Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023
Master of Orion aims to be a wonderfully complex 4X game that anyone can play

Fans of the original turn-based strategy game Master of Orion and its complex, interconnected systems of exploration, expansion, exploitation, and eradication (4X) need not fear that the imminent reboot will be watered down for a more modern audience. Wargaming’s Master of Orion is as delightfully complex as the 1993 original and lets you tinker with every aspect of your race’s journey to become overlords of the galaxy, achieve technological enlightenment, or whichever of the game’s five victory conditions you’re aiming for.

The difference, however, is that the original game’s clunky and frankly baffling UI has been given a modern makeover, meaning you can understand it without spending hours digging through a manual. Some may lament the loss of the old complex UI, but as someone who has tried and failed in more modern big strategy games like Paradox’s Hearts of iron and Europa universalis can confirm, accessibility is not a bad thing.

There are now simple visual indicators to show things like population numbers of a planet, and how much of that population you have associated with a particular project, such as building factories or participating in scientific research. You can drag and drop groups of citizens to manage those resources manually, or let the game do it for you with one click. Tech structures now have easy-to-read icons and explanations so you know exactly what you’re trying to research, while the five victory conditions and associated objectives are laid out intelligently.

Together, as I saw in a live demo of the game, these changes mean launching one of Master of OrionThe 500-turn games are a much less daunting experience than before. The race selection screen, which now features beautiful 3D animated models of each of the 10 races from the original Master of Orion– clearly explains the pros and cons of each, with their most important, potentially groundbreaking feature right at the top. In the case of the bird-like Alkari race, that means a larger home world, which should make building easier in the early stages of the game.

Those who want to tweak a game’s parameters still have the option to do so, and everything from how many resources your opponents start out to the size of the galaxy itself – small, medium, large and huge – can be adjusted.

Being dropped into a new galaxy with only a homeworld and few ships is still quite daunting even if you pick a small one, so there’s an advisor on hand to guide new players through setting up their homeworld, gathering resources , and send ships on scouting missions across the galaxy. If you don’t need the help, the advisor, who takes the form of a race-specific character tucked away in a box at the top of the screen, can be completely disabled.

Clicking on your homeworld will show you exactly what’s happening on the surface, including your current population, research progress, and what kinds of things you’re building. The population is represented by small icons in the shape of your chosen race, which you can move around by simply dragging and dropping between different parts of the production. Say you want to build a research lab, but it takes you nine turns to do it at standard speed. All you have to do is drag one of those population icons from another part of your production into the research lab, reducing the build time to five turns.

Of course, taking that population resource from one place and placing it in another means sacrificing building speed elsewhere. If you don’t have enough, you can commit resources to building up your population first, which is a smart move if you’re just starting out on a new planet, or you can let the game do it for you at the risk of missing out on specific specializations. It all sounds simple, that’s part of the draw, but the depth is huge. Manually managing resources across multiple planets and fleets is a mammoth task, even for seasoned players, but the rewards for doing so can make it all worth it.

Managed well and with the right specialization, you can turn your race into an offensive powerhouse. Initially, there are four research options, including advanced fusion. By allocating resources to this early on, you can quickly build up a stockpile of nuclear weapons that are cheap to build and easy to carry, meaning you can cram a lot more onto your ships. Speaking of ships, the galaxy screen has also received a facelift, with your fleet neatly rendered in 3D and on top of a really nice mass of systems and stars.

Exploring the galaxy involves sending out the usual array of scout ships, where they’re likely to discover various anomalies along the way. These anomalies are randomly generated and can be anything from pirates looking to make a quick buck, to stranded ships seeking help, to instant credit boosts that help you build your civilization. Once an anomaly is discovered, you can send other ships to help your scout, which is a wise move since a scout is essentially unarmed.

Scouts are also useful for checking out nearby planets to see if they are suitable for colonization. Should it be suitable, you will be treated to the classic Masters of Orion colonization screen, a payout that has also been updated with fancy new visuals and a soundtrack from the original composer.

Master of Orion announcement trailer.

That all happens within a single turn, which shows how deep this game goes. And that’s without taking into account what happens in later turns: first contact with other races, diplomacy to cross their borders, upgrade your ships, manage taxes and local governments… the list goes on. There’s also the tech tree you need to manage, which contains over 75 different technologies to research, and within each of those there are up to four different types of technology you get from that research. If you spend enough time on tech, you can unlock planetary destruction, which grants you a doomsday star to wipe out entire planets in a single turn.

You can also build star bases to protect your own borders, including heavily armed star forts that should deter even the most determined combative races. You could even, in one example Wargaming gives, build an entire legion of star fortresses around your borders, declare war on everyone, and watch them all be destroyed as they try to storm your borders. Events like this and anomalies you encounter are reported on the Galactic News Network, as seen in the original game, only with full voice acting and a little extra comic relief.

Wargaming’s commitment to preserving the original game is so great that you have to wonder if there’s anything particularly innovative going on here, other than a fresh coat of paint and easy accessibility. But maybe that’s the point. While the 4X genre has seen a resurgence in recent times, no game has truly captured what made the original Master of Orion very special. While Wargaming remains largely faithful to the original, that confidence is at least placed in one of the best strategy games of all time.

While there is no confirmed launch date for Master of Orion, it will eventually get one full retail release on PC (no free-to-play shenanigans here!)

By akfire1

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