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Master of Orion - Not So MMO, But Big on Roleplaying the Galaxy

William Murphy Posted:
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Nope, Master of Orion is not an MMO. It’s even less of one than the mega-popular World of Tanks from Wargaming. But when the founder of Wargaming wins a bidding war to secure the MOO franchise because he’s a dyed in the wool fan, you want to see what will come of such a nostalgia grab. And so it was with trepidation that we stepped into Wargaming’s booth this year to see how the reboot of one of PC Gaming’s most vaunted series was coming along…

For those uninitiated, it was Master of Orion that pretty much coined the term 4X when it comes to strategy gaming. The 4X stands for eXplore, eXploit, eXterminate, and eXpand. These days when gamers think of 4X they tend to think of the Civilization series, which undoubtedly brought the genre into the more approachable sweet spot of “easy to learn, tough to master”.  Now it’s Master of Orion’s turn. All the complexity that made the originals so addictive remains, but with an extremely slick and intuitive UI that makes managing your empire far less of a chore.

It’s still early, but man, you can really tell what a labor of love this is for Victor, Wargaming, NGD Studios, and all the folks working on MoO. Wargaming began its life as a turn-based strategy studio before finding immense success with World of Tanks across the globe. It’s fitting then that they turn their sights back to their roots with all that they’ve learned since Massive Assault back in 2003. 

Make no bones about it, the core of MoO is in place here. It’s still all about managing your empire from your home planet to the further stars, and indeed Wargaming and NGD have brought on a core of the original devs (including Jeff Dee) including the original composer David Govett.  Of course, we’re not talking pixelated graphics and MIDI tunes these days.  All of the original 10 races are back, using their original artwork as touchstones but given a much needed modern-day overhaul in terms of art and 3D rendering.

There are cinematic moments throughout the game, including your own advisor who interacts with you and gives you tips on how to progress your empire along the way. The one we saw was reminiscent of the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal, but more jovial… and that’s a good thing.  Along with the new advisor screen, there are some major quality of life improvements that have gone into the UI. For starters, there’s a really slick overall management screen for your empire.

Some 4X gamers may love to micromanage every little detail, but the new management screen makes it as simple as can be too. You can put individual planets on “auto”, and then change what their focus is from the Empire management screen – military, science, economics, etc. But you can also always do every little thing yourself too, and the UI for micromanagement is very windows-like. Want to start work on a frigate? Drag and drop its icon to the production line.

You might be wondering: it’s Wargaming. What about Multiplayer? Well the team’s been very coy about that aspect or whether or not MP is even included. But they didn’t say no… so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Each new game has its own procedurally generated star map, but they’re seed based. So if you like a particular map, you can save its seed and share it with your friends and see how they do. It’s the little things like this that make me think Wargaming and NGD really have what it takes to bring prominence back to the Master of Orion franchise. Beyond Earth was a great game, but MoO brings the space opera and 4X back together the way it was meant to be. I, for one, can’t wait to play it.

Master of Orion is due out "when it's ready", and you can pre-purchase it or its Collector’s Edition here. The CE comes with all 3 original games, a digital artbook, the score, a new exclusive race (the Terran Kharnate) and even retro skins to make ships look like their pixelated forebears. Plus you’ll get an early access period before the official launch (which does not have a date yet).


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.