60 Minute Review of…

Master of Orion 3

The combat in the original MOOs was a neat little tactical subgame where you moved your colorfully drawn ships one turn at a time and watched them in action. You clearly saw the effect of the different weapons. You could tell how ships with strong shields fared against certain weapons, how missiles could reach out and touch someone at the other end of the screen, and how a swarm of fighters could overwhelm bigger and more advanced ships.

But in MOO3, once you get past how absolutely awful the graphics are, you'll be surprised at how little information is presented, how little input is needed from you, and how the whole thing feels like a formality. The voxel graphics for the ships look terrible, especially when you zoom in close. There's no clear indication of which ships are which designs, so you won't know one weapon from another. You can't see enemy ship designs, so you have no idea what you're shooting at or what's shooting back at you. There's no sense of which ships are maneuverable and fast or which ships are slow behemoths with massive firepower. You're just staring at a grid with tiny dots on it, with no role other than to give some of them movement orders while everything plods on in real time and since there's really not much for you to do, you can't help but notice how a detachment of super advanced space fighters is presented as nothing more than a swarm of gnats. The dots make plinky laser sounds, a few colored lines flash onscreen, some numbers float up, and some of the dots die. It's absurdly uninformative and unattractive. Did they mean to include this part?

Reinforcing the idea that your ship designs are disposable is the new "five X" victory condition. Master of Orion 3 has some silly backstory about discovering five Xs, which means sending some of your ships out of the game for a while, where they park in a penalty box/limbo screen and occasionally die. Eventually, some of them might find something called an X, which gives your AI viceroys some empire wide bonus that they probably really enjoy. Get five of these and you'll win the game. Like so much of MOO3, you have no direct role in any of this. You just sit back and press the 'turn' button while it happens.

At least they fleshed out the ground combat. It's chock full of detail, although your only job is to take a stab in the dark and guess which formation is best for your men and wonder why you ever wouldn't check the biological weapons box. No, there's no information to help you. There's plenty of information about your men, including the terrain in which they fight best. So you're sitting there watching the numbers tick down, listening to occasional sound bites that report on the progress of the battle, thinking 'okay, I guess this is pretty nifty'. Then you notice there's no information available on where you're fighting. And because you're really just a spectator here, you're wondering why MOO3 tells you what terrain your men like most, but neglects to tell you what terrain they're actually fighting on. Okay, battle's over. Time to go hit the 'turn' button a few more times.


February 21, 2003

Back to 60 Second Reviews