Master of Orion 3

2If you’re the type of 4X player who likes to get under a sim’s hood, then you’re going to hate the infamous Master of Orion 3 – a game that so oddly cobbled together and so obscure in its mechanics that you have a better chance of asking your trusty 8-ball in deciphering it than by playing the thing. This is very much why Master of Orion 3 was so despised by its die-hard fanbase. For people who have played through the highly acclaimed second iteration, game number 3 looked like a parsec leap back, not forward.

The beloved Master of Orion series has been a heavyweight of 4X strategy (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate). Starting with a solar system and a few rudimentary tools, your goal is to spread your race throughout the galaxy by harvesting planetary resources, researching advanced technologies, dickering with alien species, and building a heavily armed space fleet. That’s mostly what you do in MOO 3, but in a very different way from either of its predecessors.

One new aspect of Master of Orion 3 is the sophisticated automation AI that more or less directs your own planetary and technology development, reducing your role to charting new colonies, deploying exploratory fleets, and haggling with various alien diplomats over treaties and trade secrets. It’s supposed to keep the complexity demons at bay so you can play the game, instead of having to study for it.

The problem is that Master of Orion 3 clearly retains all of the earlier games’ mind-bending detail, but hides explanations about how most of it works. It was virtually impossible for me to come to grips with the macromanagement since none of the game’s mechanics are ever adequately explained. For example: A planet is composed of multiple regions.

8You’re supposed to somehow track, based on region type, which Dominant Economic Activities — basically rated as equal to your efficiency multiplied by your capacity and compared to the average fertility of the planet — are best constructed to generate an arbitrary number of industry points, which then convert to production points at a diminishing rate of 2:1 through 8:1 after the base 50. Get all that? Don’t forget the color tables for your efficiency, or the fact that these points can be distributed throughout your empire with no way of measuring who’s getting what.

The new technology system is also full of holes. Instead of branching between different advances, you get a series of sliders that allow you to control a percentile research allocation into abstract areas like “mathematics†or “biology sciences.†Every few turns, your report screen will inform you of the breakthroughs. And so on, and so forth. That’s all there is to it — making interaction about as interesting as watching a slow rolling ticker tape.

When you have to fight, the combat system is a pitiful real-time wreck that’s rivaled only by Star Wars: Rebellion in its awfulness. Doubling your troubles, you can’t pause to issue orders, reducing tactical planning to a frustrating scramble to sling your dots at the enemy’s dots. Given that it’s pretty fun to build ships, this crappy combat is even more frustrating. None of these begin to help an already awkward and soulless game which any self-respecting fan of the old series would eventually throw into the garbage bin and never look back.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 128 MB RAM, WinXP

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