When people think of the 4X strategy genre of video games, the name that immediately springs to mind is the legendary Master of Orion. Released in 1993 by developers Simtex and publishers MicroPose, Master of Orion reigned supreme as emperor of strategy games. You’d control various space faring races and explore a vast galaxy with the aim of establishing a galactic empire by outdoing your rivals both diplomatically and in battle. You’d manage the resources and population of colonies while advancing them further with research to keep your imperial citizens happy, maintain diplomatic relations with other superpowers and build a mighty space armada to bring rival superpowers to their knees. The game was a phenomenal success, achieving high acclaim and even today is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential video games ever made.
Three years later the success continued with Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares which achieved the same reputation as its predecessor and made the 4X gameplay more complex. Alas in 2003, Master of Orion 3 was released by developers Quicksilver Software and publishers Infogrames which could only be best described as a buggy, convoluted mess of a game. Even after the MOO series made way for other space-based 4X strategy games for years to come, the series sadly fell into obscurity which still had a strong following, but was never revitalized for newer generations.
Thanks to developers NGD Studios and publishers WG Labs, MOO has returned in the form of a reboot to welcome both veteran MOO emperors and newcomers alike. MOO has undergone a heavy re-imaging and after all these years, has amassed its fleet to attack other 4X competitors and take back the 4X crown. It’s time for one more turn to build your empire across the galaxy with Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars.
Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars follows the 4X formula of its earlier incarnation. You choose one of many factions, each with their own attributes and characteristics, and then customize your galaxy map before leading your people across the cosmos to build the mightiest empire the galaxy has ever seen. You start off on your capital planet where you’ll build economic, industrial, agricultural and militaristic projects to keep your people happy and to colonize other planets. There are 3 resources that each planet provides: research points, food and industry which enable your people to be fed, to contribute to research projects and for the planet to industrialize faster. Each resource is dependent on the populace of the planet, so you’ll have to manage the planet’s population growth and how they’ll be divided between the three resources.
The more of the population working within a resource, the faster that resource will produce. Some planets can’t be colonized without the proper research prerequisites while those that can may produce food, industry or research points faster than other planets. Research projects play a vital part in colonizing and warfare. You’ll be able to unlock better industrial projects such as more efficient mining and environmental care and social projects like integration programs and tourism attractions for species outside your own. You’ll find more effective ways to boost your economy and even help with diplomacy. For the more military minded emperor, research unlocks new weapon systems and ship designs, allowing you to construct new battleships and improve existing ones. The mechanics are reminiscent of the first and second MOO games, which should entice both MOO veterans and newcomers to the series and show how MOO’s 4X mechanics paved the way for future 4X games.
Combat is real-time tactical which is a far cry from the turn-based pace of the game’s ancestor. You’ll need to make snap decisions if you want to emerge victorious. You can move ships around the arena, set your fleet in certain formations and order them to engage specific targets. Battles are frantic and fun as your ships and theirs collide with each other firing a barrage of missiles and lasers and blowing each other into space debris. You have the option before battle to take full control, control with AI assistance or let the AI take over the battle allowing you to enjoy the show.
The developers have injected tons of charm into the game, similar to what was done in the Civilization games. Faction leaders are very fun to interact with and are full of personality. Leaders of the Sakkra, the Mrrshan, the Bulrathi, the Psilon, the Darklok, the Alkari, the Humans, the Terran Khantae, the Silicoids, the Melkar and the Klackon change their behavior and demeanor based on you reputation with them. A-list voice acting from talent such as Mark Hamil, Kat Cressida, Nolan North and Troy Baker have been put to great use and truly turn the faction leaders into charming, memorable and likable characters, giving Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars a charm that helps it stand out from other 4X space strategy games.
The charm of Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars is enhanced further with its great visual design. The color and effects are bright and vivid, giving the visuals a whimsical feel and present a fantastical presentation of outer space. Special effects are especially emphasized in battles as space lights up in a hail of lasers, missiles and explosions. The sound design also enchants and excites the player more. The musical tracks are simply enchanting and truly present the wonder and adventure of outer space, not to mention the deafening, frightening and thrilling sounds of blasts, blams, smashes, crashes and kabooms of battles. The adventurous and whimsical sci-fi feel of the game is enhanced further thanks to top-notch voice acting.The enchanting visuals and sound of Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars makes conquest and colonizing the breadth of the galaxy an experience you won’t want to forget.
Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars shows what made the original games such a hit and how MOO 1 and 2 were able to set the standard for future 4X space games. It looks and sounds good, it still retains much of the classic’s core mechanics and the combat is a lot of fun. As far as 4X games go Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars can provide that same addictive 4X experience as the competition. However even if this shares the same name as the more famous classic games, there is much holding this game back, preventing Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars from becoming the true, eventful return of the MOO franchise.
The micromanagement of colonies becomes very tedious and annoying over time. Initially it’s very fun and easy but as your empire grows, you’ll find yourself clicking much more often as you manage each individual colony to your liking, which is a very inefficient way to manage an empire. There is the option to automate construction where buildings are place automatically in the queue according to your chosen policy, but this may ruin your plans and disrupt the economy, the industry, the agriculture and the military of your empire. As such the game would benefit greatly from a much better automation system.
Heroes would have been a great asset to both colonizes and fleets as there were in the previous MOO games, but for whatever reason they’re not in this game. They would have helped with managing colonizes and leading military units. Governors would have streamlined the colony management and added bonuses to the faction while admirals and generals would have added bonuses to soldiers and fleets. This could have bypassed the micromanagement problem Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars has but without the use of heroes, managing your empire becomes an enervating affair.
While space combat is excellent, ground combat isn’t as good. In fact there isn’t much focus on ground combat in this game, despite being able to recruit a number of ground units. Ground combat isn’t animated and not as interactive as space combat, which feels like a highly missed opportunity here.
Even if the original game introduced entirely new gameplay mechanics, this new incarnation doesn’t really stand out from the now saturated 4X strategy crowd. Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars is still set in the old ways too much without embracing new choices that could have turned this game into the true return of the MOO franchise. Many 4X space strategy games have come before it like Polaris Sector, Stellaris, Galactic Civilizations 3 and others which have used the mechanics of MOO as a base while refining them and adding their own touches, making each 4X title unique to one another and in some cases, actually implements 4X mechanics better than this game does.
NGD Studios and WG Labs has brought the legendary Master of Orion to the new generation with a high level of presentation and accessible gameplay. You’ll still itch for one more turn as you build your empire across the galaxy, carefully managing your settlements and engaging in intense space combat. The game also brings much charm and personality to the game with voice acting from highly renowned actors.
There are many faults with this game however which may hopefully be remedied in the form of expansion packs or patches. This might not be the title that will bring the Master Of Orion franchise back to a level of prestige but it’s still a great addition to a popular genre which will provide the need to continuously build your domain and become top dog in the galaxy. Claim your imperial throne and begin your conquest with Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars.
This review is based on a review code of Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars on PC provided by Wargaming