Master of Orion - Psilon Research Screen

Master of Orion: Early Access First Playthrough

First, a Little History

I have been a huge fan of the Master of Orion series since the very first title, but I became obsessed with Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares. I probably played hundreds of games of MoO2, mostly all single player. I was invested in the setting and the game was deep enough that each playthrough was unique and had its own challenges.

When I heard that there was going to be a third title, I was ecstatic, and it was the first (and last) game that I obsessively followed, becoming a vocal member of the community. I apparently drew the attention of the development team, because late in development, I (along with around 20 other people, I was told) began receiving near-daily builds of the pre-alpha version of the game. I was overjoyed to be given such access and at one point, wrote a glowing review of the rough game I was playing for the community. I had done so with the full expectation that the missing elements and glaring flaws I saw would be polished out by the time release came.

Obviously I was wrong. I’m embarrassed by that review, and wish I had not made it. Not long after the game released, I started my journey towards becoming a game developer myself. I credit the experience I had with MoO3 as my push toward my chosen career path.

Enough Already… How Is It?

Hopefully I wont regret this, but I had a bit of fun toying around with the new game. There are things that are surprisingly polished (responsiveness of the UI, overall design aesthetic, the game is mostly playable with several options from beginning to end, etc.), and a few things obviously missing, like an espionage system and several races.

The Psilons vs. the Bulrathi

I played Psilon on a large map, and ended up in the galactic northwest. Early on in the game, I hit a bottleneck (unstable warp lane) to the galactic northeast, with only the Bulrathi to the south.  I had to deal with them or tech my way around the warp lane if I wanted to expand.

I made nice, and rapidly expanded once I found the tech that allowed me to get past the blocking warp lane. Once I met everyone else, they hated me for expanding so rapidly, and eventually the Bulrathi up and declared war. After one early setback, I trounced him.

The Good

  • The UI is clean and relatively polished. With the exception of some unclear button locations (lookin’ at you, “Goodbye” button on the diplomacy screen), everything was mostly fine.
Master of Orion - Research Screen
Very much like Civilization V.
  • The research tree is clear and very very very similar to the Civ tree (even layout).
  • VO. The VO is good, but see below.
  • Ship upgrades: They automatically upgrade your designs (with your permission) when you get new tech.
Master of Orion - Warp Lanes
Warp Lanes and System View
  • I like the space lanes. Some may disagree, but I believe it adds more strategic possibilities for both offense and defense. System blockades are possible, preventing travel to systems beyond (or forcing enemies to take a longer route)
  • Space construction: Being able to build outposts at space lanes, research posts on asteroids, etc. is awesome. By extension, it makes more sense for these ships to build artificial planets and such than from a planet’s build queue.
  • The little intro cutscenes for battle and the colony landing cutscenes are awesome, though I found myself skipping it if I’d seen that one with that race already.
Master of Orion - Planet Screen
Planet screen, showing the value of each slot. This screenshot is from their media page. The layout has changed some in the Early Access version.
  • I like the population production “slots” on the planets that may have different values per slot.

The Bad

  • It’s Early Access. There’s some weird bugs I noticed.
    • Sometimes ships don’t move during your turn if you just click next turn while they’re under multi-turn orders.
    • The sorting by production type in the Empire screen is wonky.
    • Races are missing, and no custom races.
    • No espionage (and there are techs and race perks that refer to it).
    • I’m not sure if I can (but I may have missed it) order builds to multiple planets.
  • I can’t send my colony ships to planets directly from the planet screen like I could in MoO2.
  • I have no idea how many marines or armor units I have on my planets.
  • The AI is not aggressive enough when at war.
    • My early setback was a complete fleet wipe. I had to rebuild a fleet (and boy did I), but the Bulrathi didn’t exploit my weakness and push into my territory.
  • I had far more marines and transport ships than I needed for an invasion, yet lost ALL of them when I successfully invaded. In previous games, you lost the transports for Marines killed plus the initial occupying force.
  • Full VO advisers is nice, but they chose the “quirky” ones (at least for Psilon and Alkari) for the ones you hear most often. The repetition can be annoying.
  • No list of buildings on a planet. You get a planet view when you “Manage Structures” that you have to rotate and eyeball for the building you want.
  • Pollution may be a bit aggressive, though I do like that I can put an “ongoing” Pollution Cleanup thing that goes away when the pollution is gone.
  • Victory: I suddenly won the my first game when the Galactic Council formed and I was able to use my massive population to vote myself winner. I don’t know how it triggered.

Somewhere Between

  • Space Combat: This is more MoO3 than MoO2, with real time pausable combat. It seems like this is currently feature-light in Early Access. I’m holding out for more features. It’s pretty, but I’m not sure if there’s anything I can really DO to actually play the combat. Yes, most battles in previous games were won well before the combatants entered the arena, but in this case, the tactics don’t seem to matter. Yet, hopefully.

Conclusion

This is an off the cuff, hastily written review. There are probably some things I forgot that I wanted to mention.

I don’t think the game is “complete,” but was surprised at how much there was when I booted up. I’m willing to give it another game in this state, and then try it again after the next Early Access update. It seems to have more going for it than against it.