Review by trancejeremy
"Okay, but not great. Flaws keep it from being even good."
Master of Orion 3 is the long awaited 3rd installment in the famed Space strategy series, Master of Orion.
The initial looks are quite awful, to put it blunty. The interface is poor, the graphics are poor and sterile. The backstory, though somewhat interesting, largely does to Master of Orion 2 was Alien 3 did to Aliens - ruin it. In Alien 3, we find out that the happy ending of Aliens was essentially a mirage - off camera, everyone was killed and Ripley was impregnated with an alien. This essentially ruined Aliens for me, which had been quite possibly my favorite movie. It just really sucks seeing everything in it essentially invalidated.
MOO3 has a similar story. While we believe that the player had won at the end of Moo2, destroying the whole planet of the evil Antarans, it turns out, woops, that's not right. It just annoyed them. In the time between Moo2 and Moo3, the Antarans came and wiped everything out. Whee! But as fate would have it, they eventually lost power, and other civilizations rise again.
On to the game itself. As I briefly mentioned, the first thing you notice is that the game does not look like the previous two titles. Presumably because both of those were by SimTex, this is done by Quicksilver. There was a certain graphics look in the first two. Warm, with personality. Moo3 is cold & sterile, like a doctors office. Rather than hand drawn graphics, the graphics look rendered.
Most of the Races from Moo & Moo2 seem to be gone. Some are still in the game as ''Magnate'' races, but they essentially are nothing more than a name. I miss the Elerian babes. And the sneaky Darloks. The snooty Alkari. The goofy Bulrathi.
Once you get into the game itself, you start wondering, what exactly do I do? Much of the game is essentially automated. You don't direct research. You don't really direct planetary development. Starship combat is more or less automated. You can control it somewhat if you want, but I found that it happens so face, and the ships are so tiny, that it's essentially impossible to. (Impossible for me to). Ground combat is a bit more in depth, but I've found it's also best to leave it to the AI.
You can direct military building. Usually you will have to do this to build the really really big ships. This can get tricky because it's not all that easy to get to the production screen of each planet. You can get to it from the top down view, but it takes several clicks (double clicks, actually). There is also a planet by planet view on what is building what, but when you click on that, you have to click open a panel to see and change what is being built. Annoying.
You can design ships, but the interface to do so is somewhat, well, painful. When you add an item, a popup displays. Unfortunately, this popup covers up how much is left in a ship. So, you have to remember how much room it has left. This is very very annoying. So you're generally best letting the AI do it by hitting the ''Autobuild'' button, then tweaking the designs.
In the initial stages of the game, it takes forever to build a colony ship. So you're not directing that all that much.
What you do do, is build spies. Unless you want enemy spies to really screw up your empire, you better build a spy as soon as you can, and keep building them non-stop. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to automate this. You can queue them up, but you still have to order spies to be built.
You can tell the AI how to develop planets, at least somewhat vaguely, but this is very hard for those who aren't experts on the game. I've read a lot on how to do it, and honestly, I'm baffled. There's very little feedback provided. I mean, when you do X, you get Y for Z reason. In Moo3, If you do X, Y happens, but you don't really know why. Or sometimes you do X and nothing seemingly happens.
Anyway, you also don't have much in the way of tech in the initial stages of the game. So there's not really much you can do expect hit the ''Turn'' button and wait until you get a colony ship (or if you use automated colonization, just hit the ''turn'' button).
However, the game does get more fun around turn 150 or so. This is when you start actually having an empire, and get to have larger ships.
One of the really fun things about the game is forming task forces. These are essentially like modern day naval forces - you have several core ships, then outlying smaller ships that have varous roles, like reconnaisance or point defense. The downside is, you have to remember what ship has what stats. When you put together a task force, you don't get to see any of the ships stats other than in-system speed.
It's then fun to send them into battle and watch how they do. Or it would be, except the ships are very tiny, and combat happens very very quickly - it's very hard to follow what's going on. It's like watching a basketball game from the very top rows of a 100,000 seat stadium. There's also very little feedback after combat. While it tells you how many ships you lost and how many they lost, it doesn't tell you what type.
So, basically, is Moo3 fun? Well, parts of it are. Combat is, once you get your empire up and running. But it's a long time getting there.
I also have found that the game does bog down somewhat in the later stages of the game. All 4x games pretty much do, but this does less than most.
While some early reports seemed to indicate that it was geared towards shorter games (and multiplayer), from playing it, that seems to be untrue. It would probably take you 500 turns to get to the end of the tech tree.
Un-agressive AI (Though it seems pretty smart - I struggle to win on easy, I can't match the AI in colony development, though it doesn't really attack)
Poor User Interface
Lack of In Game Customization - Can't name your leader or empire, as far as I can tell. Can't customize your race unless you also want to take rather annoying penalties - that is, races have to balance out to 0 points rather than having 10 free abilities picks in Moo2. Very few set up conditions. Being able to start with a small-ish empire (not just one tiny planet) would go a long way towards eliminating the 100 turn or so boring period.
Space Combat too fast/too small/too uncontrollable
Annoying disc spinning (unless you copy the music to the hard drive, your cd drive will whir and whir and whir and whir)
Lack of feel of control over most things. Research, planet development, etc
Doesn't feel like a Moo game. Feels like Rebellion or Imperium Galactica 2
Too easy to lose via the Senate
The Antaran 5X thing is a bit vague (and contrived).
Lack of feedback
Fun in the mid to later stages
Complex, yet easy to play (too easy?)
Fun making task forces
I give it a C-
So, is it worth buying? Well probably, although the price tag is a bit steep. If it were $30, it would be a no brainer.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 03/05/03, Updated 03/05/03
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