Master of Orion review (PC)

The Master of Orion reboot has finally been released from early access, completing Wargaming.net’s mission to bring back a classic franchise that helped propel the 4X genre to what it is today.

We previewed Master of Orion earlier this year, after having played with the early access version for a while. About half a year later, it’s easy to see the amount of polish that went into the game over the past few months – the experience is very streamlined, and there is very little wrong with what’s on offer.

Let’s back up about 20 years though. In the early to mid-nineties, strategy games like Master of Orion were a novelty. To give some perspective to the era, it was roughly the same time that Civilization appeared on the scene as well, and it was a time in which these games were being released on floppy disks and ran in 16 or (if you were lucky) 256 colors.

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The technological advances that have been made since there are obvious – if you’ve never seen these originals in action then I recommend looking for a few clips on youtube. However, gameplay has also evolved – and has become deeper and more complex. This is true for the Civilization franchise, and this is also true for the 4X genre. Sure, I too remembered these games as the pinnacle of strategic complexity, but time tends to distort things that way.

The reason I’m bringing up these originals is that the new Master of Orion is not a modern day sequel, but rather a remake of the original game. With all the polish that 2016 games have, but without the innovations that later games brought to the genre. So by today’s standards, and compared to other 4X titles like Stellaris, Master of Orion is actually a relatively easy game to get into and lacks the amount of depth that other games bring to the table.

Is that a bad thing? No, but that depends on your perspective. Master of Orion introduced many players to 4X, including a lot of the (older) 4X players out there today. It laid out the groundwork for the games that followed in its footsteps, and today it still serves a great introduction to the genre – and to the Master of Orion franchise. So what we have here is a title that’s perfect for newcomers – like the children of those who played with Master of Orion all those years ago. As Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi said to me in a recent interview, this is a way for younger people to enjoy a game like Master of Orion – updating it to work on modern systems with a modern presentation.

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There’s not too much we can say about Master of Orion that hasn’t been said in the past 20 years and in our preview. The 2016 version of the game still has all the original races – though they’ve been enhanced with modern audiovisuals, including voice work by people like Mark Hamill and Robert Englund. You’re also able to create your own race, which is a nice touch if you want to try something new. Each race is generally predisposed to a certain type of behavior, which gives you a nudge in a certain direction through which you can complete the game. For a real challenge, try winning through military dominance using a race predisposed to the pursuit of science.

But where does Master of Orion stand among the current greats of the genre? It’s lacking in strategic depth and possibilities, which might hurt the game a bit in the long run and might turn off 4X experts a bit. On the plus side, the presentation of the game is right up there with the best of them, and it’s a very accessible title for newcomers who may find Stellaris or Sword of the Stars a tad overwhelming. So in the end, the Master of Orion reboot does in 2016 what it did in 1993 – it introduces a genre to gamers who may go on to explore a whole galaxy of similar games. Let’s hope one of them will be another Master of Orion sequel.

Score: 7.9/10

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