Master of Orion - Review

Author: Claudio Chianese
Date: 2020-07-30 17:33:04
I started playing that I was a little boy, with the Master System and the arcades of the Ninja Turtles, but there are three games in particular that have destined me to become an adult videogame player, with a beard and a bald head. They are titles that represent the three main subgenres of the strategy: wargame, RTS and 4X. Panzer General, Dune II and Master of Orion II. Of the triad, Master of Orion II is the one that has stood up to the test of time, so much so that I still start it every now and then.

A company that must be attributed half to the merits of the game itself, and the other half to a certain stagnation of the genre, which has struggled to offer something truly innovative in the last twenty years. And this despite the publication of many products, some of fair value. Things have changed after Stellaris: Paradox has shown that old formulas can be renewed, even upset, without losing their polish. In the Stellaris era, developing 4X space worthy of competition has become quite difficult.

Especially when you have a big name like Master of Orion on your hands. Not big in the sense of Uncharted or Tomb Raider, mind you, mostly immortal. If you find yourself having a beer with the old men of the strategy (including me), be sure that sooner or later someone will mutter "when Master of Orion was there, the space cruisers would arrive on time".

With a similar legacy, there are only two possibilities: either try to innovate, focusing on the name to drive your particular vision, or leave practically everything the same. NGD Studios, working on behalf of, has largely chosen the second option. Difficult to blame them, after the ambitious as well as unplayable Master of Orion III. On the other hand, we are no longer in 1996, and bits have passed from our hard drives.

The new Master of Orion is played exactly like the old Master of Orion. We choose a race, we start with a planet, we explore the galaxy, we colonize planets, we fight against enemies. If you've tried any turn-based space 4X over the past twenty years, you already know how it works. Except that Master of Orion has a much higher than average production value. Beautiful animations, inspired models, good level dubbing ... do you know those fairly nice girls who make up in a certain way seem supermodels? Here, the same.

Let's take the breeds: there are ten of them (plus one, the warlike version of humans, if you buy the deluxe edition) and they are really beautiful to look at. From the Klackon insectoids to the Sakkra reptilians, they wouldn't look bad in a Mass Effect at all. The background is also quite neat, and reveals interesting information about the government and history of each breed. Too bad, though, that these elements don't really translate into gameplay. The Klackons, to say, are dominated by a Zerg-style hive mind: so why do they strike if taxes are too high and discover technologies such as "private investments"? In Master of Orion II, their particular form of anthill communism was represented by the absence of morale, just like statistics.

The visual uniqueness of the breeds remains straightforward when one realizes that all empires share the same research and, on the whole, rather similar mechanics. Silicoids, which do not consume food, represent the pinnacle of oddity: even Meklar robots, after all, work exactly like the others. A symmetrical gameplay, in short, which was the norm of the genre up to five or six years ago, but which now raises some yawns, compared to the innovations proposed by a random Endless Legend.

Speaking of technologies, the possibilities offered appear a bit disappointing. They work, mind you, and integrate well with the game: they seem, however, gray, almost bureaucratic. There are no wonders to Civilization, the esoteric mysteries of Stellaris are missing ... numerical bonuses, buildings that offer other numerical bonuses, and numerically better weapons than the previous ones. With a few exceptions, for example that stellar converter useful for destroying entire colonies in the Death Star style. I will always remember Alpha Centauri's Vortex of Dreams, so to speak, while I have already forgotten what exactly the biospheres do in Master of Orion, even if I played it yesterday.