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There are 16 playable races in Master of Orion 3, including several that are new to the series. In addition to this, it’s possible to custom create your own race, though there are fewer options than were in MOO2, and you’re limited by the “template” species you choose. Once you’ve selected your race, it’s time to create a galaxy to play in – ranging from small clusters to huge three-arm spirals that contain hundreds of stars. Unlike the previous releases, galaxies in MOO3 are 3D in nature, so you’ll find stars along all three axes; however, you can still play from a top-down 2D-style viewpoint if you prefer.
One of the first major changes veteran players will notice comes in the form of space lanes. Space lanes are the primary method of fast travel in Master of Orion 3, and are similar to Jump Gates in MOO2. If you wish to travel to a system for which you have no direct space lane, or a wormhole, it can take dozens or even hundreds of turns to reach your destination. This method of travel makes it possible to create strategic junctions in parts of your empire in order to prevent enemies from reaching your more vital systems.
With such vast distances involved, Quicksilver has made MOO3 into a true empire simulator, and gameplay takes place on both a macro-empire and micro-planetary scale. On the empire level you can assign the following: taxation; government funding for research, military grants, unrest and planetary development (to get newly colonized worlds off the ground); an overall budget scheme; spying; how you want worlds developed; negotiations with other races and more. Think of it akin to our federal government, with the planets acting as states.
Once you’ve set how you want your empire to run, your planets will take the money you send them to develop and grow. This is where the micro-managing makes its appearance, though you can always assign the AI to deal with planetary governance for you. Rather than just building various planetary structures, as in MOO2, each world now constructs Dominant Economic Activity zones. Depending on which DEAs you assign, the planet will develop into a farming colony, industrial or mining planet, research colony or a mixture of the above. In addition, within these DEAs many of the structures from MOO2 are automatically built, such as Robo-Miners, Pleasure Domes and Automated Factories.
Another major change is in resource distribution. Rather than each world operating on its own with only basic interactions with others in your empire, resources are now shared. For example, if you have a poor planet in a strategic location, you can build Industry and Military DEAs there, then import the minerals required from other planets in your empire. In this way, no world is useless.
Lastly, once you have some DEAs established, you can assign items for your people to build. Unlike in MOO2, there are now separate queues for Military and Planetary constructs; and much like on the empire level, how quickly things are built depends on how much funding you provide. In addition, while there are only three queue slots for each type of construct, all three are worked on simultaneously based on their position in the queue and how much money you spend. It is therefore possible for a planet to clear a queue in only one turn, depending on what’s being worked on. Quicksilver has also made it easy to spot gross inefficiency by assigning color changes to the various economic sliders: the darker a slider becomes, the more money that is wasted.
Of course, the two most notable elements of the MOO series are that of the Tech Tree and Ship Design. MOO3 takes the Tech Tree from the previous games and runs with it – far. There are more than 35 tech levels present (that I’ve discovered so far for this review), each of which contains three individual technologies. Multiply this with the six schools of science and you have well over 600 techs! However, there is no Creative trait as there was in MOO2, so it’s unlikely to discover every technology on your own. In fact, you can no longer decide on which specific discoveries to go after in MOO3; your ability to influence this area is limited to your funding for each school of science.
Ship Design relies heavily on the Tech Tree, and as you might imagine, there are more choices than ever before. Ships come in three basic types in MOO3: Orbitals (starbases, defense satellites, etc.); System Ships (those which cannot travel outside their home system); and Starships. For each type there are also 14 size levels you can work with ranging from the tiny Lancer to the mammoth Leviathan. Since there are so many different types of weapons, shields, engines and specials to choose from, Quicksilver has included an Auto-Build option that will automatically create a ship design for you based on its primary mission.
Once you have some starships designed and built, you can send them off to battle as part of a Task Force. Task Forces allow you to construct armadas of ships with which to assault your enemies, ranging from only one vessel to as many as 18. If this doesn’t seem like enough firepower for you, it might be comforting to know that you can bring up to 10 Task Forces with you in a single battle. (Since there are no longer command points to worry about, as in MOO2, it is now possible to create as many ships as your budget can afford.) Once combat is joined, MOO3 turns into a real-time strategy game for the duration of the conflict. Similar to the galaxy map, the combat map can also be panned around, but it is not truly 3D – all combat takes place on a 2D grid.
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