Review by CChavez
"VERY difficult to learn, but eventually fun... really!"
As a MOO2 fan, I found Master of Orion 3 to be frustrating and tedious... at least until I spent enough hours to unlearn a lot of things. Eventually, it became fun.
The UI looks adequate, but the battle graphics are terrible. You can't tell the difference between ship types, so it's really hard to tell what's going on during the battle.
I play with the music off and there aren't many sound effects. I'm not going to rate the sound.
It's really easy to figure out the basics of how the UI works. To view systems or planets, you just double-click them. You can double-click on a star to go to the galaxy map or press the G key. That much is easy.
It's also easy to see the main levels of control. All of the main functions appear in a menu, and you can click on any them to access that function. Some of these functions have tabs, so the interface is still familiar.
The UI breaks down in any menu that has submenus, though. Many of the menus have submenus and more submenus. To create ground defenders for a particular planet, for example, you have to manufacture individual ground units, then zoom to planetary level, click on a create button, select what type of army group it is, and then click Auto-Build to auto-configure the army because it is too tedious to build it yourself. The same problem occurs with space task forces.
Also, every ground unit or space unit seems to be equipped with teleporters, because you can build them anywhere and they'll appear in any system that has a Mobilization Center.
The planetary UI is also made useless by the planetary AI. You can't specify more than three items in the build queue, and when any space opens up, the planetary AI will try to fill the queue with whatever it can afford. This causes most players to have navies full of scout ships and troop ships (until they figure out how to design cheap ships that are useful, like escort ships). You don't have full control over what structures are built or where, so your planetary AI will build a Space Port in a region of the planet that it can't get its full benefit (for example, a region that contains two Recreation Centers that could increase the Space Port's earnings).
It would've been nice if we could create a ''desired task force configuration'' in which I could say I want, hmmm, maybe 2 long-range-attack battleships, 4 short-range-attack cruisers, 6 point defense corvettes and 3 recon frigates. Instead I have to either: 1) fight the planetary AI for space in the build queues and make it build the ships I want, 2) make every kind of ship obsolete except the types I currently need, and then redesign the removed types.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about the game is that it doesn't have much context-sensitive content that can tell you about something. This is most obvious during diplomacy, where you may want to exchange techs, but you have no way to figure out what the tech actually is. With hundreds of different techs, this makes exchanging extremely difficult. (Also, you don't have a way to figure out the relative value of the tech, and no way to ''read'' the other diplomat's willingness to accept the current terms.)
The empire AI is the big star of the game. This is a double-edged feature, though. It runs automatically, so there's very little for the player to do but manage the combat fleets. You can disable the AI for some planets so you can have greater control over their build queues and development, but generally, if you provide good ship designs to the AI, it will build units you can use.
The diplomatic AI is better than many other games (Civ 3 and Alpha Centauri come to mind as games with better diplomatic AI), but the poor interface ruins it (see above).
The gameplay sucks... at least, that's the first impression. When you first play, it seems like the computer is doing everything for you. Play for a few hours, and it seems like you're just clicking ''Next Turn'' and letting the computer run everything. It seems to be doing stupid things like building useless ships and colonizing useless planets.
If you spend a lot of time experimenting, you may eventually discover that the empire still requires you to make it run efficiently. If you manage the ships well, it will stop building useless ships. If you ensure that the best planets are colonized, you'll develop faster because you're not letting the AI waste resources on difficult-to-improve planets that you won't need for several hundred turns.
I felt like I had achieved something when I finally learned how to cooperate with the empire AI.
(Note for people who have played the Apple IIGS or Amiga versions of Reach for the Stars v3.0 from 1987 [not the crappy DOS version, or the really crappy 2001 Windows version]: when you finally figure the game out, it plays somewhat similar to RFTS v3.0 in Advanced Mode. That is a good thing, to me!)
The manual has nice stories that take up one-third of the pages... but that's about all I can say that is positive about it! It has outdated screenshots, and it refers to many features that are no longer in the game. It doesn't explain many of the game features, doesn't have a tutorial, doesn't explain what the techs are, doesn't explain what the ship technologies are... there is so much missing from the stupid manual, and there's not even an index to help find any subjects!
The in-game Encyclopedia feature is not much better. It doesn't do partial-word searches, and it really just seems to contain the same content as the manual.
The only reason why the manual got a ''2'' is because the Readme.txt file contained some of the information I was looking for, such as an explanation of what the planetary special attributes were. (Too bad that the game crashes when I alt-tab away from it...)
The biggest problem is the lack of available information about how to play. There's no tutorial, and very little in-game help. The manual is useless.
Another big problem is that a lot of people want to work without the empire AI, or they want to work AGAINST the empire AI: in other words, they fight the empire AI and never bother to learn how it can help them.
Despite all of its problems, the game DOES eventually become fun when you learn enough about the game to work with the empire AI. I doubt many people will have the patience to do so, though. I almost gave up a few times myself. Unfortunately, there are a LOT of better games in different genres out there, and those people will probably be better off exchanging MOO3 for those games.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 03/02/03, Updated 03/02/03
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