Master of Orion (or MOO) is a 4x turn based strategy game brought to us by NGD Studios and published by Wargaming. The original is over 20 years old and considered one of the greatest games of all time so it's easy to see why it's been chosen to be resurrected, and given a spruce up for today's hardware.
MOO begins with you selecting a race do dominate the galaxy with, each having benefits and downsides and an entertaining backstory.
From there you are transported to a randomly generated chunk of space, with only your home planet colonised and a couple of other likely looking candidates. You start with a colony ship, a frigate and a couple of scouts and the early game is spent scouting out new candidates for colonisation, based on one or many of the following factors - the suitability for life, the propensity for scientific research and the abundance of minerals which are needed to develop your empire.
Once you do start a colony you'll have some decisions to make. Do you look to move your population into a research or industrial field, or do you concentrate on food production and try to grow your population? Growing your population leaves you vulnerable early but once your colony is up and running with a larger population and your industrial and research efforts will be much improved.
You'll quickly outgrow your home planet so the next thing to do is to scout out new potential candidates for colonisation. The game uses "warp points" to link stars to each other and you'll travel between these at a speed determined by the technological capabilities of your ships engines.
Warp points are useful as they set a perimeter of sorts which can be used to secure your colonies with a well-placed military outpost or a frigate providing a blockade.
As you move through warp points and on to other stars and solar systems you will reveal new planets and inevitably and eventually one of the many other races that inhabit the cosmos.
The other races soon make their intentions known as to whether they are willing to tolerate you or whether they are biding their time before coming to decimate your colonies. The AI is pretty clever when it comes to picking when to attack. In my first few games I lasted until about turn 150 before anyone dare challenge me. This I believe was because I had a pretty hard-core military thanks to pumping all my production and research into that area. In a subsequent game I wasn't so lucky, it was around turn 20 that the tyrannical Terran Khanate (the humans that have turned into murderous megalomaniacs) came and ran through my entire colony and rendered my race extinct! Turns out it was because they were scouting and could see that my military was poor.
The AI will try all sorts of cheeky stuff to pressure you into making a mistake. For example, watch allies and enemy alike try to close in to colonise newly liberated planets - basically not giving a damn that you did all the hard work to liberate them in the first place! Get too friendly with an enemy of a neutral and expect them to pull you up on it.
The other races can be leveraged for trades or to coerce into declaring war against a more powerful rival. Trading is interesting, I felt a bit like Jean Luc Picard weighing up whether a race was after one of my weapons in a mutually beneficial trade, just to come back later with a fleet and annihilate me with it.
One minor quirk, it would be nice to be able to view the diplomatic status of all leaders before committing to war with one or the other - a race will ask you to go to war with another and you don't have a way to check your status with them before committing to a yes or no.
It also seems very very hard (maybe impossible) to get another race to declare War on an opponent. I had an "affable" relationship with the Klackon, we got on quite well by exchanging star charts and technology and eventually forged an alliance. But when the dreadful Bulrathi starting trying to wipe out my Psilon colonies in an unprovoked act of violence, I could not get the more powerful Klackon to step in and help me out, no matter how much money or sweeteners I added to the deal.
Then, about 3 turns later, the Klackon declared war on the Bulrathi anyway which didn't make any sense. Perhaps there needs to be some tweaks to the AI here?
Warfare isn't the only way you can win the game, you can win it with better tech, a more powerful economy or by being the best diplomatically.
Technology is key though because it's the only way you can truly control your empires efficiency at production (keep the credits rolling in), military (you want to build up to date ships or you'll be humiliated by your peers) and defense (your empire will have more holes than a piece of swiss cheese if you don't bolster this area meaning by mid to late game to quote South Park - "You're gunna have a bad time".
The tech tree is huge but it's the same for each race. There isn't a heap of variation amongst the different elements, they are mostly just improved versions of something you already have, with the exception of say Jump Gates which are handy things that allow you to warp within a single turn to any of your controlled colony stars.
As you uncover new tech you can retrofit your ship "blueprints" and upgrade already commissioned ships. It's important to stay up to date militarily or your opponents will see a weakness they can exploit.
It's a lot of fun mucking around with ship designs and trying to cram as much firepower and armor you can on one to get an edge in an upcoming battle.
Spying a large part of the game, as is sabotage. Every planet and your empire in general has a security rating and unless you are spending considerable credits in this area expect all sorts of strife, colony revolts, poisoning's, sabotaged military and production facilities, argghh the stress it causes!
On the flip-side you can create your own agency, train your own spies and send them to enemy planets to steal blueprints or star charts or sabotage their colonies.
There are also various random Sim City style disasters that occur to spoil your day/year/eon.
For example I had a solar system whose host Star was going supernova and had to assign researchers on that planet to come up with some weird technology to stop it. Crisis averted!
Battles are exciting and can be auto resolved and played out entirely by the AI or you can take a more hands on approach and call the shots. I preferred to let the AI do its thing but sit back and select "Cinematic mode" to get a movie like view.... MOO is a truly great looking game.
I found in manual control mode the camera controls to move around battle map a bit clunky - possibly there's some room for improvement here.
Playing on 4k the game looks incredible. The screen you'll spend most of your time in, for moving ships and colonising planets etc. lends itself well to a high resolution. The standout in the graphics department for me is the animation of the other races. The way the leaders move is very fluent and their facial expressions are very realistic, as much as you can say for a bunch of seriously grotesque aliens!
Sound wise the game is fine, the voice acting is excellent. The music is perhaps a bit light on, it's mostly classical, in the Star Trek / Star Wars mould but a few more soundtracks wouldn't have gone astray.
MOO supports multiplayer through local LAN and also online. I didn't have any luck finding a match to play with online which was disappointing and surprising for such a new game.
The game has enough replayability through the different races and random events that you are going to log some serious hours to this game, easily hundreds. I'm looking forward to play-through number 5 - I still haven't conquered this game even just on normal difficulty!
I was expecting a lot from this game and it has delivered. It's nothing that hasn't been done before but it's done better and it's just much more accessible than a lot of other space turn based strategy games I've had a go at (like Galactic Civilisations).