Of all the games currently in development, few have us more excited than Master of Orion – a game many on our team fondly remember from their early PC gaming days. Time for a preview, now that we’ve been able to go hands-on with the game.
What we know
Master of Orion is a remake of one of the classic PC games of the early nineties. Released around the time of the first Civilization, Master of Orion was a true pioneer in the 4X genre and took the formula to the stars. To this time, not too many 4X games have done this – with the exception of games like Sword of the Stars and the upcoming Stellaris. An excellent reason for Master of Orion to make a comeback, which it’s doing courtesy of Wargaming.net, known for World of Tanks, World of Warships and World of Warplanes.
For the new Master of Orion, development studio NGD Studios has partnered up with some of the team behind the original game. This showcases Wargaming’s intention: to stay true to the formula of the beloved original. If you’re a veteran gamer (a nice way of saying ‘older’) then you’ll feel instantly at home with this new incarnation.
Of course it’s been almost 25 years since the first Master of Orion game, and a lot has changed since then. The 4X genre has evolved, and so has technology. We’ll expand a bit more on the former later, but in terms of audiovisual presentation the developers have lifted Master of Orion using a full orchestral music score as well as voice acting talents provided by the likes of Mark Hamill and Robert Englund. The game’s visuals have also received a few layers of polish, with far more animation than what was possible all those years ago.
What we saw
Last summer, we saw an early hands-off demonstration for Master of Orion during Gamescom – a fact we previously reported on when we discussed the successful resurgence of several classic franchises. In February, the game entered Steam’s early access program, giving us the opportunity to finally go hands-on with this revitalized classic.
What we thought
In one phrase: “deja vu”. Rarely have we played a remake/reboot that was so faithful to the original. For better or for worse, but mainly for the better. Where a franchise like Civilization has slowly made changes to the formula (and has gone back and forth on a few changes as well), Master of Orion feels exactly like we remember it – but in a shinier package.
What made the original game great is the sheer amount of options you had – it was a big ‘sandbox game’ before that was even a phrase in gaming. The remake has that same feeling about, but under the hood it has created both more options to play the game as well as limiting your freedom a bit. The extra options are great, because aside from diplomacy or war you can now also strive to win the game using economic means or the pursuit of technology.
Of course, this isn’t always a black and white choice. Getting the necessary resources to advance your research might mean ruffling some feathers, or even declaring all out war – just like how war can completely drain your resources and almost bankrupt your empire. Having more ways to complete the game will most likely mean that Master of Orion will once again mean that many hours of sleep will be lost, going for one more turn or starting another game.
Yet, as we mentioned, the galaxy also feels a bit smaller this time – or more manageable. This feels like an influence from other (modern) 4X titles, because instead of endless exploration you can see a well-structured map of the galaxy, circled around a void that you can’t traverse unless you use a wormhole. Before you think this will lead to repetition – it won’t, because the galaxy is randomly generated each time you play.
One aspect that could use a bit more development is the game’s races. They’re similar to the original game, but after over 20 years of 4X games the differences between them don’t feel as impactful as they could be. In the most recent build, the differences between them were mainly achieved through audiovisual means – excellent voice acting and obvious visual differences between them. In terms of technology and the way your game plays out, they’re remarkably similar.
For now, at least, because the game is still in early access. It will depend on how true to the original format the developers will stay though, since these ‘flaws’ really just stem from what was already in the 1993 original. Perhaps we’ll see an ‘original’ mode and an ‘enhanced’ mode, to appeal to both purists and modern 4X fans – we’ll have to wait and see, but for now we’re mainly very excited that Master of Orion is coming back.