge, but I did start to have a bit of fun annihilating them, peppering space with the carcasses of a hundred frigates and destroyers.

While it’s possible to auto-resolve every battle, there’s also the option to take full control of a fleet in real-time-with-pause scraps. A small number of formations and limited fine-control over the ships means that the combat does wear out its welcome pretty quickly, but there are hints of good ideas buried inside it. There’s a bit of terrain, for instance, like gas clouds or destructible asteroids that can provide cover. Don’t expect to see these things often, however. I’ve played three games so far (I say so far, but I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I won’t be returning for more) and the vast majority of my battles have taken place in empty space.

Once those brief conflicts are over the game goes back to being dreadfully dull, the only thing that makes it stand out from its contemporaries being that it seems content to wallow in the past.

On paper, the 11 races (10 in regular edition) all seem fairly diverse. While most fall into the typical 4X archetypes – the science guys, the warmongers, the boring humans – there are also a few that aren’t so easily pigeonholed, like the lava-breathing Silicoids who consume rocks rather than food. Lamentably, most of their differences prove to be superficial and don’t really translate into noticeably distinct playstyles beyond being peaceful or aggressive. And as I noted earlier, only one of the two is remotely compelling. Attempting to win the game through diplomacy, for instance, amounts to having a big population, while an economic victory involves merely building a lot of economic structures. The rest of the differences between the races largely amount to statistical variations, while everything else, from the ships to the buildings, remains the same.

Not only does this lack of meaningful variety cause the game to run out of steam after one playthrough, it doesn’t make sense. Let’s go back to the Silicoids for a moment. They don’t eat. They don’t farm. Their biology and culture is entirely unique in the galaxy. So why the hell can I construct fungal farms? There are several technologies and buildings that the Silicoids can research and construct that are entirely useless unless they eventually conquer planets with other species living there. It’s confusing and counterintuitive (especially since the game fails to make it clear how pointless they are), but the strangest part of this is that solution to this problem can be found in the original 23-year-old game. The first Master of Orion gave the Silicoids a more specialised tech tree and stopped them from being able to use things like farms and soil enrichment unless they traded with other races for them.

If I wanted to be generous, I might suggest that Master of Orion is not for the likes of me, and is instead a game designed to gently introduce a new generation of armchair space admirals and emperors to the genre. But if I was inclined to be that generous, I would also note that this doesn’t preclude Master of Orion from doing interesting things, and using a game like this to ease new players into the genre makes about as much sense as introducing someone to EDM via Gregorian chants.

There’s a glimmer of originality in the espionage system at least. 4X games traditionally fail to do much with the shadier aspects of running a space empire, but Master of Orion allows you to establish a whole network of spies to carry out a plethora of tasks. They run the gamut from simple information gathering missions to poisoning food supplies and inciting revolts, softening up the enemy for invasion. Eventually you can embed spies and saboteurs all across the galaxy, destabilizing worlds and helping you pick choice targets.

Unfortunately, however, it’s another victim of Master of Orion’s obsession with simplicity. Spies are simply a resource that generates over time, and they never grow or develop new skills, meaning that the death of a spy and the failure of a mission never really feels like a serious loss. Espionage effectively stays the same, from the moment you build the necessary structure to spawn your agents.

It feels like a huge waste, Master of Orion’s caution. A great deal of effort has obviously gone into the game. Just look at the voice talent found within: Alan Tudyk, Michael Dorn, John de Lancie, Mark Hamill, Robert Englund, just to name a few. And it’s striking, with fanciful spacecraft, stunning, kaleidoscopic galaxies, animated and colourful alien races – it might feel like an anachronism, but it’s a hell of a pretty one. The aesthetic doesn’t make up for its lack of depth though, nor does the plethora of talented voice actors make up for the functionally similar factions.

Master of Orion’s biggest crime is that it’s simply boring. One of the greatest powers of a long-form strategy game, whether it’s a 4X or historical grand strategy, is its ability to spawn emergent narratives that make players feel like they had a unique experience. I have no stories about Master of Orion to share. They’re all too dull. Nobody wants to hear about the time I found a space monster and just killed it, or the time I fought a war and won because I had a stronger military. They were just events that are already quickly fading from memory.

So desperately, it seems, the developers wanted to recapture the magic of this series that they forgot the context of its many successes. Master of Orion and its sequel were bold games, forward-facing and bar-setting at the time, and you can’t simply recreate a game that’s over 20 years old and expect it to have the same impact. If it wasn’t for its name, Master of Orion would be forgotten in a year. And even with it, I don’t imagine anyone is going to remember it fondly two decades hence, if it’s remembered at all.

Master of Orion is out for Windows, Mac and Linux, and is available on Steam and gog.


  1. brucethemoose says:

    So if this is boring 4X, what 4X games would you and/or the RPS hive mind recommend? Distant Worlds? Stellaris?

    • brucethemoose says:

      I really meant to say space strategy, not 4x.

    • Thurgret says:

      Distant Worlds: Universe is the way to go. Not just base Distant Worlds. Once you have the Universe edition – it includes all the expansions – it’s really a superior game to Stellaris as is (assuming you are seeking what Stellaris promised to be rather than the unfortunate reality).

      • brucethemoose says:

        Stellaris got me started, but even I can tell that it’s a skeleton of a game with insane potentential… Y’all really weren’t kidding about that half-baked Paradox release stuff.

        I guess Distant Worlds: Universe is next,thanks.

        • Fnord73 says:

          Bought Srellaris at full price, waiting a year to play it again. I hope they dont charge to much for the actual content wich will be the DLC. Why the f. is there no intelligence-wing in that game? Nobody read Iain M Banks? I want my own Special Circumstances, dammit…

      • Shadow says:

        As usual, people find it reasonable to compare a pretty much freshly released game with one with years worth of expansions on its back.

        Distant Worlds was a mess on release, and it’s pretty good now, but all Stellaris needs is time.

        • Thurgret says:

          When someone asks for a comparison, it seems entirely fair to give a comparison.

        • P.Funk says:

          I think what you mean to say is that its unfair to damn Stellaris and Paradox for the status of the game given the status of a much more complete game that at launch was no different.

          Instead you mistakenly seemed to imply that comparing the quality and value of two consumer products as they stand right now is wrong despite this clearly being about a consumer wanting to play something right now.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      If we’re just talking space, Distant Worlds Universe and Stellaris are both fantastic, so yes, those would be my recommendations. Stellaris takes the genre in a very different but very welcome direction, while Distant Worlds is gargantuan, seductively complex, and you can choose what bits you like and automate the rest until you get the hang of things.

      I’m also fond of the GalCiv series. It’s more conventional than my other two recommendations, but it has lots of character and a very robust ship customisation feature if that’s your cup of tea.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Personal opinion of the current crop:

      Stellaris is my current fave, for a UI that’s reasonably easy on the eyes (and mouse), and for the ability to generate custom alien civs based on classic sci-fi books, movies, and TV shows. It’s still very much a work in progress though. It has an Early Access feel, and will probably need DLC’s to reach full potential. When it’s polished up, it should be a great space 4x for emergent storytelling.

      Distant Worlds has a high rep from strategy gamers, but the UI is so ugly and convoluted that I just can’t deal with it.

      Galciv3 is disappointing. If you’re interested in that series I’d recommend the older GalCiv2 with the Twilight of the Arnor expansion, which introduced aliens that are different enough in playstyle to be interesting.

      Finally, keep an eye out for Endless Space 2 when it releases. Amplitude does great art direction, UI design, and the factions should play differently. With two earlier strategy games for them to learn from (Endless Space and Endless Legend), I have high hopes for this one.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Oh, and I should mention that a major strength of Stellaris is the modding scene. There is huge interest in modding for this game, and it’s easily installed via the Steam Workshop. There are many ways to push the game in different directions to your personal taste, or temporarily solve issues the devs haven’t gotten around to fixing yet.

      • Sin Vega says:

        If you go with GalCiv 2 (a good choice), whatever you do, don’t play the campaign. Same goes for Distant Worlds Universe, more so in fact, as it’s basically impossible without foreknowledge of what’s coming.

      • FireStorm1010 says:

        I think i prefer new MOO over Stellaris at this point.Stellaris was fun, but in th end for me the decisions you make in Stellaris feels very inqonsequential. Apart from declaring war , there doesnt seem mcuh to decide all the rest of the stuff is really no desicion. Building up planets, upgradign exisitng building, building up fleets, even research… it seems to me like as well an automate could play that game instead of me. And fleet combat , while beatifull is so unsatisfying. Big blob wins all. Forget some manoevres of reinforcements (never enough time for that).

        • Zenicetus says:

          Regarding that comment that an AI might as well be playing your faction, I think the best way to play Stellaris is with some heavy role-playing, so there is a context for making decisions.

          I’ve managed to have fun roleplaying a few games as Kzin warriors, or Conjoiner hive mind/cybernetic humans. The race creation setup isn’t perfect for it, because there are too many rigid limits in Ethos and Government types. Also some current bugs/design flaws that limit things like slave-owning Kzin empires. But I can still approximate a few sci-fi races like this. And then I have a background for making decisions, and some self-imposed goals for what to get out of each campaign. Otherwise the game is pretty dry.

      • Someoldguy says:

        I do find it a little ironic that this game gets the snooze factor treatment when Endless Space was hailed as good. To me they are both uninspired versions of what has gone before, with techs trees full of go faster +1 and hit harder +2. I come back to ES from time to time but it has never hooked me. Abstracting the combat so much just turns it into a maths game of efficient expansion with no payoff to look forward to when your military finally get into the action. I had more fun in MoO 3.

        Of course MoO(4) has the harder task because it’s deliberately trying to be a slightly modernised MoO2. Streamlining the game, reducing the tech tree and turning the combat real time risks losing just as many fans as it wins over. It definitely lost me. I’ll keep waiting for Stellaris to improve and watching the horizon for another game that manages to strike the right balance for me. Alpha Centauri 2, anyone?

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      Stellaris eventually just bored my brains out through my ears. It was like playing cookie clicker.

      The best 4X I know is Alpha Centauri. I am still struggling to find something that is as interesting as that, many of the games just feel philosophically vacuous compared to SMAC.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Got to admit, I’m having a hard time coming up with anything better than Alpha Centauri. Certainly its diplomacy and faction interactions are better than any of the competition.

        • Jeroen D Stout says:

          Alpha Centauri really drew on real-world philosophy and technology, giving every building and leader a moral consideration on top of in-game effects. It’s hard to explain why; in Stellaris I never felt like I had any reason to attack anybody and I only did it for in-game rewards, which gave me little joy. In SMAC all that needed to happen was that one day I start the game and think “actually, Lal is a peacekeeping simpleton and I hate his peaceful snobbery”. It was easy to imagine I would turn on my state broadcasting service and just spin propaganda that made my faction hate Lal… considering, too, that your faction was mostly a band of brainwashed drones.

          In a strange way it gave every alliance and social engineering choice a large mental set of consequences. “I can be at peace with the Gaians,” you think to yourself, “because even though I am capitalist, my society is green and they’ll tolerate my power.” Then eventually Deirdre just gets sick of you, you fight, you grow tired of your pacifism and after the war machine pumps out an army she ends up in one of your Punishment Spheres. Its victory is sad, because it means you eradicated all dissenting thought.

          It’s great because all of this is sort-of between the lines and is not overt. Just sublimely written and designed.

          • Sin Vega says:

            Very much agree. It feels involving and real in a way no other similar game is. In particular, when you’re friendly with someone, they actually act nicely to you, and actively support you in visible, practical ways. I had a great game as the Hive where I became good friends with the University. In another game that’d basically mean “we don’t attack you”. In Alpha Centauri, I used my industrial might to pump out units that garrisoned their undefended cities for them, and they sent me regular gifts of technology unprompted. By the end game I was clearly dominant but didn’t even consider attacking them, because they were my friends.

            That simply doesn’t happen in most games, where you have to really strain to read any kind of meaning into diplomacy.

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            Nauallis says:

            Right? That diplomacy system was amazing. That Civ4 lost many of those elements, and Civ5 was absolutely terrible in comparison, was a bit of a shocker. Some of my favorite options were the approaches available for selling or acquiring tech. Loan, trade, direct purchase, gift, tribute, and scaling obsolescence were all integrated, and changed based on your factional diplomacy. I also liked that you could partial-rush production queues, instead of always buy-in-full.

          • Jeroen D Stout says:

            There was always that moment where you are sort-of friends with someone, but you eradicate a few factions and suddenly your friend stops answering your calls and refuses to share tech with you. In a strange way being too good at the game was punished by being friendless on Planet because they don’t trust you.

          • Einsammler says:

            A compelling sub-thread in that description is I know who runs the city of drones just from the single sentence.

            Perhaps Sword of the Stars assigns personality to the factions in such a way, but most others fail at it.

          • Danley says:

            I should push myself through a game of Alpha Centauri. I’d made such a tactical leap in preference for Civ V over Civ IV that SMAC just felt like going backwards, since I love the combat in V specifically. So it’s funny in this case with MOO that the return to its roots was a dissatisfying experience, because I’m about to hit 200 hours of Beyond Earth, and it was a game that many people were disappointed with because of what seemed like a complete removal of what made SMAC unique. But like any other 4X, the game has grown and seen plenty of new features added. I’m about to hit 200 hours and have to recommend spending some time with it so long as you use the Rising Tide expansion. Especially since it hasn’t been mentioned at all in the comments, though a half dozen other 4Xs I own and don’t play have been.

            [Bit of a hijack to address why I like Civilization: Beyond Earth, but I think it’s relevant given the Sid Meier connection.]

            If you liked combat in Civ V, and are willing to spend a bit of time learning a made up sci-fi tech tree where a lot of the complexity is buried, then I have to believe you’ll like Beyond Earth in its current form, though like Civ V that does involve also buying the expansion. FWIW, for the next 48 hours the game with Rising Tide is on sale for $28 on the Humble Store. The fact they’re not pushing it in the 2K Build Your Own Bundle sale is discouraging, and part of the reason the game hasn’t gotten the same attention Civ V did in its penultimate form before Brave New World.

            The reason why I say you probably need to like combat is that at least on moderate to higher difficulties, you can’t win if you don’t at least understand how to defend whatever map you’re expanding into (which often have a lot more impassable terrain than a Civ V map would have). I suppose this is how every 4X works, but because combat gets so versatile in the late game you just can’t ignore it. Cities are sacked very easily at first, though it’s easy to buy defensive buildings right after it’s settled. Once hover vehicles and orbital attack/healing platforms become available, you can effectively deploy anywhere on the map, which also means you can be attacked. So even if you bottleneck navy or ground forces, you can’t neglect air and space combat (which is where another expansion should have focused) though it does seem limited and shallow with the options available to you early in the game.

            A problem I’ve always had with Civ is how little happens in the early game for how long it takes. In Beyond Earth, you’ll face a lot of the same drag. So many turns seem to be dedicated to revealing the map and navigating alien life, deciding if you want to clear them like barbarians or keep them around as a buffer and eventually a domesticated asset. This would be fine if it didn’t feel like having to jump back to the Ancient Era with its tutorial pace, if there was some diversity to exploration or conservation. But for the most part every Civ will play very similarly until they’ve started to diverge through affinities, at which point the real character of the game has a chance to take shape.

            Here’s the best way I can describe Civ BE. It’s like you’ve just won a science victory in Civ V but could only take Modern Era tech with you, and only to discover that other civs that lagged behind in science caught up and made the trip as well, bringing the variety of conflicting ideologies with them. So you have to redevelop planes, satellites, missiles and navies even if that wasn’t what got you a science victory. These technologies are obscured by separation and by the attitudes that would develop within communities that have had to adopt an alien world, fully aware of the consequences that industrial development had on Earth. So rather than simply research a new technology exactly as a person on Earth would have in its particular history, you discover it within the context of this alien place that can preserve the old way of life or reject it outright, and it will be this balance between accepting or rejecting Earth that will decide the shape your units will take, and the ways you can effectively 4X. Besides Domination, every victory type is tied to not only researching a given technology and building a particular wonder, but also the way in which that wonder will demand you construct your society a particular way to fulfill its victory conditions.

            There are two kinds of unit diversity: the units themselves, and then the upgrades they get that are unique to each affinity. The order in which you research new technologies determines how these affinities develop, with universal bonuses for each level. But upgrades for your units will become tied to which affinity levels are reached first. If you balance your research, you can hand select the kind of upgrades you want, but if you try to rush a particular victory type or tech, you’ll develop an affinity sooner than you do the others and this will limit the upgrades you [must] choose, which also changes the way your units play. Things like detect invisible units, damage bonus for adjacent troops, passive healing, extra range, ability to carry planes, etc. If you focus on certain affinities, you will begin to reflect the particular characteristics of that ideology down to the way your units and cities are presented aesthetically.

            I wish there was tech training, either through whole units or just modular upgrades that you could acquire from other cultures, but as it is I do like the way you develop shapes the gameplay.

            (Finally, the Rising Tide expansion is necessary because in addition to naval cities that can secure territory by moving along coastal tiles, it revamps the diplomacy system in a way that makes the use of force seem like a bargaining chip. If you can destroy someone’s infrastructure to the point they surrender, you literally decide what spoils you want to take from them — including outposts/cities — if you have a high enough war score, which you gain by killing units or capturing outposts. So even if you’re not looking to dominate your opponents, you can use combat to coax them into giving you other things you didn’t focus on.)

      • malkav11 says:

        Alpha Centauri is amazing, perhaps the best 4X of all time, but one thing it definitely isn’t is a space 4X. It’s 100% planetbound, barring the notional space presence of a few late game techs/developments. And just the one planet.

      • MacTheGeek says:

        I know that the gist of the MOO review is that it’s a downer because it doesn’t innovate anything… but truth be told, if EA published “SMAC 2016” with all the original systems running under a modern graphics engine, I’d buy it.

      • ilitarist says:

        Sadly AC is hard to get into today. I’ve tried years ago and it was already unplayable. Even though I’ve played first Civilization long time ago without problems.

    • geldonyetich says:

      Am disappoint, RPS hive mind: Nobody mentioned Sword Of The Stars, which I think is the best space 4X hands down.

      Maybe we’re repressing the memory of Sword Of The Stars due to the bitter disappointment of its sequel, released buggy as a beehouse with innovations in the entirely wrong directions.

      • Sin Vega says:

        SOTS is one of those that I’ve owned for years, and periodically opened, wearily clicked on a few things, then got bored and given up.

        OR it’s possible that I’m thinking of sins of a solar empire. I always get those two mixed up. But the result is the same either way. I don’t know what it is about them both that just makes me too tired to learn how to play them.

        • geldonyetich says:

          Probably SoaSE is boring you. It’s an outstanding game in many ways, but making the whole game an RTS is decidedly humdrum.

          SOTS is classic 4X on the universe level, RTS on the tactical combat level, but it’s all done very elegantly with great depth and new twists to the formula, like how broadsiding makes more sense to some ships, and there’s locational damage, and different races have completely different approaches to FTL travel.

      • khamul says:

        I was just about to log in specifically to recommend SotS.

        It’s an amazing game. It’s *incredibly* deep. So many systems, and they all interact in such rich ways. Real asymmetric balance, where each race is deeply, fundamentally different to the others, in so many ways – from the way their drives work, to where the turrets are on their ships. Tech trees where techs are chance-based, with different odds for each species…

        Oh, I could go on for ages about all the innovations that place it so far beyond everything else that’s out there. It is *not* easy to get into – but it is absolutely worth the effort!

        From SotS1, it took me a long time to get my head around SotS2. I would say it’s not buggy any more – and it’s incredibly pretty, I think, for a game its age. I’m not sure that the systems play together quite as well as in SotS1, but there’s still a lot there to enjoy.

        Yeah. Best 4X games EVAR, far as I’m concerned.

    • malkav11 says:

      Honestly, I’d still recommend Master of Orion II. I just have not found a space 4X game that has lived up to it – and yes, I’ve played things like GalCiv II (utterly personality-free and sterile), Endless Space (pretty and with inklings of personality but the moment to moment gameplay never really did much for me – hoping the sequel is a big improvement, given that Endless Legend is a much better game and that suggests they’re improving), and quite a few others. I will admit not to having played Stellaris but I was deeply skeptical of that title prior to launch and the lukewarm reception seems to indicate my skepticism was warranted. Perhaps Distant Worlds would prove rewarding – I did purchase the Universe release on Steam, but as I have yet to run it, I cannot say for sure.

      I kickstarted a space 4X called Predestination that sounds extremely promising and has a ton of innovative ideas, which might be worth keeping an eye on, but of course I did that over 3 (maybe even 4) years ago and it isn’t out yet, so who knows.

      • Ckrauser says:

        Actually, Predestination is on steam right now in ear-ly acc-ess (gotta avoid those grawlixes)

      • Pyromanta says:

        Predestination is actually pretty good, if a bit buggy, in its current state. It has some novel ideas, like building Civ-like cities on planets before venturing into space. It needs a serious UK overhaul and some more meat added to the ground game before its done though. I’d recommend waiting a bit but definitely keep an eye on it.

        • Pyromanta says:

          Seriously need to fix that autocorrect. I meant UI overhaul.

    • Haldurson says:

      Stellaris has a whole lot to like about it, but imho, it’s not quite ready for prime time. They still need to add lots more to the mid-game. Essentially, you’ll have a great time exploring and colonizing all the worlds around you, but currently, the game kind of runs out of gas as you run out of interesting places to explore.

      My current favorite 4X title is an older one — Sword of the Stars (the first one, not the second). What I love about it is some of the buried surprises in the game, all of the different alien menaces that plague both you and your allies’ empires as well as those of your enemies. Stellaris has a bit of that if you can make it to the end game. But SotS has it all the way through, from beginning to end. And because there are a variety of huge galactic menaces, you won’t exhaust the possibilities in a single playthrough. Granted it can be a very long game, but still, it’s tremendous fun. The less said about its sequel, the better.

    • shadowmarth says:

      GalCiv is the truest successor to MoO. I haven’t played the new MoO (certainly will sooner or later, as the original was formative), but the GalCiv guys have been at it ever since. Really though, there was one thing that could have instantly gotten me into this new MoO, that I haven’t noticed any other successors doing: the original combat! It had pretty neat and varied turn-based combat that was different depending how you outfitted your ships. In MoO2 it definitely got tedious as your fleets got preposterously large, but I still would love for someone to go and do it right.

    • ilitarist says:

      TBH, everything that was said in this review about MoO4 can be said about every other space 4X – apart from polish and budget.

      Then there are Stellaris and Distant Worlds. Stellaris is work in progress but don’t buy into this “it will be good in a year” talk: Paradox doesn’t really do this, Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4 and Victoria 2 where interesting and good games on day 1 and had all the fame. Hearts of Iron 3, March of Eagles, Sengoku where obvious misses and where quickly forgotten – apart from Hearts of Iron 3 which was revitalized over and over again while community continued to play HoI2 derivatives. CK2 and EU4 became bigger with expansions but everything that made them great was obvious from the very beginning. Stellaris potential is akin to, say, Spore or Empire Total War potential. You can see that it could be much more but it wasn’t, and current director blatantly says he thinks there were huge mistakes about the games which he’s not going to fix and instead concentrate on a new content.

      Distant Worlds, on the other hand, is painful to play through. It’s barely above freeware amateur games in terms of UI, performance and graphics, and it costs so much you could buy MoO4, GalCiv3 and Endless Space instead. Some people love it for the simulation vibe, I guess, as it also lacks gameplay choices: you can safely run the game without doing anything and have a good chances of outright winning the game.

      I’d say Endless Space is the most aesthetically pleasing and genuinely fun to play. But just as MoO4 it’s not very complex and unique. Wait for Endless Space 2.

    • FireStorm1010 says:

      Imho of the most recent 4x games Endless Legend was best. I also loved Polaris Sector , but its a more specfic 4x alike, with pausable real time, and focus on war aspect. GalCiv3 and StarDrive 2 wasnt bad, but since i have played only a few games of each and didnt get back, i guess somethign was missing. I havnet tried SD2 with the new expansion , and according to some poeple it gets much better with it.

      Of older ones SOTS is for sure a great classic. I loved the unfinished SOTS2 too, but most poeple hate it.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Thanks RPS hivemind, I’m currently looking into distant worlds: universe and SOTS.

      I’ve actually had Alpha Centauri for awhile, and put many hours into Beyond Earth co-op… but I couldn’t get used to AC’s interface. Maybe I’ll give it another shot.

  2. Neutrino says:

    “…you can’t simply recreate a game that’s over 20 years old and expect it to have the same impact”

    How do you know since they didn’t try?

    If they had of simply redone the graphics and sound of the original (either MOO1 or MOO2) and added loads of spicy special events and fleshed out trade, diplomacy and espionage, then they couldn’t have failed but to have a hit simply due to the number of people who still play the originals.

    However instead they’ve created a ‘simplified’ version of a 20 years old game for the tablet generation, which as a consequence has star lanes, no tactical combat and fails to even match up to let alone exceed the originals in any area beyond the visuals.

    Probably the worst wasted opportunity I can recall in the history of PC game remakes.

  3. Thurgret says:

    It’s all moo and no remarkably persistent mastication.

  4. Zenicetus says:

    I’ve dipped into it off and on since Early Access, and I think this is a fair assessment.

    If the devs didn’t want to break any new ground and just do a remake with contemporary graphics polish and voice acting, they should have stuck closer to the core MOO2 design (the turn-based combat in particular). There are enough MOO fans out there who would have loved that, I think.

    Instead, this is a new coat of paint with too many changes that aren’t what MOO fans wanted. And there isn’t enough here to attract new players who don’t care about MOO, but just want a great space 4x game. Maybe that would have worked a few years ago when there weren’t many space 4x games out there, but we’re in a revival period now where the competition is getting more intense.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    Too bad.. Thanks for the write-up! Saved me some money. I can add this to the “wait until a steam sale” list.

  6. Ufofighter says:

    Out of the steam’s wishlist it goes. Not a surprise to be honest, it looks so bland and generic…

  7. Captain Narol says:

    Nothing to see here so, back to Stellaris (well after next major update).

  8. Granath says:

    I disagree with Fraser’s assessment.

    There is, no doubt, a simplicity of design here. But what that does is forces your decisions to be meaningful while keeping the game accessible. I’ve found that the choices I’m making are often both important and situational, which too few 4X games do well. Often the decisions in other games are either (1) no-brainers and not situational (otherwise known as the optimal path problem) or (2) not all that important (otherwise known as the filler problem). I’m not seeing that in MOO and I’m finding it to be a fun ride. Not to mention the production values, voice acting and artwork are absolutely top-notch.

    Mind you I think MOO needs some additional spice but the core recipe is quite solid on its own. Distant Worlds is a great game but let’s face it, the interface is an epic disaster and it’s had four expansion packs. Comparing it against a new title is a bit unfair. Stellaris does some nice things that completely and utterly fall apart in the mid-game and many systems are disjointed. I have no doubt that Paradox will round the game into something that’s more fun to play. I also believe that this version of MOO should be afforded the same optimism because the core of this game is excellent.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The production values are certainly top-notch, although I think it also reveals the downside of voice acting in a strategy game. It can get annoying with too much repetition. At least the devs realized that (after user input) and included an optional off switch for the routine barks. Nothing to complain about with the rest of the art direction though, which looks great if a bit too cartoonish… but then it’s MOO.

      I agree that there is potential for improvement and the devs have said they’re continuing work on the game, so it shouldn’t be written off completely based on this WIT article. For example, I get the impression that they wanted to do more with the tactical combat. That’s an area where the game *should* have been an interesting option to all the other big new space 4x games coming out now, since they’re all hands-off cinematic.

      The devs said they were aiming for Baldur’s Gate style tactical combat, but there just aren’t enough commands to get anywhere near that level of tactical interest. It feels like they just ran out of time to get everything in there that they wanted. So maybe this is something to keep an eye on.

  9. CartonofMilk says:

    I really just want someone to do something like Crusader Kings II in space. Stellaris was my introduction to 4x (i technically like strategy games but somehow play one maybe once every five years and none of those 6 or so have ever been a 4x) and i got bored around the 20 hours mark and the reviews said the beginning was the best part and i thought it was lacking already so…

    • Captain Narol says:

      Well, there’s that :

      link to rockpapershotgun.com

      It’s on my wish list but I haven’t tried it yet. Adam seemed to think high of it at the time of the kickstarter, strange it never got a “Wot I think” from the Hive.

      • Captain Narol says:

        For the record, I’m aware it’s not a 4x but rather a space open-world RPG, but with its procedural NPCs with family history and things like that, it quite smells like CK2 in space !

  10. Laurentius says:

    It’s not as good as MoO (that game has more interesting planetary management and space battles) and of course it is not coming close to MoO2 – lacking turn based tactical battles, locked tech tree, locked movement between system, no Antarans, no heroes and administrators, boring grow food to grow population shtick. Having said that, it is best modern 4X space strategy of modern times. It is well rounded game that because so many is copied from MoO2 comes as complete and working. It is better then under baked Stellaris, which has many cool ideas that never come around and are ultimately disappointment. Endless Space being flat and Distant Worlds being great but also dreadful to play due to performance and UI.
    Modern strategy game are flat and uninspired because “multiplayer balance” which is stifling the genre immensely.

    • FireStorm1010 says:

      Are you joking? Moo1 had no plnetary buildings whatsever, only sliders. While moo1 was my fav moo, saying it had more interesting planetary management is funny.

      • Laurentius says:

        That’s what makes it interesting. Of course Iam biased as I’m sliders lover in strategy games and weep over their loss in i.e EU4. Still idea of galactic ruler picking what building to build because that how Civ did it is not that apealing to me anymore. So idea of just chanelling planet resources is more interesting to me.

  11. Jovian09 says:

    Disappointing, but I can’t be too sad about it given how good the genre’s looking these days. Stellaris has been great fun this year and stands to get better still, and Endless Space 2 is right around the corner (finally). And DW and GalCiv aren’t yet getting stale.

  12. Rich says:

    So… wait for Endless Space 2?

  13. wz says:

    > [i]”Unfortunately, the one big surprise that Master of Orion has in store for us is that it’s not fresh at all.”[/i]

    Adam wrote in his first preview:

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    > I don’t detect a strategic legacy, although Wargaming have something of the sort themselves, having begun their march toward world (of Tanks) domination with the turn-based strategy of Massive Assault.

    > The mention of “new user tutorials” and a revamped interface makes this sound like it might be close to a remake rather than a reboot. Could it possibly be a jazzier HD/3D/jazzed-up sort of thing rather than a reinvention? It seems possible.

    This was warranted caution by someone familiar with the genre.

    Was there another hint that Philippa missed when Wargaming.net announced a all star voice cast before any gameplay advances backed up by AI, in a 4x game of all things?

    This fact, and subsequent lack of discussion on gameplay advances, smacked of marketing ****.

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    That post missed a cautionary note.

    Essentially falling into the trap of letting marketing departments get away with their ultimate goal: making journalists, and reviews less relevant in promoting devs with talent-inspiration-effort and advancing the genre.

    This is made worse by a lot of other websites who probably don’t have people familiar enough with 4x to provide requisite criticism in their reviews.

    It could have been just a minor oversight, and early access did make things transparent, but every other subsequent article should have drawn attention to this because there will be lots of players who got excited but missed subsequent articles.

    Perhaps RPS should have a red flag list for pre-release hype attempts that are dodgy, so journalists posting news not familiar with the genre can be aware. RPS does a lot of incredibly valuable work and coverage, this is just a suggestion.

  14. Bobtree says:

    I discovered Star Ruler 2 recently via this QT3 thread: link to forum.quartertothree.com

    Reading up and watching some videos has sent SR2 straight to the top of my wishlist, as it’s an interesting and innovative 4x that’s quite different from the Civ model.

    Obscure gems like this desperately need more coverage.

    • Firgof says:

      I wouldn’t expect the coverage to come from RPS, though. I believe I’ve sent something on the order of six e-mails to them throughout SR2’s lifetime – all of ’em with offers for a key. Never got a response from them so I presume they’re just not interested.

    • Lacero says:

      It’s really excellent. A shame RPS haven’t reviewed it, it deserves more coverage than yet another tired rehash of moo2 mechanics like every other 4x game.

      Even if some of them do look very, very pretty and have wonderful worlds. (that’s endless space 2)

  15. Hyena Grin says:

    This is exactly what I was worried/predicted would happen when the devs stated they were basically making a remake.

    4X is not a genre where you can just remake the same game over and over. Even Civ, one of the more conservative 4X series, tries desperately to introduce something new to coax players from previous – and still perfectly entertaining – iterations.

    MoO established its corner of the broader 4X genre, and from it has come branching evolutions on the concept. So many MoO-likes have appeared that have expanded on the formula (typically with varying success) that it’s easy to take for granted all of the games that have contributed to the genre even if they didn’t succeed commercially.

    To go back and essentially remake the game that formed the foundation of the space 4X, is like trying to sell someone an Atari after they’ve already played on a Super Nintendo. No amount of dressing it up is ever going to make up for the sheer limitations of the formula.

    Also, just a quick admonishment for the MoO3 low-hanging-fruit jab. MoO3 didn’t turn out great, but it was still a more innovative and ambitious game than this remake ever was.

    • FireStorm1010 says:

      Only i dont buy games to judge their innovations. i buy games to have fun , and new MOO is quite fun to me, in opposite to my memmories of MOO3, which i think i finished 1 painfull game and never gone back.

  16. Rollin says:

    Sounds god-awful, who are they hoping to appeal to? People who played MOO but were never good at it?

  17. teije says:

    Well, that’s a little disappointing to hear and a real missed opportunity with the most high profile brand in 4x. Although have to say I’m not too surprised, since there seemed to be a distinct lack of ambition from the developers, beyond producing a solid basic 4x. Similar to how GC3 was very disappointing, since it didn’t do anything new or much better than its predecessor.

    Stellaris, for all its current issues (mid game drag primarily) did a number of very inventive things and will end up being a real gem after the usual Paradox 12-18 full baking cycle.

    Distant Worlds too, on release was pretty messy but tons of promise and with the expansions grew into a very interesting game as of Universe. Although I don’t play it anymore, its a much more impressive accomplishment than this Moo retread, not to mention the tiny studio that produced DW.

    Endless Space 2 will no doubt bring Amplitude’s usual polish to it, and hopefully also does some interesting things. Sure I won’t love everything about it, but that’s okay.

  18. haileris says:

    I gave up on it when they read they had changed the combat. Lack of ambition is one thing, but don’t change the very things that made the game what it was.

  19. Ericusson says:

    This sounds so boring, did the developers have the idea to make a boring game or did the producers think it would be a good idea to release the game on iPad also.

    iOS gaming is such a shallow experience, I honestly spent a lot on the App Store the first year I got my first iPhone (6+), only to come to the realization of the absolute mediocrity and over simplicity of any game you can find on the App Store.

    There are a few nice experiences usually very mobile oriented games but the whole iOS gaming scene is just a big scam with some shiny upn which financial geeks can masturbate on during their quarterly meeting.

  20. Voqar says:

    I bought it recently, played for an hour, and got a refund (hurray for steam’s refund policy). It was putting me to sleep. The game is too simplistic and not MOO2 enough for my tastes. It’s not a terrible game but it’s not something I need to own either.

    IMO if you want a less intense space 4X, Endless Space is the much better game, so there’s no need to have MOO2.

    One other thing bothered me with the “new MOO” even within one hour – many people were raving about the voice work in the game but it was driving me insane almost immediately because there’s no variations and you hear the same (often stupid) stuff over and over. I played as psilons too and every time I had to pick a new tech to research I’d hear the same idiotic voice and see the same animation and it horrible.

    It’s sad when a good game franchise like MOO or Jagged Alliance (and its extensive history of failed remakes) can never seem to get anybody take what was good about the series and KEEP IT IN TACT while modernizing it and perhaps adding some decent tweaks from the mod scene or fresh ideas without distorting the game so much that it becomes garbage or a different enough game that it just doesn’t work.

  21. ilitarist says:

    Funny to see how people simultaneously condemn the game for being too close to its roots and hate modernized combat. And combat really is modernized, it’s not just a realtime mess, it has some interesting ideas present like formations and flanking.

  22. FireStorm1010 says:

    I have read afew reviews alike for other 4x games, and i still dont understand them. Yes new MOO is mostly a clean 4x paradigm implementation, with few innovations. But for me its 4x paradigm done right. The tech tree is long and balanced, the AI is above average, the tactical battles are fun , and the auto resolve works good if you want to speed up.

    I have a lot of fun with the game.(And for poeple who care abotu that sort of thing, i have played all MOOs 1,2 and even 3 with 1 being my fav)

    Imho the attitude that every game needs to be innovative to be fun is a terrible one, close to snobism.I have played plenty of so inovative games that i shelved after 1-2 hours of playing, cause they werent fun. Even Stellaris while i like it, with all its innovations got a lot lot of problems for me. At this point im not sure if i dont prefer new MOO over Stellaris.

  23. willowroolz says:

    I enjoyed NuMOO for a good 50 hours. I liked the diplomacy and espionage and, despite all the complaints about it, quite enjoyed the combat. But then I got distracted by an ongoing multiplayer game of Endless Space and got dragged kicking and screaming (as in ‘addicted’) to a new game of XCOM Enemy Within, and that was that. I’ll probably return to NuMOO at some point, but I suspect the arrival of Endless Space 2 in EA might scupper that if last week’s footage is anything to go by.

  24. FireStorm1010 says:

    What i think the reviewer should have done, is the moment he saw no real challenge from other races, restart with a higher diffculty. Playing a 4x game with no real oposition imho will alwys be boring

  25. shadow9d9 says:

    When they announced the voice cast list, it was obvious where the money and priority was going. They kind of gave it away to anyone with half a brain.

  26. Wisq says:

    Personally, I never did understand why people preferred MOO2 over MOO1. I guess because it was more like Civ? It did have some improvements, like the “custom race” thing, but almost everything it did was just “let’s add micromanagement!”, something that was refreshingly minimised in MOO1.

    Multiple planets per star? Great, now I have to be clicking in to stars to see the situation there or colonise my neighbouring planets. Buildings on planets? Uggggh.

    MOO1’s slider system was utterly brilliant, since it let you carefully tweak things during the early game (where e.g. building a colony ship a single turn earlier really matters), and then just do mass adjustments in the later game (where tweaking the slider just means the difference between 500 ships built and 501 ships built). And keeping things simple prevented the late game from becoming a slog, and allowed for better AIs.

    Ah well.