In 2013, Wargaming purchased the Master of Orion IP from Atari’s bankruptcy sale. The reason behind this seemingly random purchase was that the company’s CEO played the game, fell in love with it and decided to recreate it for the current generation of gamers who haven’t had the chance to play the ’93 classic. In order to do so as faithfully as possible, Wargaming even brought in members of the original Master of Orion staff as consultants. It gives me great pleasure to report that the game, as it was shown at Gamescom 2015, does the original absolute justice. It gives me an even greater pleasure to tell you that I had the chance for an exclusive hands-on experience which I’ll tell you all about.
In the demonstration for the new Masters of Orion there are currently four races available. six more are currently just grayed out silhouettes, as well as the “Custom Race” button. The races I’ve seen so far are all classic MoO races: first are the peace-loving Psilons, the diminutive researchers of the universe. While peace-loving, the Psilons use their advanced scientific knowledge to build the most advanced fleets. The feline Mrrshan race are why ancient Egyptians of Earth worshiped cats. They love a good fight and will fight anyone, anytime, just for the thrill of the hunt. Third on the list are the avian Alkari. Honorable and militaristic, Alkari do not back down from a fight and their natural flight ability gives them superiority in the 3D maneuverings of space battles.
Last and least honorable are the shape-shifting Darlok. If espionage was a sport, Darlok spies would be the Olympic medalists in the field – their espionage and stealth capability is second to none. If all the other races would at least attack you in the open, a Darlok is your best friend until your back is turned – as they say, keep your enemies close and your Darlok allies closer. Of course, I chose to play the Darlok – they were my favorite race 20 years ago and I see no reason to change allegiances just like that, even if they’re a bit on the evil side.
The core gameplay for Master of Orion remains unchanged. Your journey begins with a single planet (your race’s homeworld) and a tiny fleet consisting of a colony ship, a scout and a rudimentary battle frigate. As you explore, discover and colonize more worlds, your empire grows and management becomes an increasingly complex task. To help newer players with the task, Master of Orion has a “Priority” option which can be set empire-wide from a simple overview screen. Better yet, those same priorities can be adjusted per planet if you don’t wish to make empire-wide changes. Of course, the original’s option of manually micro-managing your population is right there, so it’s really just a matter of choosing how involved you feel like being in the nitty-gritty of planetary management.
To skip the early-game out of time considerations, I started at turn 130. By that point I had a couple solar systems under my rule, have met all the races and managed to already be in war with the Mrrshan. I guess someone stole their royal yarn ball or something. The first thing to greet my new game is the event that occurs the moment all races have met one another: the foundation of a “Galactic Council”. The council is actually one of the game’s victory conditions – if a single faction manages to sway galactic opinion decisively in its favor, they are declared supreme ruler and win by benevolence. Considering the Darlok reputation and the ongoing war, that wasn’t going to happen. Still, as I was one of the bigger races I was nominated but the vote promptly ended with insufficient votes for any one faction to win. In case you’re wondering, everyone gets a number votes proportional to the race’s population, and even the non-expansionist independent planets get a single vote which makes them rather important for players planning on winning this way.
Obviously, the first thing on the agenda was to order the construction of a Spy Center on my homeworld. A Darlok without a spy center is like… well… a Darlok without a spy center. With a single click I put it up in the queue, another click to shift all efforts towards production and that’s it. Clean, simple, no fuss, I was very impressed with how responsive the UI and interface are and how instinctive and natural it all feels.
While I was waiting for my spy center, I took a look at my fleet which wasn’t exactly what you’d call formidable. It consisted of a couple civilian ships designed for space-construction and a few outdated warships guarding my planets. I queued up some more space improvements to harvest rare resources, specifically gas from a nearby gas giant, and a couple bigger warships. As if on cue, the Mrrshan ambassador contacted me, asking for a truce. In Master of Orion, truces last for 20 turns. In my shipyards, constructing a couple of hard-hitting warships conveniently also takes 20 turns. So, truce accepted. Really, it’s like they never met a Darlok before.
Fast forward a few more turns and I am now the proud owner of a spy center, complete with my first spy for free. I sent my newly-trained spy to the Mrrshan homeworld to gather some intel for me as I have no knowledge of their fleet or technology. It was then I received a request from an independent planet nearby. They were asking for a favor: a certain rare resource would do wonders for their industry but alas, they’re incapable of finding it on their own. I obliged – after all, as I mentioned above, the little independents also get a vote in the galactic council meetings and even if I won’t be voted in as Space Ruler of Everything, I can use their votes to torpedo someone’s odds of winning. Plus, it’s not like I can’t just exterminate them should the need arise.
By now one of my warships was complete so I felt compelled to take a small detour through Space Monster country. If you remember your Masters of Orion 2, Space Monsters were found randomly placed in the universe, guarding the more desirable planets and annihilating anyone foolish enough to draw near. This particular space monster was a giant squid, and since I really wanted to check combat out, I went ahead and tried killing it.
Master of Orion’s combat will offer you two choices: a tactical combat experience similar to what MoO2 offered, or a quicker “auto resolve” option if you’re not in the mood or don’t want to spend time on an easy win. Either way, the game shows you a little “odds” bar, evaluating your chance. In this particular instance my odds were “Good”, which means I’m most likely to win but by no means is it a certain triumph. A quick explosion later and ol’ squiddy was space dust, shredded by my warship’s lasers.
By the time space squids were no longer a threat, my spy finally arrived in the Mrrshan homeworld and was ready for assignment. A spy has several tasks he can undertake, each with varying results. When set to gather intelligence, the spy simply generates reports that slowly fill up any blanks I have regarding a faction’s state. Their tech level, military power, all sorts of useful information. The “revolt” option slowly generates planet-wide dissent, which could have crippling consequences as workers go on strikes and refuse to perform their duty. The last ability is the “sabotage” option. Fairly self explanatory, this ability attempts to destroy the enemy’s progression. I decided to assign my spy to gather intelligence – the truce was about to expire and I was eager to know how much of a challenge the enemy’s fleet is. In case you’re wondering, spies can be assigned to your own worlds as well to perform counter-espionage and root out any enemy spies that might have settled in your empire.
Unfortunately, just as I was about to learn whether my prepared fleet was capable enough to annihilate the Mrrshan, my time was up and I had to stop. The experience was amazing, especially for such an early development stage. Everything I touched in the game seemed polished and presentable, be it the UI, the empire screens or any of the other screens and options. Wargaming’s Master of Orion already seemed like a true-to-origin reboot, but now that I actually played it for myself I can say with confidence that it is everything it should be, either as a remake of one of my fondest childhood games or as a stand-alone 4X game of epic proportions.