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Master of Orion

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Wargaming
Developer: NGD Studios
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2016

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


PC Preview - 'Master of Orion'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on July 15, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Master of Orion is a modern rebirth of the 4X sci-fi strategy game, with deep, strategic gameplay offered numerous ways to win—through brute force, diplomacy or resource domination.

It's been a while since news broke that Wargaming snagged the rights to the Master of Orion franchise. The original game started the 4X genre that was later popularized by the Civilization franchise. It's more than a casual purchase of an old IP, and I learned a lot about Wargaming's drive to bring Master of Orion to a new generation of gamers.

We began by talking about Wargaming's CEO Victor Kislyi, who considers Master of Orion the game that launched him. As relayed to me by Randall King, a regional executive producer at Wargaming, Kislyi claims that it taught him the basics of economics and how to run a business. It was clear that passion for the game runs pretty high within Wargaming. This title is a reboot that pays homage to the original every step of the way.

That's not to say that modern technology hasn't allowed for some improvements. The original game was described as being basically like an Excel spreadsheet to play, so the new game features a significantly more streamlined interface that is also much easier to learn. Some of the original developers were brought on as consultants. The music composer for the original game has created all of the music for the new game. It was quickly very apparent that Wargaming is eager to freshen up the game for a new audience while staying true to its roots.

In the gameplay presentation that followed, we started a new game by playing as the bird-like race of the Alkari. All 10 races are being brought over. When starting a new game, the player can tweak options, such as the size of the galaxy and how many races the player wants to face. Regardless of the options, the goal is the same: win the game by reaching the top in one of the five pathways to victory.

A Conquest victory requires that you crush all other races, whereas a Technology victory is awarded to the first who fully researches the entire tech tree. Other pathways to victory include Diplomatic or Economic victories, but a new addition is the Excellence victory. Once all races have been met, a Galactic Council is established. This council consists of members from each race, and they begin to vote for a supreme leader of the galaxy. Assuming you have done a good job of being nice to everyone — more difficult than it sounds — you might be the one they select. Only one pathway is needed to claim victory, and while achieving dominance in more than one within one game is possible, it is tough to do so.

Assisting you is your advisor, which is a different character for each race. These animated and fully voiced advisors coax you through the game, keeping you apprised of important decisions and giving you a better window into how your race behaves. You are still the emperor, but these advisors can help new players come to grips with everything the game can throw at you.

The tech tree is 75 groups deep, with each group containing a selection of technologies. The tree can also be sorted and searched to quickly locate a specific technology. Additionally, you can queue up multiple technology trees at once, so you aren't bothered with making new choices every few turns.

Much as in other games of the genre, your planets have populations that need attention. You can move your population into three categories: Food, Production, and Science. Having population in one over the others has obvious benefits to each category, and it becomes a very strategic choice. However, you can also set planets to maintain their own population levels and specify that they focus on one of the three or try to keep them balanced. This removes another layer of micromanagement if you don't want to worry about it all the time.

Your fleets of ships need orders to carry out, such as exploring the galaxy or engaging in combat. An interesting feature is how fleets can uncover and explore anomalies, which can yield useful finds, such as caches of credits. The only downside to pursing the anomalies is the number of turns expended, which is measured in years. Fleets can engage in combat, which can be played in tactical or simulation mode. No details were provided about tactical mode, and the simpler simulation mode was shown, so let speculation run amok for now.

Once combat is concluded over a planet, you can opt to bomb its surface. Dropping a few nuclear bombs may fit the bill, but you can also drop all of them at once to bomb the planet into submission. However, doing so will have a much harsher impact on your relations with the planet's previous owner. These reactions are conveyed via cut scenes, and each emperor has voice acting accompanied by hundreds of animations. The game will feature the talents of some triple AAA voice talent, but no names were provided.

Each race has its own tendencies when it comes to interactions with you. Some races are more open to diplomacy, while others are more warlike or engage more actively in espionage. Additionally, each race has a random seed that somewhat manipulates its  AI, so even the same race won't behave exactly the same from game to game.

Finally, the gameplay has been expanded with the inclusion of the space factory ship, which can construct space-bound structures such as star bases, surveillance arrays, or asteroid mines. The star bases are important because they only allow ships that you have diplomatic ties with. If anyone else wants to pass, they'll need to blow up the star base first, which is an obvious act of war.

Throughout the presentation, it was clear that the development team really wants to bring Master of Orion into the 21st century. Many games have emulated it over the years, and it will be interesting to see how the new title will expand upon the genre. I couldn't get anyone to divulge a specific date or release window, but someone did say, "Next turn," with a laugh.

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