Master of Orion ReviewPrice:
A little like Stellaris earlier this year, Master of Orion does an excellent job of smartening up the 4X genre. Where so many of these games can be lumbering, obscure colossi that require a degree in intergalactic relations in order to understand, Master of Orion is a clean and attractive turn-based strategy that works hard to simplify what can be an overbearingly complex style of game. From the outset it's a game that works hard to draw the player in, and draw me in it did.
Unfortunately, once Master of Orion had piqued my interest, it failed to retain it for very long. That pleasingly straightforward beginning leads to a worryingly straightforward middle and a disappointingly straightforward end. Behind its lovely exterior, Master of Orion is a depressingly derivative 4X game whose infatuation with simplification is ultimately its own undoing.
Nevertheless, I think there are good lessons to be learned from how Master of Orion presents the systems of a 4X game. As with any other game of this ilk, you start by picking one of ten races to play as, and then set about attempting to conquer a galaxy through a number of victory conditions, be it evolving the best technologies, producing the best economy, being elected leader of the galactic council, or simply blowing all the other races to smithereens.
The early stages of Master of Orion involve prodding the fringes of your territory with scouts and frigates while slowly spooling up the motors of your economy. An AI advisor guides you through the basics of playing; how to move your ships through warp lanes between systems, how to establish your second colony, how to research new technologies, and so on.
While I'll always welcome hints or a tutorial in a game like this, Master of Orion is one of the few examples that probably doesn't need one. Almost every action you need to do can be achieved by clicking directly on the object it's related to; a ship, a planet, a unit of population. There's a huge effort to minimise obtrusive UI. Sub-menus for things like ship management, diplomacy and espionage are all clearly labelled in the top-right corner of the screen. Meanwhile, if there's anything that requires your immediate attention, such as a ship that needs orders or a planet that isn't producing anything, the game notifies you via a big glowing button in the bottom right corner.
The way Master of Orion ensures every aspect of your civilisation is communicated clearly to you is by far its most impressive feature. In addition to making the game easy to get into, it also aids the pacing, as you're focussed on managing your civilisation rather than navigating your way through menus and sub-menus.
It's also quite a pretty game. The galaxy is awash with colour, while alien races are brightly animated and brilliantly voiced by an exceptional voice cast, which includes Mark Hamill and Michael Dorn. The game even boasts a slightly kooky personality, revealed in the periodical news-cast, which updates you on important phases of the game like the discovery of a space creature, or a gift from a random benefactor.