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Publisher: MacSoft    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 350 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    Hard Disk: 400 MB    Graphics: 800x600 @ 16-bit

Master of Orion III
April 29, 2003 | Michael Phillips

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Master of Orion III utilizes a tabbed user interface to deliver its massive amounts of statistics and information. At the bottom of the game's main screen there are 8 tabs; Technology, Finance, Empire, Personnel, Foreign Office, Planets, Shipyards and Victory. Upon clicking a tab, players are presented with detailed information on the desired area. For instance, clicking on the Technology tab presents the player with information on current and future research projects and current spending on the various schools of technology. Clicking on the Planets tab brings up a myriad of information on all explored planets. If the player owns one of the selected planets, they can double click on it in order to view in-depth information on its economy, construction activities, ecology and inhabitants, all tucked away in more neat little tabs. This tabbed interface is an excellent and efficient way to keep a great deal of information from cluttering an already complex game.

If Master of Orion III seems like a complicated game, that's because it IS a complicated game. Don't expect to bust out MoO3, toss the manual into that stack of 8-day-old pizza boxes and get Elected to the Orion Senate. This game has an initial steep learning curve. However, MoO3 does have a number of features to assist neophytes. While not containing an integrated gameplay tutorial, MoO3 does sport something called Masters Notes. When the game is first launched, Masters Notes are active by default. So, what do these all-powerful notes do? As players access various parts of the game, the Masters Notes explain every aspect of the current interface screen. Though it was quite a bit of reading, I found the Masters notes to be invaluable. It should also be noted that many of MoO3's minute details are directly tended to by Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). For instance, planetary economy is managed by a viceroy. The viceroy handles many tasks without consulting the player beforehand. For instance, if a colony is in need of food, the planetary viceroy will instruct that more farms be built. The viceroy is also capable of deciding ship and building construction. Normally, the A.I. does a decent job of minding the galactic minutia, but not always. Thus, the player must step in and take the helm. I found it effective to check in on my planets in order to make certain that a billion scout ships weren't being built because the A.I. couldn't fabricate any brighter ideas. The best way to monitor empire activities is reading the SITREP (Situation Report) at the beginning of each turn. I've heard people complain about MoO3's use of A.I., but I absolutely LOVE it. A good leader always delegates.

Master of Orion III also puts players in the role of galactic diplomat. Diplomacy is one of my favorite parts of the game, as it adds an immersive element to the mix. There are some races that are ever willing to engage in diplomatic relations, such as economic and research trade agreements, along with various types of alliances. The Humans are always ready to wheel & deal. Yet, there are other races like the Ithkul or Grendarl that only seem to understand threats, embargos and war. When initiating diplomatic contact with a race, the player can decide what sort of spin to place on the message. For instance, one could choose to demand that another race enter into a trade agreement, or they could try to use polite reasoning. There are some races that actually respect passionate communication, while others would become angered by such treatment. It's very important to consider the cultural nuances of each race before undertaking diplomatic action. Too many diplomatic missteps can often bring about war.

Speaking of war, let's discuss combat in Master of Orion III. Though a bit hard to grasp at first, the elements of combat become intuitive and fun. There are several ways to hurt an enemy in MoO3, some more overt than others. As mentioned earlier, players can issue economic sanctions and full embargos against an enemy. Though, when I'm angry, I prefer to spill a little blood. When one wishes to be sneaky, they can hire spies to insert into enemy territory. Spies can level entire buildings, sabotage shipyards, steal research and even assassinate enemy political figures. The best part about employing spies is that the enemy can't easily identify their source.

Of course, sometimes a fellow (or lady) has to engage in full out war. As I see it, there are really 3 stages of combat: Ship Building, Space Combat and Ground Assault. Ship Building takes place under the Shipyards tab and involves fitting ships with weapons and armor. Players can choose to custom build each ship, or let the A.I. auto-build them based on player chosen specifications. After construction, ships must be assigned to Task Forces and sent into battle. Task Forces are groups of ships specifically designated to a certain task, such as planetary assault or troop transport. Upon arrival at their designated star system, ships begin Space Combat. In MoO3, Space Combat takes place in real-time 3D space. Players can choose to either control the attack by hand, watch the A.I. control the attack or order the A.I. handle the combat and simply report the results. Any player who has had experience with Starcraft should easily be able to manage their own battles in MoO3. Once the enemy's planetary defenses have crumbled, it's time to begin the ground Assault. This is the phase of combat that required me to crack open the MoO3 manual. In order to actually conquer a planet, the player must order a transport to deliver ground troops to said planet. Players can then choose to issue battle orders themselves or let the A.I. take charge of the bloodshed. Player ordered decisions include attack plans, such as massed assault or war of attrition, combat intensity and whether or not use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. One doesn't actually get to watch ground combat, but they game does supply all the sounds of a ground assault along with radio reports from the frontlines.

Master of Orion III also features multiplayer support via GameSpy, TCP/IP and LAN, but frankly, I feel that turn-based games are only fun against friends and not strangers. Games of MoO3 don't take 30 minutes, they take hours, thus games often must be saved and continued later. When playing against strangers on GameSpy, it's often quite a hassle to undertake such continuances. Therefore, those with friends who are also into MoO3 should have the best multiplayer experience.


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