Master of Orion put to the test - Risen from Orion

Author: Michael Graf
Date: 2016-08-25 00:01:00
The new Master of Orion has matured noticeably in Early Access. But is that enough for a top position in the 4X genre?

Eleven enemies

Speaking of which: The characteristics of the given races deviate slightly from the original. The egg-headed psilons are still the only "creative" breed allowed to research all advances. Because the science system works differently (more on that in a moment), it has fewer advantages. What is new is that some peoples have a preference for certain types of planets , i.e. ignore the disadvantages of inhospitable stars.

The feline Mrrshan, for example, prefer "dry" worlds where other races harvest less food. This is a clever addition, because I have to adjust my expansion strategy: With the Mrrshan, I leave idyllic, “earth-like” paradises on the left in order to colonize interstellar prunes instead.

With the crystalline silicoids, whose population does not grow through food cultivation, but through abundant mineral deposits, I am specifically looking for sterile, rock-rich, preferably volcanic celestial bodies on which other peoples would burn their fingers.

And there I can immediately boost the production of buildings and ships because I don't have to turn off any residents as farmers - as usual, colonists can be classified as scientists, industrial workers or food producers. The choice of races affects the way you play, at least to a certain extent.

Not everything is the same

Master of Orion again assesses the planet quality in two categories: biome (the greener, the more food) and mineral deposits (the richer, the more production). However, the values are not always distributed fairly. If you are lucky, you can bathe in high-quality celestial bodies right from the start; Unlucky ones start in a corner full of junk balls, which is also cut off from the rest of the galaxy by "unstable jump points" - at least until advanced travel technology has been researched.

Speaking of which: In the new Master of Orion, journeys through the Milky Way are no longer completely free. Instead, fleets curve from system to system along given star "highways". This changes the feel of the game, but it's not a disadvantage because it also enables new tactics.

For example, nodes with military stations can be blocked in order to lock out visitors. Progressive empires are also allowed to build jump gates between their colonies in order to shorten travel times. Well, not a revolution, such Hyperlane travel systems are known from other 4X games.

The new research system has a bigger impact on the feel of the game. In the old Master of Orion, I had to choose one of three sub-technologies for every progress, the other two I could only negotiate or steal with spies. Only "creative" peoples learned everything.

In the new Master of Orion, on the other hand, there is a traditional technology tree à la Civilization, only a handful of research objectives force me to choose between alternatives, such as more deadly missiles versus thicker armor plates. And the right choice is usually so obvious that my hair stays unthreaded; "creative" peoples are correspondingly less valuable.

The developers have also adapted the espionage: Instead of recruiting en masse agents and assigning them to an opponent, I am setting up an intelligence center that spits out offspring every few rounds. I send the snoops one by one to foreign colonies, where they try to steal advances or instigate rebellions.

And ... it runs along the way. Espionage is not essential, but that is true of almost every global strategy game. After all, Master of Orion gives me an opportunity that the competitor Stellaris does not (yet) offer.

The MoO stencil

Even if the choice of people and the starting position influence my style of play and the challenge, every game is basically the same: I build the same buildings, always equip my ships similarly, and know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents. I can put a stencil over Master of Orion. This is only possible to a certain extent with Stellaris, thanks to the randomly generated races and numerous random events.

Master of Orion also offers the latter, but much, much less often. Especially in the initial phase, Stellaris has more surprises in store: I get mini-quests, stumble over primitive peoples, never know what the next planet is hiding (even if its "secret" turns out to be an unspectacular value bonus).

Master of Orion is very sedate at first. The rather leisurely population growth can at least be accelerated with a higher speed level in the game setup - and yes, it is also strategically interesting because I can and sometimes have to ship populations from nutrient-rich, faster-growing colonies to sterile but productive mining planets. The old Master of Orion did not offer such population management, as the food surplus was simply distributed across the empire. So another well thought-out innovation.

Incidentally, there is idle in both Master of Orion and Stellaris, especially in the middle part of a game I often click rounds away. Whereby the Paradox competitor loosens up the final phase with its great catastrophes, in Master of Orion I mean only my competitors.

They are staged in a more atmospheric way than the randomly generated Stellaris aliens, during diplomatic negotiations I see animated and (unfortunately only in English) well-voiced avatars. And my own empire comes up with funny advisors who give helpful tips and hop around the research screen. Master of Orion appears livelier and less sterile than its Paradox competitor.

Untactical in real time

Which brings us to the last point, the war. And I never thought I'd say that, but I've made my peace with one of the most serious changes to the new Master of Orion, real-time battles. Please do not get it wrong: As a strategist, I dislike them because they are less tactically demanding than they could. Most of the time I grab all of my ships and let them fire in bundles at an enemy.

The ship design is correspondingly straightforward: I stuff the currently thickest possible ship model with the weapons that cause the most damage, then add anti-missile guns, that's it. Sure, I could also use tactics: Do I build in more missiles to overwhelm the enemy point defense, or more cannons to penetrate the shields?

Do I let ray cannons fire in a concentrated manner forwards or in all directions - but what makes them bigger so I can install less? Or do I teleport my ships to the enemy's rear using a "relocation device" because their lasers do not shine backwards? Such considerations are cool - but they are rarely important.

Win five times

The developers have also greatly improved the artificial intelligence for this. At the beginning of Early Access, the computer opponents were just cannon fodder, now they are serious competitors - at least on the "Extreme" level of difficulty. Even if "to be taken seriously" essentially means that they declare war on me as soon as they feel overwhelming.

Or as soon as I ignore your warning, please do not settle near you. It is irritating that battles are possible at unguarded jump points even without (!) A declaration of war. If I'm not careful, the neighbors will just blow up an unguarded colony ship. Without consequences. But well, I'll just be careful.

Diplomacy, on the other hand, is multifaceted. For example, the relationship with a people suffers if I deal with their arch-rivals. There are five conditions for victory, from the old-fashioned conquering all over the election of rulers to economic victory (I can buy the galactic "majority of shares"). So it is theoretically possible to win Master of Orion peacefully, even if it rarely stays peaceful because at some point the AI killers will knock on the laser.

However, when things run completely hopeless, a great idea can help: By clicking in the statistics menu, I can jump back to a round that has already been completed at any time, completely free, right up to the beginning of the game. A menu as an autosave - that makes the individual save states enormous, but it's awesome. The statistical curves also show when I fell behind. I would have wished that under the skylight of the children's room back then.