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The Master of Orion series is synonymous with addictive turn-based strategy gameplay. Though the premise--choosing a unique alien race and then leading it in a galactic quest for glory--isn't new, there is something about the series that draws people back. Is it the original take on the diplomatic, economic, military, and exploratory components of galactic conquest? Is it the intrigue of the Antarans, an ancient and predatory race that always seems to pop out of hyperspace to attack at just the wrong time? Is it the sense of accomplishment that comes from building a functioning interstellar empire? Frankly, I don't know. But for whatever reason, these games are notorious for creating a bad case of Just One More Turn syndrome.
Master of Orion 3, then, has large shoes to fill. Appropriately, "bigger" is one of the best adjectives that can be used to describe this third installment. Fans of micromanagement are in for a treat, as the most noticeable new feature is the vast number of options available. The level of control is nice, but can be overwhelming--you'll sometimes find yourself swimming in a sea of menus, interconnected sliders, and check boxes. The array of empire management tools are all used to advance along one of three paths to victory: dominating your enemies militarily, getting elected as president of the Orion senate, or finding all five hidden artifacts.
Each planet in your empire has many components that must be managed individually--including taxes, build queues, regional zoning, terraforming, resource collection, economic infrastructure development, and military versus planetary spending limits. Successful management leads to a productive planet; mismanagement results in revolt and unrest. A vital addition to the game is an AI viceroy for each planet. Viceroys will carry out mundane work based on empire-wide policies you can set, but don't expect them to do exactly what you want very often. And even with the help of viceroys, the galactic scale is no less daunting. You must manage not only a galactic budget and research, but also diplomatic relations, spy infiltration, and military development and deployment. The manner in which the player interacts with the Orion senate is new to MoO3. You can now become a member of the senate and use it to impose sanctions or declare war on other alien races.
When diplomatic negotiations fail, space and ground combat become necessary. You assign task forces mission types that include long-range attack, short-range attack, point-defense, indirect fire, and reconnaissance. Ground forces are likewise grouped into task forces based on their size and strength. Once in combat, you can opt to control things directly or sit back and let the computer take care of everything. You can even skip combat altogether and jump right to the outcome--the fastest and easiest way to manage battles.
In the end, Masters of Orion 3 succeeds with compelling gameplay that will leave you engrossed for hours (or days) at a time. Thanks to the strategic depth of the game, vast number of management options, diverse and interesting alien races, a randomly generated universe, and a sprawling technology tree, no two games will be alike. Though dense and complex, the payoff is well worth the effort. MoO3 is a fantastic title perfect for anyone who enjoys strategy games. --Jon "Safety Monkey" Grover
- Engaging and immersive gameplay
- More depth, longer games, and greater diversity
- Addictive--expect to dump eight hours into a single session
- Multiplayer includes a turn-limits option and financial benefits for brief turns
- Calling it "graphically dated" is being polite
- Incredible complexity may leave a lot of gamers confused
- Productivity, social life, family, and personal hygiene may suffer
From the Manufacturer
"Space is big. Really big." So begins The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But like the void of space, there is a void in strategic space games. None have provided the bigness, that focus on the highest levels of grand strategy, that science-fiction epics in print, film, and television have long delivered. So, to the traditional 4-X strategy game of eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate, we have added an important new fifth X, eXperience. Through game devices that add character, story, and plot to familiar strategy play mechanics, MOO3 delivers the grandeur and richness of an epic space opera--not in the guise of a traditional book, movie, or TV show, but in the medium of a game experience.
In MOO3, players assume the biggest role ever. No longer do players merely represent petty interplanetary dictators. In MOO3, players represent the controlling power behind an entire galactic civilization. The dictators, presidents, councils, and overlords that come and go are merely a player's pawns. One must use these governments and their leaders to secure the destiny of one's civilization and to manipulate its policies of freedom and oppression in both foreign and domestic arenas. It is not enough to be an able economist or a great captain to succeed in Master of Orion 3; considerable political, administrative, and espionage skills must be applied to craft your civilization's glorious chapter in the annals of time and space.
Although MOO3 is a turn-based game and players can do anything, they can't do everything. Only a limited amount of Imperial Focus is available to each player each turn, so players must manage the ultimate resource--their own direct involvement! As players build empires, retaining able administrators becomes more important, as does watching their loyalty and ambition. Growing an empire means growing a bureaucracy and citizens can resort to voting with their feet or their pitchforks if they're not properly led.
It's up to players to provide direction and focus to drive their civilization to its goals. Left to its own devices, a civilization will slouch forward, but when properly led by a player, their destiny will be forever written in the stars.
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It's been around 20 years and I still play Master of Orion 1 and 2, and Master of Magic occasionally...but I never play MOO3.
They took the MOO (or MOM--which is still a buggy mess, but a beautiful one) concept and just had NO idea what made those games great. It certainly wasn't having 10,000 choices of ways to micro-manage things. You can play MOO 1 and "get" it within 5-10 minutes; MOO 2 maybe 20 minutes.
[Rumor is that they made the game's economics and so forth incredibly complex to encourage or force people to use the advisor/AI functions to control all those aspects of the game. But that makes no sense: why would you pay people to program thousands of man-hours of a game just to encourage people not to use those features? Why go to the trouble to develop fixed-point and floating-point currency options if the whole point is just to ignore them and let your economic adviser deal with those things? I'm not even opposed to a 4x game that's fun for a PhD in Economics--this just isn't it.]
I won't even go into price, because I know Amazon doesn't like that. I know what I would pay for this game--reluctantly--and I can count to that number on one hand.
* Even then, I'd say probably try Galactic Civilizations 1 or 2 if you want something with a high complexity or learning curve--at least the reward of that time investment is worth it.
Or even try Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (~Civilization in space), which many people consider to be the best of the Civ games. Once you've done all those things and Star Control and so forth, try MOO 3...or just play MOO 1 or MOO 2 again.