Rule the Galaxy for $50

A Review of Master of Orion II


by Edmond Meinfelder

Since I was a child, I wanted to rule the galaxy. The first time I proclaimed myself galactic emperor was while playing the original Master of Orion. With addictive gameplay, Master of Orion became the most common program to run on my computer in 1993. SimTex took its time before introducing the sequel. The question is: was the wait worth it? I received a surprisingly mixed answer. The surprise is, SimTex's implementation has both good and bad features, but in areas I did not expect (more on this later).

Master of Orion II is like Civilization. Rather than take over the world, you focus on the galaxy, taking worlds instead of cities. You pursue technologies, employ strategic fleet deployments, and engage in diplomacy. You find similar game design in Empire, Civilization, Advanced Civilizations, Ascendancy, Spaceward Ho! With strategy games, however, implementation is everything. Advanced Civilizations was a tedious game, while Civilization (I or II) was pure enjoyment and Ascendancy was so-so.

Master of Orion II is fun for the same reason Master of Orion I was fun: the game has depth, allowing players to explore many avenues to success. Players might opt to win the game diplomatically, deviously setting all other races at each other’s throats. A more obvious method to win is through brute force – use starships and take all the other systems. Along the way, players make tough decisions, balancing industrial output, research and food production. What technologies are keys to winning the game? Which race has the best advantage? How does one negotiate with hostile races? There is no one right answer and this is why Master of Orion II is fun.

Great game design is rare. More often, gamers expect poor efforts, especially in strategy games, where design is key. Conversely, good programming is common. Few games fail due to poor programming, but instead blunder the design. Imagine my surprise when I find Master of Orion II streaming much of the game’s graphics from my CD ROM. My double-speed CD ROM, I might add. The result is intolerably long waits for what should be quick actions. Master of Orion II has a lackluster caching system, resulting in molasses-slow gameplay.

SimTex is not a land of the ignorant. The decision to stream art from the CD has a reason: more art. Players of both Master of Orion I and Master of Magic criticized SimTex for low quality graphics. Master of Orion II shows SimTex now has a capable art staff. Wanting Master of Orion II to be the best game possible, SimTex opted to use as much art as possible. The game’s CD ROM is fairly bulky at 345 megabytes. Arguably, 345 megabytes is more space than most people want a game to take on their harddrives, or is it?

Master of Orion II is fun. I would go to great lengths to play this game. The limit is, however, waiting on my slow CD ROM. Faster CD ROMs improve on the amount of data moving from the CD to memory, not the time it takes to find something on the CD ROM. So, buying a 12 speed CD ROM has a limited benefit. I have 2 gigabytes of disk space free (hard drives are cheap). Why doesn’t Master of Orion allow for a full install? Barring a full install, why doesn’t Master of Orion have placeholder art? Why not have a better, perhaps user-adjustable, cache? I found no excuse for this oversight.

Another unsightly blemish is the implementation of multiplayer gameplay. You do not take a great single player game, add in networking code, and have a fun multiplayer game. The game’s design, from the start, must include provisions for many players. Making an excellent multiplayer game out Master of Orion requires a re-design. I did not enjoy waiting on turns. I did not like waiting for two players to resolve space or ground combat. Deadlock, Conquest of the New World, Cyberstorm and Master of Orion II are great single player games, but I did not enjoy the multiplayer gameplay for any of these games. On the other hand, C&C and Quake both were great games for multiple players.

SimTex took a big step forward with music and graphics in Master of Orion II. This effort leaves all their previous work in the dust. The music is comparable to the quality work found in Ascendancy (another space domination game). While Ascendency’s art was more creative, Master of Orion II sports more graphics, so you do not feel as if you are looking at the same place throughout the game. The Master of Orion II sound effects, notably ship explosions and weapon discharges, while good, failed to leave any lasting impression.

Is Master of Orion II worth the wait? I have mixed feelings. I played four bouts and feel drained of all patience, waiting for the game to load graphics from my CD ROM. I doubt I’ll play another as a result. If you have a slow CD ROM, as I do, avoid Master of Orion II. The game is fun, but unless you have copious patience, the long CD ROM waits will suck the fun right out of this game for you.

Master of Orion II already has a patch. I hope I live to see the day when publishers and developers learn customer service begins with a solid product, not a cheery voice on the telephone. At least Master of Orion II ships with a quality manual (as do all Microprose products). Purchasers of Battlecruiser 3000AD and Afterlife were not so lucky.

Gamer's Zone Scorecard



Product:

Master of Orion II


Company:



Microprose
2490 Mariner Square Loop
Alameda, CA 94501



Requirements:



486 DX2-66, DOS or Windows '95, 2x speed CD ROM (proof positive you need to take these requirements with a grain of salt), 16 megabytes of memory, soundcard and a mouse.

Breakdown:



Fun Factor 3
Graphics 4
Sound 4
Interface 3
Replayability 3




Overall Score:






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