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Game Over Online ~ Master of Orion 3

GameOver Game Reviews - Master of Orion 3 (c) Infogrames, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Master of Orion 3 (c) Infogrames
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 300MHz, 64MB RAM, 250MB HDD, 8x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 60%
Date Published Tuesday, March 18th, 2003 at 12:12 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

Of all the games that I review, 4X have got to be the most difficult. How do you decide when you’ve played enough? One complete game? Ten complete games? Do you count false starts? Or maybe you go by the time that you play one hour, five hours, ten hours. Many games you just finish them Nightfire, Lord of the Rings, Dragon’s Lair 3D. With 4X that’s not an option. So, how much MOO3 is enough? That’s hard to say, but I can tell you that a little MOO3 goes a long way.

The buzz on this game is bad, really bad. Over at the official game site ( the folks from Quicksilver are in full damage control mode. They had an uphill battle right from the start given the pre-game hype and the near-legendary status of the MOO series in the 4X universe. The aborted release about six weeks ago without explanation made gamers ever more antsy. And the $49.99 price tag, when you can get just about any other game on the shelf for $39.99 isn’t helping their case any. But if I had been asked to design the next sequel in the MOO series (the original of which I still play at least once a week, my CPU bored to tears when I do), MOO3 seems to have just about everything I would have put into it; more races, more involved diplomacy model, bigger tech tree. Yet AI flaws, and a couple of gameplay balance issues, loom so large that the resulting game is far less than the sum of its parts, and not really all that much fun to play.

Putting aside, initially, the 140+ page manual, I found much of the game instantly familiar right out of the box. Pick one of sixteen races, or design one of your own. Are you brainy? Does your race breed quickly? (And take it from one who has been brainy sort for most of my life, those two are pretty much mutually exclusive.) Pick your pros and cons, set the rest of the game mechanics (up to 16 opponents, size of the playing field, victory conditions, specials), and you’re off to the races. You begin on a single planet with two small scout ships and a colony vessel (just like MOO1). Sending them on their way is as simple as clicking on the ship and a destination. Some solar systems are connected to your solar system via worm holes that make travel relatively quick (depending on your tech level). Travel to other solar systems that are not thusly connected takes a freaking long time.

The screen is laid out like a file folder with tabs along the bottom that bring up volumes of data about your planets, your research, your empire, other races you’ve run across, whatever. Tons of information, dozens of buttons and sliders to control everything, right down to the brand of toilet paper used in the royal commode. As you start to dig into all these controls, you quickly realize that even with the manual it is unclear how exactly all your choices will effect the operation of your empire. Figuring it all out in a sort of trial and error approach is an exercise in frustration because of all the screens you have to flip through to find the numbers you’re looking for. It’s ironic that I’m playing this game at this time, because it feels a heck of a lot like filing my taxes. Anyway, you can try to run your empire all by your lonesome, which I personally found involved a level of micromanaging never dreamt of in Dante’s deepest inferno (and it only gets worse the more planets you have), or you can let the viceroy take over. He takes over pretty completely all the day-to-day stuff of managing your empire and applying new technologies to your planets, but all the diplomacy, exploration, and expansion decisions are left up to you. I found it an equitable division of labor, as I’m not that interested in overseeing the construction of hydroponics gardens on my planets and the viceroy is good at that stuff. We did tend to butt heads over fleet decisions I’m trying to construct destroyers and my viceroy has an inexplicable fondness for troopships lots and lots of troopships. Still, he’s doing the majority of the heavy lifting, leaving me free to do the 4X stuff. Observe that there is no X in micromanage. However, as far as I can tell, it can’t be turned off, or at least not completely, so those of you who are looking for the complete micromanaging experience are going to have to do so over the constant objections of your own viceroy.

Diplomacy is greatly expanded, with more options on trade, treaties, and espionage than before, but all the other races are so hopelessly schizophrenic that it’s all meaningless. I’ve got a nearby neighbor, we’re at peace, trading research, open commerce, the whole nine yards. We’re not even competing for planets, as I survive in environments that would kill him and vice versa. And then one turn later, no warning, bang! We’re at war. He’s bombing my planets, attacking my fleets, he wants me dead, dead, dead. Three turns later he wants peace again. There’s a number between negative and positive 200 that supposedly rates the depth of your alliance (or hatred) between you and an enemy race. This number is absolutely untethered in reality.

Research is another facet that could have used a little more beta testing. You no longer direct research towards a particular technology, but into any of six fields of research I’m fine with that. But the model must be scaled badly because I’m developing at least one and often several technologies every turn (even more as the Psilons). The viceroy is working like mad to assimilate all the new technologies into my planets, and I’m completely swamped. What do they all do? What are they all good for? They come in such a constant stream that they become meaningless. If you allow it to happen, you could easily spend hours sifting through the Galactic Encyclopedia, but that’s not a game, it’s a research project.

At the start of each turn a screen comes up detailing all the stuff that happened since your last turn ended. Technologies discovered, colonies founded, ships and military units constructed, structures built, diplomatic messages, battle summaries, yadda, yadda, yadda. A little ways into the game it’s not unlikely that you’ll receive a dozen or more such messages every turn, organized somewhat by level of importance by color green, yellow, red. You have the option of turning some of the messages off by color, but you kind of care about them on some level, if only the game were structured so there weren’t so many of them.

Graphics. Hmm. That’s a toughy. How do you rate the graphics of a game that is essentially a spreadsheet? They chose a nice font? Note that I’ve eased off the graphics and sound effects requirements in the rating I think that’s only fair given the type of game we’re talking about here. Overall, the alien races are well drawn, but you only see them in the diplomacy screen, and seeing them over and over and over again gets more than a little tiring. Combat graphics, both space and ground, are nothing short of awful. And speaking of combat, or at least space combat, one of the things I liked about the MOO series was that with smart tactics you could turn a losing space battle to your advantage, even with somewhat technologically inferior ships. That’s not the case anymore. It’s kind of hard to describe what they’ve done to the space combat, but I can tell you that I don’t like it. It’s real time as opposed to turn based, and I think that’s a mistake. Incidentally, there is no way to retrofit existing ships with new technologies, which I saw as a serious shortcoming in MOO1, and clearly remains so today. Sounds are at the bare minimum for the combat and button pushing sounds. The music is a sort of repetitious Enya crap that I could have well done without.

MOO3 is a very involved game, or not that involved if you chose to let the viceroys handle everything. In fact, if you play that way, the game as a whole isn’t all that different from MOO1. But underlying all of that is the unavoidable fact that the computer AI is just a mess, and for a game that is mostly about interaction with alien races, to have all those races behave like mental patients, isn’t as much fun as it’s cracked up to be. You could maybe play it multiplayer, but has anyone in the history of computer gaming made it through a 4X game online with another person? Deep within the columns of numbers a game lurks, probably, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. Every turn I’m reading pages and pages of numbers trying to keep a grip on my empire with the molecules on the very tips of my fingernails, and I just about can’t do it, and it’s not actually all that much fun to try.

I’m really sorry. I wanted the game to be better, but it’s not. Maybe they’ll work some patches out for it or something. But until then, I’m going to stick with Civilization 3 and MOO1. There’s still plenty of gaming left in those titles, and I can hope that Galactic Civilizations, when it comes out, is better.

(35/60) Gameplay
(03/05) Graphics
(02/05) Sounds
(07/10) Controls
(06/10) Multiplayer
(07/10) Plotline


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