"Years of waiting and this is what I get?!"

I loved the first two Master of Orion games. Two of the finest, if not the best, turn based strategy games on the PC EVER. So when news of a third title was announced, I was as excited as any MOO fan. That's why I'm so dissapointed after having played this over the past couple weeks. No game has let me down as much as MOO3 since Ultima Ascension. There is still a lot of good in the game, but this game's faults are too glaring not tomention and definitely detract from the fun.

A obvious fault once you get into it is combat. Planet combat basically consists of a list of the number of your units and your opponent's. One you initiate of of a number of strategies (which have no ingame explanation as to the pros/cons of each strategy), you see the numbers go down as well as a tidy little picture of the planet, which changes color according to whichever side is winning. Gee, even stick figures duking it out would've been better than a chart of numbers to display combat, don't you think? The ground combat was pretty miserable in MOO2 as well, so I forgave it. But the lousy ship combat isn't. The graphics are SO small, that even when fully zoomed in, fighters are the size of dots. The grid for space combat is huge, but the ships, even with top notch engines, move at a snail's pace and it is too difficult to distinguish a leviathan class ship from a dreadnaught.

And what can a hurt a strategy game more than poor AI? Nothing. And the AI in MOO3 hurts the game. It starts off with the AI that handles the micromanagement tasks of running your build queues. When left to his own whim, the AI will quickly mass up a fleet of transport ships and puny scout ships. You can't possibly be invading that many systems to utilize ALL those transports?! Thankfully, the AI does a better job at building things for your planets that will help raise research, entertainment, or whatever a particular planet is in need of. Now back to the bad. This game is very easy. The AI hardly ever puts a challenge. You should have little problem defending your borders while you try and win a game through the handful of victory methods. Even when you're at war with multiple nations, they seem to send crappy fleets in small numbers one after another instead of trying a huge rush to overrun your borders. And spies are as powerful as always, capable of crippling any nation not named the New Orions. Even when the AI is good, it hurts the gameplay. In arenas like combat, because the field is so large, you might be looking at the wrong area of the map awaiting your opponent's ships to appear, when suddenly, WHAM, your ships are being hit from another side. It simply is better to leave combat to the computer, since strategy is so meaningless in combat anyway that the PC almost always offers better outcomes. Build queues are limited to three like in MOO2, so if you're unhappy with what the AI builds, you'd have to click back on every planet every few turns. Too much tedium, so let the AI handle it. Kinda takes the fun away, don't it, letting the AI run things? If you play, choose a small galaxy setting.

The menus have been rightly criticized, because there are so many of them. To get down to tasks you'll be doing a lot, like creating fleets of ships or ground transports, you'll be doing a ton of clicking. However, I didn't have too much of a problem after a few hours of finding where I needed to go. However, all the icons used in the game take quite a long time to graps what they mean. Literally, there are a lot of little charts, diagrams, and icons that the pathetic manual will not explain to you well.

There are also a lot of little things that annoy me. When your fleet is destroyed in a unexplored system, it'll tell you the system your fleet was destroyed but on the galaxy map, won't label the system with the name because somehow, it is still ''unexplored'', even though a fleet was destroyed in that system attempting to explore it. If you have multiple fleets out on exploration, it may be very difficult tracking down where that system was that one of your exploration fleets was destroyed. Another little issue was tabbing out to Windows. When you get back into the game, many times you get a stupid little DirectX issue, causing a black screen with the DirectX message. Shoddy programming, if you ask me.

In the end, this game still plays like a Master of Orion game, and there is the classic strategy gameplay that you've been waiting for a long time. But all the glaring little issues will pop up and annoy a lot of old school MOO fans. And newcomers to the series? They'll likely be driven off by the flood of menus, a crappy manual, and no tutorial. With the addition of third party patches and mods, some of the lame AI issues have been fixed, but nothing can really be done about things like the lame combat model. As much as I want to recommend this to people, most will probably find more fun in something else. Literally too many good games out there that you shouldn't have to put up with any one game's glaring faults.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 03/19/03, Updated 03/19/03

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