Review by kn1gh7

"MoO3 has more bugs then a beta copy of Windows XP, but is it still good? Darn Tooting!"

Briefing Room
Masters of Orion fans have been waiting for this sequel to the turned-based strategy series for nearly four years. Even more tragic than the horrible release timing would be the poorly designed graphics. Simply said, if you’re one of the few fans left, I’m already impressed! The last four years have been delay after delay for this game. It was actually almost two years ago when we first heard this third installment was about to come out. After many delays, no follow-up date for a release was announced, and then recently it managed to steal a fairly decent bit of spotlight including some mediocre hype across the web, only to finally grace us with its release.

Now what is it that made us love these games in the past? I don’t think I can nail it down to any one certain thing. Naturally I loved creating new colonies, striving to learn new technologies, invading enemy colonies, designing ships in combat, hiring officers to control my ships, and all the other cookies that made Masters of Orion 3 so dang fun! The thing anyone new to the series will have to stomach is the fact that this is a detailed game. Every single aspect of your production, the way your colonies run and so fourth contain a ton of details for you to edit and play with. If you are not designing your ships, then most likely you’re setting your planets work rate or some other tiny detail that is just too hard to resist tinkering with! Star Trek fans could jump aboard and become a fan of this game with little effort needed to hook them. The whole ‘sci-fi galaxy domination’ kind of space feel is mimicked well with this new release.

Game play: 7.3
Yes you need not worry, the basic concepts to Masters of Orion are still intact with this third release. The most notable change to the game was the revamped graphical interface. When you first start you will select your race, ruler name, colony name, and an icon to represent your faction. All of which is nothing new, the only difference is how the game flows through these processes. The old bulky and ugly menus that plagued the previous releases have been completely done away with, and redone. Each menu you go from will fade away, slide up, or slide down while menu options light up, only to leave a very dynamic impression on the user. This is something very flashy and different for this game, but it definitely gets my thumbs up! Best of all the overwhelming amount of information about each colony, race, production information, and the technology you’ve learned are all organized and put in front of you in a very nice manner.

There was a lot of emphasis on the races and their own special abilities, as it has always been the case. For the most part, a lot of the stuff is obvious as day. Like the ‘egg head’ races learning technology faster than others, or a robotic race getting a ground combat bonus, and so fourth. Most importantly were the new additions to the technology tree advancement system for each race. Now in the older releases, learning a technology was simple, say I wanted to learn Laser Rifles for example. I would highlight what I wish to research, and based on the science output of my colonies, I would learn the technology in a given amount of turns. It’s the same concept now, but only everything is grouped differently. Instead of researching something specific like ‘Class One Shields’, you research specific areas like ‘political science’. After you reach level two in that area you would than gain the advances that would come with having advanced in that technological area.

What really seemed to hinder the whole experience of Masters of Orion 3 was the fact that every time I was looking for some certain detail or aspect of the game to view or edit I would have to dig to find it. Sometimes buried under tabs, at other times it was just thirty some odd clicks away, and always inconsistent with the rest of the reports you would see. (Sometimes you could move the window, sometimes it was stationary. Sometimes it was under a tab, and sometimes you could even find it under a ton of clicks.) Worse yet, a lot of the time I would forget where I found something, and I would spend another ten minutes looking for something that should be simple all over again. (There is a hotkey option, but it doesn’t always work.) Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the overwhelming amount of details you have to control. I didn’t even mind the amount of time I would spend building each ship. (Each ship was out dated in about 10 turns on average and you would than have to rebuild the current ship.) What really got to me was the simple fact that if you didn’t spend all your time setting everything up and continually checking on each and every aspect of your colonies the A.I. would manage to blunder your plans up. Like when I set the A.I. to political, I then expected spies to be made, but were they? Nope that wasn’t the case; each colony would max out on troops and do things that really made little to no sense at all. On top of that, the colonies didn’t display the buildings graphically like you had before, but you were given a text display of what was on the current colony. But overall it still felt like micromanagement was almost a handicap now. Online play has each turn timed, and in this case you just don’t have enough time to continually check on each output and setting of your colonies, how your leaders are doing, what is being produced in each colony, and then with your last 10 seconds your expected to continue your conquest of the galaxy.

Where else did we see this work of art fall short? Combat. The biggest disappointment was you didn’t control all your ships in a fleet. (Actually at times this game seems to play itself.) Either way, each fleet is made up of a ‘taskforce’ which consists of varying ships. Each ship complements another in the task. For a quick example on this, I’ll use the long ranged ships that would be used for sheer firepower. The scouts would spot enemies or stop enemies from using their guided jam attack, and then you had other ships defending missile attacks. As you play, each new technology gives you something to add to the battlefield; the major problem with this is that you can’t refit ships like before. With a few new technology advances you could find yourself scraping a whole fleet. Another tedious element of combat was whenever I would send out a scout ship or any space shuttle(s) that happened to get attacked or ran into another vessel, I would be sent right to battle at the next turn. Without seeing where this battle was occurring, many of times I had no clue where I was fighting. Was this a glitch in the game or just poor programming? I’m not sure, but it was one hell of a nuisance!

Graphics: 7.1
Masters of Orion III has been in development for nearly four years. The sad thing is the developers didn’t bother to take advantage of the new technology and the state of the art three-dimensional rendering that you would be used to from current generation titles. The menus were nice, and the graphical representation of each race was far better than ever before. But the eye candy ends here.

Now I loved the cinematic scenes, which definitely is the real deal. In comparison to the old ones, these cinematic scenes were phenomenal. Yet compared to other titles that it may compete with, they were by far no match. Graphically this game is nothing more then a few lines of text displayed over a flashy menu. You don’t even get to see your planet surface anymore, or any of the building structures that reside on it.

Each race’s space shuttles looked more or less the same, and there were only four unique ship designs. Even more pathetic yet, was the over world map. It was in a two-dimensional overhead view, now you could switch between 2d, and 3d view. The only problem with this is either way they both looked bad graphically, and I found the 3d view very confusing. When you compare animations like destroying the planet, from MoO2 against MoO3; hands down MoO2 looks far better. In this game you will see the planet have a couple fires and then appear red. It is no longer habitable. What happened to completely destroying planets and turning them into asteroid belts? No longer can we witness planets explode into space dust!

Sound: 5.8
Well there isn’t really a ‘score’ per say to this title. But there is some really cool swishing sounds that go on in the background. Oh, okay I guess that is the music. ‘Let’s face the music,’ everyone knows you don’t play Masters of Orion because it has great music tracks. This is not going to change with the third release either. Giving the music selection more credit than deserved, I would say within a week most players will be playing their own music versus what is supplied with Masters of Orion III. It really wasn’t that it was that bad, it was more that it just wasn’t all that good. I can’t gripe about anything that stood out of place, everything was fitting but I just didn’t get that ‘wow’ impression like I had with the previous release.

There was a good assortment of sounds which was cool, and I love hearing my lasers fire in combat, and it was definitely cool to hear missiles fire and destroy an enemy ship. But every time I clicked an option, flipped a tab, or even pressed my mouse down I would hear a ‘click’, ‘clank’, or a ‘clack’. These dated sounds got on my nerves quite quickly. The generic voice that is used for each and every race when at the diplomacy screen is just wrong, how could each race sound so blah?! This is just another sign that the game is definitely not trying to captivate people with its, ‘intense surround sound capabilities.’

Replay Value: 7.8
This has always been a game you could play many times over. Not only single player, but multiplayer is just as great to play. Masters of Orion III really shines during network play though, and you get to see all the neat things you can do between players. For a better explanation on this you could exchange technologies, ask for peace, or even demand the other player’s planet. Even though it’s not only to demand the other players planet, you could also help each other increase science and income output. Naturally IP address and LAN network play are available, but now new to the MoO series is the GameSpy network. Multiplayer aspect is a definite double edged sword though. Yes, there’s even a problem here too, and that is the connect process that is built-in to the game. It is more buggy then a beta of Windows XP.

Basically, this is what it comes down to: if you like the game you’re going to play it a lot, but if you don’t it simply wont be any better at anytime. Keep in mind, this is completely new, and this game has evolved into a direction that wasn’t expected.

Closing Comments:
Masters of Orion III can be considered a disappointment if you take a glance over it quickly. If you compare it to the old it doesn’t even feel like the same game. You really have to approach this game as something new, if you try to play it like the older ones you will be in disbelief at how fast you can loose.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 04/21/03, Updated 04/21/03

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