Review by silentsword
"Could have been a great game, but is marred by horrible glitches"
MOO3 is a radical departure from the previous games in the Master of Orion series, as well as from most Turn-based strategy games in general. Rather than emphasizing micromanagement, MOO3 gives you a much more realistic look at what it really means to be a Galactic Emperor - the emphasis is supposed to be on macromanagement, where you control the general direction of your Empire, and your governors and bureaucracy handle the rest. Ideally, you should not have to issue orders beyond overall directives, fleet movements, and perhaps the occasional personal intervention when things get really bad.
Unfortunately, the ideal falls well short of reality. What is truly maddening is that the idea could have been met if it weren't for the awful glitches that wreck the game.
Turns consist of two phases - orders, and actions/combat. During the order phase, you issue fleet movements, control the growth of colonies, dispatch scouts, handle diplomacy, attempt to insert spies into enemy empires, and generally take care of everything that needs to be done. The action and combat phase is where these orders are carried out, and the ground and space forces engage the enemy.
Ideally, the AI will take care of each of your colonies, leaving you free to handle empire-wide issues. You can give broad directives to the AI based on the type of planet, through the use of Development Plans. These DPs are prioritized listings of what you want the planet to focus on, and those lists are assigned to each planet. For example, you might have a mineral-rich planet, in which case you would probably tell the AI to focus on mining first, industry second, and defense third. In the case of a giant planet, you might want the AI to focus on Industry and Military, in order to build those huge ships. IF the system worked the way it was supposed to, you could take your turn in about 5 minutes, no matter how large your Empire.
This is where the first major glitch and first major FLAW rear their ugly heads. The game will only allow you to assign one of the "standard" DPs to a planet. Although you get to create up to 4 player-created DPs, this is not nearly enough. This lack of control severely limits your options, preventing you from deciding whether to focus a planet on one thing or another when it might be ideal for both.
This is just a flaw, but the glitch that comes in is even worse: The AIs that control your planets are bonehead stupid. They will randomly reduce research spending to zero and leave it there - fatal in a game that emphasizes technology so heavily. Also, the AIs will build buildings that are not needed: what good are Orbital Lithoscanners when the planet hasn't a mine on it?
Outside of these AI glitches, the rest of the Empire interface is outstanding:
The diplomatic controls allow you to make fine distinctions between races. For example, some races respond better to demands or declarations, while certain others are much happier when you merely state your position, and others want you to beg and grovel. Also, the number of different treaties has been increased, and the annoying "go to war with this race or we break all treaties" that was an Alliance in MOO2 is gone, replaced with a Defensive Alliance (can request support if you are attacked) and a Military Alliance (can request support in any war). The Orion Senate adds another layer onto the game, allowing you to pass bills helping or (usually) harming the other races.
Shipbuilding is almost exactly the same as it was in MOO2, but with 2 exceptions: first, you now must assign a mission type to each ship. These mission types dictate what can go on the ship and how it will behave in combat. For example, Long Range Attack vessels will attempt to engage at near their maximum range, while Short Range Attack vessels will emphasize damage over range in their armaments, and thus will attempt to close to point blank range. The other major difference is that there is no refitting of ships.
I find that I prefer this system to the old one, particularly when the ship movement engine is taken into account: ships move in groups called Task Forces now. When managing an empire spanning 50 or 60 star systems, this makes organization much easier.
One very nice feature of the game is that everything is hyperlinked. When reading the situation report at the start of the turn, clicking on the name of a star or planet will take you to that star or planet so that you can follow up. Clicking on a technology will take you to the research screen. And so forth. VERY nicely handled.
The combat engine of the game is actually pretty good: after choosing whether to engage the enemy or to hold back and let them come to you, you are dropped onto the combat screen, where you control the individual task forces (up to 18 ships each) against the enemy. You also have the option to watch or to let the battle autocalc. However the other major glitch crops up here, and it's horribly frustrating, to the point of singlehandedly destroys this part of the game: point defense weapons will almost never engage incoming missiles. There is nothing more frustrating than watching your hugely expensive ships be blown apart by missile fire because the point defense is holding its fire for whatever reason. And it will happen again, and again, and again.
GRAPHICS and SOUND
The graphics for the game are appropriate. They're not spectacular, but then again, spectacular graphics aren't needed for this type of game. What is more important is that the game is legible and that you can quickly identify what is going on. In this case, the game more than meets the needs of the interface.
As for the sound, the music for the game tends to fade into the background. It has an open-space feel to it, as if you really are gazing out over an interstellar Empire. Well done, although you're just as likely to punch up iTunes in the background.
PLAY TIME: Very long. Even a 50-star cluster can take several hundred turns to complete.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: If you don't mind the two enormous glitches, this game is probably worth a shot, as there are very few games that give the top-down view that this one does. However, the glitches probably kill the game, so I wouldn't buy it new.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/18/07
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