Review by Ephemeriis

"Very rough around the edges..."

Fans of the Master of Orion series have been waiting for this game for years - literally. Delay after delay, and now we've finally got it. I, for one, ran out to grab my copy as soon as they hit the store. Unfortunately, after 30+ hours of gameplay, I'm forced to admit defeat. I do not like this game.

Graphics: 4
The graphics are, to put things mildly, dated. This game has been development for quite some time, and they obviously did not take advantage of technological advances during that development process. Most of the game appears to be 2D, but is in fact 3D. There are camera controls to rotate, zoom, and pan the universe screen...much like in Imperium Galactica II. The universe screen itself looks fairly decent, but the universe no longer fits onto just one screen. If you want to see it all, you'll need to zoom out, and then you lose your star names.

The combat screens are especially horrible... The ships are rendered in 3D, but a 3D that we haven't seen in ages. It reminds me of the old, pre-video card MechWarrior games. A few ragged polygons stuck together, with barely any texturing. There is no background, and the animations are horrid.

Gone is the nice, detailed view of a planet's surface. You can no longer see all the buildings you've constructed. Gone, too, are the nicely animated diplomacy screens... And the announcements when your research progresses, or you capture enemy tech. through espionage or military power. Gone is the landing animation as you create a new colony. Gone are the GNN announcements of random events.

Then again, graphics were never a major aspect of the Master of Orion games.

Sound & Music: 3
The music is unimpressive, at best. The majestic, sweeping music of MoO 2 is gone, and replaced with something thoroughly forgettable. It is there, it fills up the silence, but that's about it. There really isn't much more to say about the music.

The sound, however, is atrocious. Just about every button in the GUI makes a ''boink!'' sound when your mouse moves over it. Panels whoosh and zoom into place. Loud clicks and thuds accompany your every command. The sounds during space battle seem ripped from a game of Asteroids, and a generic military voice accompanies anything you do with ground forces.

It makes no difference what race you're playing, you get the same generic military voice. There's also no voice during diplomacy either, it's all text. In fact, there's virtually no aural feedback during diplomacy at all. I eventually wound up turning off all the sounds, and supplying my own music.

Controls & Interface: 2
This is where the game truly sinks. The GUI is horribly designed, and obstructs you more than it helps. Frequently used commands that should only take one or two clicks to access are buried under tons of clicks. The controls to open and close panels of information are erratic at best, and thoroughly inconsistent. Even the basic function of the GUI varies from one screen to the next... Sometimes information is presented in a movable window, sometimes a static panel, and never a distinction between the two.

Key items that need to be clicked on do not stand out as buttons. Other items are buried under far too many panels and buttons.

This game does feature hotkeys to help with the navigation, but they do not always work. Alt-Tab is also very broken. Not only can it crash your current game, but it has reportedly corrupted saved games as well.

Gameplay: 2
The basic idea of Master of Orion III is to take a fledgling empire, nurture it, and eventually rule the universe. This can be accomplished in numerous ways... You can build a huge navy, and crush the other nations with your military might. Or perhaps you'd rather use diplomacy, and win through alliance? Or espionage, to set your enemies against each other? The exact methods are entirely up to you, but the eventual goal is the same...domination.

Unfortunately, MoO 3 takes a lot of the traditional 4x gameplay out of the player's hands. You have assistance in the form of the Viceroys, which attempt to implement your decisions throughout your empire. They'll manage your planets' infrastructure, build up your navy, and can colonize planets. You can influence their decisions by setting development plans, or disable them entirely, but the game was really meant to be played with the Viceroys enabled. Access to the options they control (build queues, for example) is well hidden.

Other aspects of this game are not controlled by any AI, but are still out of the player's hands, such as research. You choose where to throw your money, but have no say at all in what is researched with that money. You get periodic updates telling you what is being discovered, but that is it.

Combat, both space and ground, is best handled by the AI. Even when you choose to take control, you only have the ability to tell them which target to attack. Decisions such as which weapons to fire are completely out of your hands.

MoO 3 was designed with macromanagement in mind. All the niggling, day to day details of the empire are taken care of for you, freeing you to deal with the big issues. Big issues like grouping together task forces, and telling your scouts where to go. Big issues like diplomacy, and espionage. Unfortunately, even these things that were intended for you to mess with are not implemented well.

The GUI continues to obstruct your intentions, even when it is an aspect of the game that you are supposed to be controlling. And many of the new features, such as different tones for diplomacy, don't appear to have any actual effect on the game.

Replayability: 4
Well, in theory, this game has nearly infinite replayability. There are 16 races for you to play as, plus the ability to customize a race to suit your tastes. You can choose how many AI races are in the game, as well as the size of the universe and the difficulty. So...theoretically...no two games should be the same.

Now, while there is the potential for replay, the gameplay itself is such a disappointment that I've only completed one full game. I started up several different races, but only stuck with one to completion. There really is no motivation to continue playing this game. The AI does most of the work for you, and the GUI prevents you from having fun with what you're allowed to do.

There's also a multiplayer option here... But I did not try it at all. I cannot imagine it would be much fun to see if your AI can beat another person's AI. I could be wrong though.

Conclusion: 3
I really wanted to like this game. I've been a huge fan of the MoO series since day 1, and I was eagerly anticipating this game. Unfortunately, it simply doesn't measure up to the rest of the series.

The design of the game is a major departure from the traditional 4x format. Much of the micromanagement is gone, replaced with very powerful global settings. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave a whole lot left for the player to...well...play with. And again, the GUI is in your way no matter what you try to do.

It pains me to give this game anything less than a 9, but Master of Orion III has earned this score. The game is badly in need of several patches, and I don't think even those will fix all its many flaws.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/04/03, Updated 03/04/03


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