Review by Dune Tiger
"A sequel worthy of the mantle that is MoO"
MoO fans rejoice. For a game that was so anal in its complexity (yet simple enough to be intuitive) to begin with, the boys and girls at Quicksilver managed to cram even more things to do in your conquest to become Master.
It was all too easy to destroy the series by tailoring it to the sound-bite generation, but such as it is, even the most cynical of MoO fans will find that this latest installment doesn't disappoint. Not merely a graphical update to MoO2, as many people thought it would be, MoO3 seems like a logical evolutionary step in the series; from the extended tech trees to the new races all the way to the ridiculously detailed user interface (UI), MoO3 takes a daring, yet not too broad step forward.
For those uninitiated by one of PC gaming's darling strategy games, the entire Master of Orion series has always been about galactic conquest on the political level. That includes warfare, diplomacy, and resource management over several star systems. If you took your typical God game and then thickened it up with an insane level of detailed layers, you've got yourself a slight idea of what MoO's about. It's turn-based for the most part, which might turn some people away, but try to think of it as intergalactic chess. Only in this game of chess, if you don't keep your pieces mantained and happy, they're not going to do what you want them to do. There's a lot to think about and only in the turn-based world do you have all the time you need to think about them.
Newcomers AND veterans alike, however, should be prepared to strap in for a good long haul as even the most seasoned MoO player will find a good learning curve to travel. For many people, this isn't a bad thing. For several others, this could make or break the game for them. It will take hours of your life away simply getting to the point where you understand the UI enough to make good decisions for your budding galactic empire, but once you do, you realize that everything you need to know is placed right up front and center. I suppose you could call it a test of willpower or even go so far as to say that the game is about as dense as those Wargames that so many people enjoy.
Yes, MoO3 is deep, much more so than any of its previous incarnations. For example, without forgetting that players may be new to the series, MoO3 conveniently places an invisible Viceroy on each planet you own to automate some of the more menial functions of your galactic conquest. If that's not enough control for you, you can set guidelines for your Viceroys to follow, from generalized guides to planet-specific itineraries. Not enough? For the truly obsessive, you can switch everything off and get right down to the brass tacks to get exactly what you want. Almost every aspect of this game, from your planets to your war machines, are layered in this way and can add a lot of confusion in your initial hours of play. But once you get it, you'll really begin to enjoy yourself.
The UI is beautifully animated and presented, but isn't something that's going to push your 3D card anywhere. In fact, playing the game at first feels a lot like simply navigating a futuristic operating system. However, representative of the game's mechanics, the UI is layered logically. From the view of the entire galaxy, you can begin digging deeper and deeper until you hit pretty much the backbone of a single planet. And from there, you can dig even deeper.
Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of a tutorial which adds much to the learning curve and while the manual is one of the best I've seen in recent years, it's so broken up that you'll still have to do a lot of piecing together on your own. There is, however, a lot of interesting history that you can read if you're so inclined contained in the manual, but it's shoved sporadically in between key bits of information. Mainly, it's laid out as history, gameplay, history, gameplay, etc. Those who are willing to spend the extra coin can do no wrong by picking up the guide.
While not the most graphically impressive game ever made, MoO has always been about gameplay. While there's a chance that the audience which made MoO2 so successful isn't around anymore, it's safe to say that those who are willing to actually spend the time to learn the gameplay mechanics will find a rich and rewarding experience that fans will at least find worthy of the MoO mantle.
For newcomers who will most likely be intimidated by the whole concept, you can still find MoO2 in the Jewel Case racks for ten bucks or so if you want to give it a try. For fans coming back to the series, everything you loved about MoO2 is back. From simple exploration to diplomacy and warfare - not to mention micromanagement - there's plenty to do and once you get comfortable with the game, you'll find you'll spend countless hours on it just as before. Fortunately, there's an alarm system you can activate to give you a healthy reminder that there's a real world out there.
Bottom line, if you like your games deep and complex, and especially if you're a fan of MoO2, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of MoO3. It's been years since the last one and the wait, quite frankly, was worth it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/27/03, Updated 02/27/03
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