I’ve been a 4X game fan almost as long as I’ve been a gamer. One of my fondest PC gaming memories is the many hours I spent with my brother clicking away and making decisions in Colonization from Sid Meier. I missed the boat on the original Master of Orion (MoO), but I played its sequels, and now years later and under a new developer, I’m very glad to have the chance to revisit the series thanks to the passion of Wargaming and NGD Studios. Master of Orion is a return to form for the IP, and one of the best entry-level 4X experiences available.
What’s characteristically hard about 4X games is keeping it simple enough for new users, and deep enough for players to have something to learn, or for veterans to feel satisified. I don’t think I’m reaching when I say most space-themed 4X games have been awful about welcoming new players. And it’s for that reason I’d urge a lot of people to play Master of Orion. An incredibly slick UI, simple and intuitive gameplay, and a real visual polish lead to an experience that’s very welcoming for new folks. That said, there’s plenty of layers of control and depth to whet the appetite of genre veterans.
Visually, Master of Orion is one of the prettiest 4X games available. It’s clear that Wargaming Founder Victor Kislyi’s love for the series drove the attention to detail behind NGD Games’ incarnation of MoO. Victor always wanted to make his own Master of Orion, and he finally was able to – or at least hire one of Brazil’s top development studios to do it for him. Everything from the ships, to the faction leaders, to the cutscenes with the news broadcast team is done in loving and painstaking detail. When a UI and planetary planning screen can be made to be visually appealing, you know you have a good team.
Similarly, the voice talent for the game is the stuff Comic-Cons are made of. Ready? - Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn, Dwight Schultz, John de Lancie, Alan Tudyk, Kat Cressida, John Kassir, Robert Englund, Troy Baker, Nolan North, JB Blanc, Sara Cravens, Nika Futterman, Jean Gilpin, Misty Lee, Sumalee Montano, Roger Craig Smith, Fred Tatasciore, and Kari Wahlgren are all part of the game’s cast. Yes, even Luke Skywalker is involved.
Gameplay will be immediately familiar to 4X fans. Pick your faction, expand your reach, keep your people happy, healthy, and protected, and victory can be won by eliminating all other opponents, passing a vote for unification, or having the highest score at the end of the last turn (set by the players). And that probably leads to my greatest criticism of MoO – it’s too safe. Without the unique splitting tech trees of the originals, and without the freedom of movement between star systems (here you’re on sort of highways between worlds), a lot of the exploration and fun of MoO is lost. It’s still a hell of an addictive experience, but it feels too innocent at times.
That said, the act of building your army, securing trade routes, expanding your empire – even if you’re alone and never play against others online – is such a compelling gameplay experience and it’s wonderfully represented here. I’m just hoping future DLC or sequels get a little more experimental with their design. I, for one, would love an MMO version of MoO. Make it happen, Wargaming.
GAMEPLAY – 9 | The ease of access to what’s traditionally a very complex game genre is astounding. Like Civ 4 and 5, it takes the minutiae and puts it behind some very simple gameplay – allowing the player to choose how in-depth or surface level they want to play MoO. It has all the hallmarks of the greats, with the same “Just One More Turn” level of stickiness. That said, it doesn’t do enough to push the genre forward.
VISUALS AND SOUND – 10 | By far one of the most visually and aurally appealing 4X Games to come along in recent years. With a stellar cast that includes Luke Skywalker himself, some absolutely fantastic “news broadcasts” for universe-wide events, and one of the slickest UIs this side of the galaxy.
LONGEVITY – 6 | Like all 4X games, there’s a load of re-playability here. That said, the tech trees lack a lot of variation, and in doing so every game feels like it winds up in the same place, no matter what race you choose. Multiplayer and the general random nature of each map really do add to the amount of replay, but MoO’s adherence to “towing the line” in the 4X genre means it doesn’t really stand out and keep you coming back unless you love the setting and this particular brand.
POLISH – 9 | I ran into very few bugs with Master of Orion, but one thing that comes to mind is the way each planet and star system is linked via “highways”. This creates a sort of bottle-neck when things get crowded, and I’m not really surethere’s an elegant way to solve the issue. That said, MoO is incredibly fine-tuned, and I’d love to see it move to consoles as well.
VALUE - 9 | For $29.99, well you’re getting a ton of game. There’s a Collector’s Edition, which is excellent because it adds the origina MoO, MoO2 and 3 as well. That’s a whole lot of gaming history for just $50. Not to mention the art book, soundtrack, and “pixel” models to use in game for a retro feel.