Under Orion Sector Scrutiny

All right, this is it: our big review for MOO3. This was originally intended to be a triple-review with three people, but one of our reviewers got pneumonia and the other got sick from playing too much MOO3 (not a joke, keep reading). [Edit: our third reviewer has now been added] That, said, we've got a pretty decent review here with lots of praise, dirt, opinions, and a few tips for MOO3 fans on their first romp through the galaxy.

We should also point out that we are not including screenshots because just about everything there is to see (with a few secret exceptions) has already been shot and posted by some other website somewhere. Apolyton has a very large screenshot repository, and recent reviews from UGO and IGN will get you a few more.

Although this is a dedicated Master of Orion III fansite, we don't want to shower the game with a bunch of false praise. If it stinks, we'll tell you straight up. If it rocks, we'll tell you that too. It should also be noted that this review is geared more towards fans, less towards newcomers and we assume you already know a bit about what Master of Orion III is. If you know nothing about MOO3, go read one of the other recent reviews and then come back.


About Us


I administrate this site. As such, I have been looking forward to Master of Orion III for a very long time. I have probably spent more time on MOO3 than I ever will actually playing the game, but I hope not :-) What I' m saying is: I've got a bit more riding on this game than most people. If it blows, I' m in trouble.

I enjoyed the previous 2 MOOs very much. I know some people hated MOO2, but I liked it despite it's shortcomings. In the past, I also have enjoyed Simcity Classic and 2000 (but not 3000), RoboSport, El-Fish, Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, and many other Super Nintendo games. That was IMHO the golden age of console gaming. Most recently I enjoyed Metroid Prime. Of course, my favorite game of all time is a tie between Master of Orion 1 or 2.

Tech Specs:
Athlon XP 1800
64MB Nvidia GeForce4 MX420 ("the cheap one")
A decent 5.1 soundcard and a $50 speaker setup that includes a subwoofer.


I've been following Moo3 since I first heard about it during the Summer of 2001. In college, I was so addicted to Moo2 that one semester I failed well over half of my classes. (needless to say, that didn't go over too well with the folks)

I've been avidly playing computer games for two decades and I'm generally interested in most types, though I spend most of my time with TBS/RTS. Games that are currently in my pile include Age of Mythology, Empire Earth, Alpha Centauri (let's face it, MUCH better than Civ3), Freedom Force, Starcraft, Worms World Party, and of course Moo2 & 3. Every so often I dig out MoM, Syndicate, Zork, etc.

Tech Specs:
P3 850MHz
192Meg RAM
TNT2 64Meg video card
It ain't the greatest of systems, but it gets the job done.


I've been helping leiavoia with the Orion Sector for almost two years now and have been following MOO3 for nearly three. Like, leiavoia, if MOO3 blows I'm in trouble. Not because so much of the lost time and effort from building the Orion Sector but because I am first and foremost a TBS gamer and they (TBS games) are far and few between nowadays.

Some of my favorite games include MOO1 & 2, Master of Magic, Civilization 1 & 2 (not so much 3), Alpha Centauri, Colonization, Pirates, Star Wars Rebellion, Defender of the Crown, Red Lightning, Theater Europe, HQ, Combat Mission, any of the XCOMs, and numerous older titles that few would even remember.

Machine specs:
Athlon Thunderbird 1 Ghz
256 DDR Ram
128 MB Nvidia Geforce4 Ti 4200
Soundblaster sound

First Impressions


Hmmm... so much to say. Your first contact with MOO3 will be the intro movie. I watched it several times before playing, then showed my family just to watch it a few times more! It will be your first look at the gruesome Harvesters and should impress just about everyone. But the game, the game...

Let me just say this: everything Penny Arcade said is true. My first turn probably took me an hour. You are provided with "master's notes" to help you through the many screens, and reading them all and trying to figure out what everything does takes an excruciating eternity. Your first game of Master of Orion III will be somewhat like reading all 36 pages of the Apolyton preview in one sitting. It hurts and will make you wish for something simple like Pac-Man or Space Invaders.

But that's just the first game where you are trying to figure out the difference between Production Points and Industry Points and Mining Points. Your first few games teach you how to play technically, as in, which screens and buttons do what. Don't be surprised if it takes you several weeks to get a handle on MOO3. It's that deep. And for everyone who said that MOO3 got dumbed down last April with all the cuts, shut up. This game is very complicated, and you will be plumbing it's depths for a very long time indeed.

As I played more and more, I learned a few new things each game (none of which I actually finished). How to assemble a decent TF, how to launch a ground assault, and for the love of MOO, not ignoring the enemy's missiles! (beam weapons in MOO3 are still cool, but don't do squat if you are out of range. Meanwhile, prepare to get completely shredded by incoming missiles)

So my advice to you future MOOers is to take it easy, one step at a time. MOO3 is not mastered in a day. Heck, it's not even learned in a week. Be sure to read the manual well. And forget about your "virgin" MP games. Not gunna happen. Really, bad idea. I would rather be submitted to water torture than have to go through something like that.


.....oh.....my.....god........ Those were the first three words out of my mouth, and that was just when I saw the FedEx package on my porch! After installing it (pretty painless), I watched the intro video 2 or 3 times. That was the moment I kissed my social life goodbye.

This game is so huge it hurts, and yet it's so fun. After the initial glee, you will probably spend most of the first three or four games bogged down in information overload, begging for the days when things were simple, cursing the name of every QSI/IG employee you can think of (sorry Cory, Rantz, Const, et al. but it will happen) and wondering how exactly one commits hara kiri. And then it'll hit you, this massive chunk of information will suddenly make sense, and the drug that is Moo3 will have it's steely grip around your life. To give you an example: I've had this game for two weeks now, in that time I've had maybe one week's worth of sleep, consumed about a hundred cans of pop, a half dozen pots of coffee, a few meals less than I should have, and played Moo3 for about 40-50 hours. My hair's unkempt, I'm growing a beard and smell kinda funny, my wife feels neglected, my immune system is shot to ****, and my pets aren't being fed consistently. This game is 100% pure, grade A, video game crack, and I love it.

For everyone who has ever said they wanted the ultimate strategy game; if this ain't it, it's really, really close. ...And oh sweet lord it's MOO...

For more first impressions, see my posts in this thread on the forums.


WOW. Where to begin? Look at all those screens. Screens within screens. I turned off the "Master's notes" just to look around on my own and explore the immense number tabs and various options available to guide my Empire to total Galactic domination. When my head started to swim, either from 'option overload' or 'option overjoy', I decided to restart the game with the "Master's notes" and work my way through a couple of turns. And that's exactly what I did. Work.

Let me assure you the only thing I understood in the first few turns was that I had some scout ships that were moving around the map. I was not 'playing' the game. I was working to figure this monster out. Normally I always read the manually before I sit down to play a new game. I like that, reading the manual first, I think it builds excitement for the game along with understanding. However, along with my good fortune of receiving a review copy I found the manual on disk in PDF format. So, I did not sit down and read the manual cover to cover like I normally do when I get a new game. Reading manuals on screen tend to give me a headache. You can't look from the screen down to the manual in your lap, get your,' Oh yeah, that's how that works!', and continue your turn with your new found knowledge. New found game knowledge came slow.

What I'm essentially trying to say is that I did not 'play' this game for over a week. I was working, studying, deducing, experimenting, and trying to understand the mechanics of this game so I could play and enjoy it for what it was meant to be...... A Grand Strategy Game of Immense Proportion.

I've had this game three weeks and besides the one week pneumonia hiatus and ineffectual wife interdiction I've been in front of MOO3. And I'm still not playing it. I started to 'play' this current game but alas, by turn 180 new understandings had me saying to myself, ' So that's it!'. Let's not fool ourselves people. This game is deep. There is a lot there to figure out and understand. If you are expecting to load MOO3 and go gunning for Harvesters be prepared for slow going.

User Interface


Overall the UI is good. There were fears about the UI animations not being fast enough. Those seemed to have been addressed and do not bother me. The UI feels very snappy and clean cut. It serves its purpose.

Now it's not perfect mind you. I think the fonts across the entire game are terrible. Hard to read and messy looking. Also I found that most of the text boxes don't allow you to plug in very long names for things like ships and such. You'll have to settle for "StrFrgLR01" instead of "Flaming Monkey Torpedo " or whatever funky name you were thinking of.

I also found the text overran its containment areas in several places. Slight glitch, won't effect the game, but kind of looks unfinished.


I feel about the same as Leiavoia on this one. In general, the interface is good. It feels clean and smooth and doesn't usually get in the way. But it's not perfect, the string length limitations are incredibly annoying, and it can be pretty difficult to find what you're looking for when you're learning the game. The "Master's Notes" (read: UI tutorial) are an absolute MUST, and they still don't help enough.

Good things:
- The ability to rotate and zoom your galaxy, while not necessary, definitely add to the "cool" factor.
- The "Border" galaxy view is pretty neat, but not really helpful until at least mid-game when you've got a number of worlds established.
- Clean and smooth, doesn't grate on the eyes. When it comes to the fonts, I have to disagree with Leiavoia, I like them. (Now the manual's font, that's another story. It sucks.)

Not-so-good things:
- System names are only turned on at the highest zoom, which can be a big pain at times. Really, this should be a setting you can toggle on and off.
- String length is WAY TOO SHORT for ship names. It really needs to be double what it currently is, let's hope that can be fixed in a patch.
- "Master's Notes" aren't comprehensive enough. And yet they still present an awful lot of information. There's got to be a way to make them better.

Once you learn the UI, you shouldn't have too many problems. The only major annoyances are the ones listed above.


The UI is pretty good. Nothing fancy. Everything is arranged in a logical order. Switching from screen to screen is smooth and quick. Even opening all the way back up to the galaxy map by pressing the "g" key shortcut from deep within the planets screen is fast and fluid. Those of you with little patience should not be tried.

Now, I'll echo leiavoia for a bit. The fonts blow and blow bad. They're actually hard to read and just look poor. I particularly dislike it in the Ship Design Screen. Sloppy. It appears they went for a 'techno futuristic cool font' and instead wound up with a 'too narrow looks crappy font'. And how about more than 12 characters to name our ships please?

Again, text overruns look sloppy and unfinished in spots but nothing that effects game play.

Exploration & Getting Around


Moving ships around is pretty much the same as MOO2, with the difference being you now move task forces of ships instead of ships alone. Click on a planet with a deployment center and you get the option to build a task force there. After assembling your ships either manually or by letting the AI do it for you, they show up around that planet the next turn. After that, send them where you please.

Starlanes spread out across the stars like fingers, with more or less / longer or shorter depending on your preferences when you start the game. At the beginning of the game, starlanes are the only way to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. "Off road" travel is ridiculous where ~40 turns is a short trip to a nearby star or other celestial entity. That shortens as your technology progresses, but in the beginning it's out of the question.

When you send a TF to a star you get a scan of the planets there and any goodies they may contain, and also get all the other starlanes connected to the backside of the star to show up as well. Now you can explore some more. Unlike MOO2, range is not an issue. Time to get there is. So you can go as far from home as you want, as long as there are some starlanes you can travel on that are not blocked by other empires or other secret badies we're not going to tell you about.

Starlanes work pretty well in MOO3, all things considered. They put some strategy into fleet movement and warfare. You don't necessarily have to defend your core planets so much if you can seal off the perimeter.

And for those who were wondering, the computer finds paths based on shortest time to get there and picks pretty well. If there is anything you want to go around, just set course for a waypoint star and take it in two instructions.


I'll just say this: in my opinion, Star Lanes are one of the best improvements made by Moo3. They add a real strategic depth to the game by creating chokepoints and extra layers of defense. No more of the typical Moo2 end-game of chasing enemy fleets all over the galaxy!


Exploration is one part of this game the AI cannot do for you. You must move your ships and TFs about the galaxy discovering new systems to colonize and races to subjugate. Navigating about the galaxy is easy enough. The galaxy map scrolls very smooth and the graphical nuances are subtle adding more depth to what would otherwise be ordinary space map. I thought some of the galaxy map's small graphic details were quite clever. Look for yourself. Small touches make a difference.

I'll just briefly mention my opinion of starlanes since they have already been explained thoroughly. I like the idea from a strategic standpoint. I think QS did an excellent job of implementing them as chokepoints and as strategic assets for what otherwise may be a useless systems. There are ways around them via the "Off Road" movement but I have yet to try or have it tried on me. I can, however, see the potential surprise factor in having snuck by an enemy fortified chokepoint system to unleash death and drek in his rear.

Colony Management


Remember all that stuph about how MOO3 was supposed to have really good Artificial Intelligence and the leaders were supposed to take care of all the day-to-day boring tasks in colony management? Well, they pulled it off. The planet AI is pretty good. If it wasn't, MOO3 would be absolutely unplayable, no doubt in my mind. Without it, I would have had a nervous breakdown.

Colony management is a bit more complex than in MOO2. Everything centers around a "DEA" or Dominant Economic Activity. It goes like this: Each planet is divided into X number of regions, depending on the size of the planet. Each region can hold two DEA's. Inside of each DEA, you build buildings and factories and such, filling them up like drawers. The catch is, you don't put factories in Recreational DEAs, and you don't put your parks in the Industrial DEAs. Fortunately, the computer will zone that planet and build according to whatever directions you have set for it, without your further intervention. Now on some of those really juicy planets, you will want to push the planetary viceroy aside to zone it yourself to squeeze the maximum juice from that thing.

As I said, the AI will handle most colony management by itself. Good. The only things I really step in and handle personally are the build queues from time to time (like when I want to build the Mega Deluxe Hellfire Cruiser that just got the blueprints finished for it). I also personally zone the really good planets including my homeworld.

Here's something MOO3 does well: ever get tired of sending out colony ships? You can set the AI colonization control to on or off. Leave it off in the early game, but turn it on later and the computer will build, select, send, and land colony ships all by itself! Helps when you have your border worlds perched and need to fill in the gaps. Very cool feature.


The Planet Viceroy AI in this game is brilliant. Not only does it follow the goals you've set for your empire, but it will modify it's production to take care of pressing needs. (Planet short on food? The AI will build Bioharvesting DEAs and improve existing ones) The Viceroy AI also impacts other areas of the game, by modifying research values as needed and directing Imperial money towards planets that need it most.

I do have one problem with planet management, you can't directly build DEA improvements. You can build planetary buildings (Government Seat, Missile Base, etc.), but you can't click on a button to build the Hydroponic Farm improvement on a Bioharvesting DEA. The only way to affect the Viceroy's choices is through the Development Plans screen.


There are three aspects of the colony management on which I would like to comment. All three are affected or handled by the AI. They are the Planetary Infrastructure, Planetary Build Queue and Military Build Queue. The Planetary Infrastructure determines what DEA (industry, mining, etc.) you build in what regions (mountiains, plains, etc.). I consider this one of the most basic, yet important, aspects of the game. It is from this that literally everything else in your empire comes. Everything. Your population, industry, ships, research, everything - and I couldn't figure it out. I was so confused as to why every turn my Military DEA in the plains was being replaced by the AI with Mining DEA which are at their least efficient in the plains and especially on a mineral poor planet! I was having to micromanage every DEA on my two measly planets for the first 100 turns because this AI was building all kinds of the wrong stuff in the wrong places. What's a potential Master of Orion to do?

Tweak more categories for AI planetary development, that's what. The manual, master's notes and encyclopedia had me convinced I should be able to put whatever DEA I wanted where ever I wanted it. Or so in theory. I couldn't get it to work. I finally gave up and started a new game. Tweaked the one optioned I had misunderstood earlier and let the AI handle the entire Planetary Infrastructure. Pretty soon I had an abundance of minerals and food where I had shortages before. My planets and DEAs were automagically upgrading and improving themselves and I had a deep powerful economy running across several systems that were now ready to support an offensive against the Ikthul. Cool. That AI is impressive.

Of course, with my powerful economy churning out plenty of research, technological advances were coming along with frequent regularity. I had allocated a large portion of my research budget toward biological and social sciences to help further advance my blossoming empire. This is where I began to notice the efficiency of my Planetary Build Queue. This is the queue that lines up things like Astro Universities, System Stock Exchanges, and Decomposition Centers. Things that enhance the productivity of your planet. I had played all of my previous games with the Planetary AI (the AI which controls all three of the things I'm talking about) turned off. The game quickly became an micromanaged nightmare. Not now. The Planetary Build Queue was queueing up all the right stuff in a pretty good order and I was able to watch my planets grow more powerful to support my plans for a vast space armada.

If I didn't let the AI handle the Military Build Queue, that is. Here, the planetary AI falls short. If I could let the AI handle everything else with the planetary development but the military aspect then I could have my cake and eat it too. This shortcoming could still be my fault by not entirely understanding the planetary development orders (there's only so much I guy can learn in three weeks). The AI understandably can't predict what each unique player wants to do militarily and when. Therefore I keep having to checking Military Build Queues for all my planets (something I would have done anyway) and remove the abundance of ground troops and system defense ships that AI insists on building. I have a suspicion that Military Build Queue works really well too if I understand it better.

All said, the Planetary Econ AI does the best job ever of handling build queues for the player. Let me say that again because it's important. The Planetary AI is the best I have ever encountered in any game. Period. They pulled this one off with outstanding success friends.



Diplomacy is much rounder than in previous MOOs while retaining the same basic feel. There are more options with more effects. Since I haven't played too much on the higher difficulties, I can't say if it's very effective, but I like the choices. I especially like the ability to make deal-sweeteners and trade for tech, planets, and "go kill so-and-so first" replies. I also like the tachidi. They're kind of cute in an insecty kind of way.


Diplomacy is where the graphics in Moo3 shine brightest. Any time a race contacts you, their representative talks to you (in their own freaky language) and one of a number of animations plays. The music, sound effects, and animation all work together seamlessly. I have yet to see a Diplomacy transaction that didn't impress me.

As far as the actual options go, they are fairly extensive and you can put an emphasis on everything. These range from openly fawning to downright rude. So you can "politely" accept a trade agreement, "coldly" declare war, etc. It adds a new level to the typical diplomacy options and can be quite fun! Last comment, Harvester diplomacy.......creepy...


Yes, there are more options than in any other game of this type. Yes, the rhetoric from the ambassadors is unique and adds an element which has not ever before been seen in games of this nature. Let's hope these aspects set a precedent for the genre. Once again further clarification through instruction or documentation would really help the understanding of diplomacy though. I find it difficult to conduct items exchanges in particular. Why won't the Raas exchange techs with me even though our relationship is good and we have an abundance of trade treaties between us? Is it my tone? Clarification would have been good here.

The ambassadors' graphics, however, did not overly impress me and I am one to keep my expectations of graphics low. Yes the animations were neat but in trying to push the race's atmosphere too far it's my feeling they cluttered up the background with too much junk. The focus is lost on the what the object of interest should be - the speaker, the ambassador, the animation. Not his environment. The entire diplomacy aspect once again shows the importance of substance over appearance. That great gameplay is not mutually exclusive with graphics to have a great game.



Much better than in previous MOOs. It works like this: you recruit spies one by one. Each spy works in a specific field, like blowing up economic structures, raising unrest and revolt, or stealing tech. You can insert them into an enemy empire and let them wreak all sorts of destruction and mayhem or let them sit unassigned and they will defend the home front.

Spying seems to be much more effective than I recall in MOO2. You will get reports about what they've destroyed or stolen. Some times they get caught and killed. Sometimes they get caught and escape to be a nuisance another day, and other times they are killed but won't taddle on you (which saves your face on the diplomacy front). Each spy has a clever codename and a variety of stats which lend themselves to certain tasks. Keep your high Cloak spies at home while sending your high Dagger spies abroad. Don't send spies into empires you are buddybuddy with if they have bad loyalty ratings, otherwise they will squeal and you'll be in trouble.

Spies are a good way to tear an empire up, prepping it for an invasion or just to kick them in the pants because they are more powerfull than you are.


I liken spies in Moo3 to minor leaders, that are very good at softening up an enemies defenses and morale before you go in for the kill. There's also the Scientific spies, out there to wreak havoc in the enemies research facilities and steal you all sorts of juicy tech!

I do have to disagree with Leiavoia on the strategies for using them though. "Cloak" is your spy's ability to get places undetected, and "dagger" is their ability to do nasty stuff once they are there. I tend to send out my spies that have high combined cloak & dagger ratings and keep the low ones at home for extra defense.


This feature of MOO3 is profoundly different than its predecessors and it's all for the better. You can really let an opponent have it through espionage -- or you can get your head handed to you through espionage. It's your game and how you play the espionage card can help you or hurt your opponent drastically. You never can seem to have enough spies or technological advances to enhance them. One thing that appeals to me about this game is that although espionage is taking place between empires it seldom is a cause for war (or so has been my experience) unlike MOO3's predecessors. If you spied it sometimes directly led to war. Doesn't seem to be the case here, or maybe I haven't pushed it far enough....



Technology in MOO3 is probably one of the shortfalls of the game, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. The tech tree, er, "matrix" is at least twice as big as MOO2. The research model is closer to MOO1 (good) than MOO2 (bad). The problem now is that there are too many technologies to keep track of. My SitRep is filled with tech discoveries every single turn, to the point where it clogs it. It feels like there are too many techs coming in too fast for me to really care about anything in particular. Perhaps I just haven't had the time to examine it to the point I' d like to, but for now, that's how it is.

Technology and research works much the same way it did in MOO1. You get six sliders and can allocate funds to each area of research in whatever amounts you want. Each field of research is divided into levels. Each level can have several individual techs you can research in it. Not all techs are available to everyone and there is a certain bit of randomness thrown in for fun. However, like I said above, I don't know the tech matrix well enough to know that I' m missing anything if I don't have it.

Also, the descriptions on the technologies are very long-winded which is fine, except they don't have any specific information on what , technically, they actually do. This leaves me not caring much about any particular tech because I have no idea how it really impacts the game. However, this is also something many of the beta testers have made comments on. I could go a step further and say that an awefull lot of the features in MOO3 have obscure documentation. I've heard there are things even the beta testers don't know what are for.


The tech tree in this game is HUGE. I'd actually like there to be more techs. The Social Sciences tree, for instance, is really sparse at low tech levels. It'd be nice to have a few more things to strive for there. I also wish there was more information about certain techs. You'll find some tech descriptions that say "improves spying" but don't say by how much or in what situations.

The sliders are very easy to deal with, and make your life as Supreme Technology Dude all that much easier. You can easily glance at your techs and what will be available soon and adjust research allotment accordingly. Only 3 more tech levels before Dreadnought-class ships become available? Shift the Physical Sciences bar higher. You population running out of food? Invest more in Biological Sciences. You get the picture.


Technology is one of the main reason I think we all play these games. Let's face it, it's just cool. However, my experience or observations here differ from leiavoia and agree more with Klemeroni's. The tech tree is massive. However, I never felt like techs were coming in too fast for me to keep up. It was my experience that you never actually discovered more than two or three a turn. Now, if you choose to pay attention to the techs that were coming up then it might start to overwhelm you. I started not to care so much about what techs I had when I realized (nearly immediately) that the techs' descriptions are so vague you had no idea why you should have them. Or, even better, you have no idea what they do. QS - specifics in the tech tree are a good thing. The more specific the better. I'll mention a bit more about techs in the combat section.

I agree with Klemeroni in the opinion that some of the field branches are light in their allotment of technologies. Granted the Energy and Physical Sciences fields are going to have lots of discoveries (this being a space game and all) but I feel that the Economics and Social Sciences fields are nearly empty in comparison.

I also love the fact that the tech tree is not the same the next time you play, in prerequisites or structure. This game I discovered the devastating Merculite missiles with Mathematics level 20 and Physical Sciences level 18 researched. Next game might require Math 21 and Physical Sciences 21. The game after I might not ever see them them at all and would be forced to steal the tech or trade for it. That sort of feature gives this game another boost to infinite replayablity.



Let's just get this out of the way since we already know about this: the space combat graphics bite. The ships are so small on screen because you view the combat map from such a far out distance. The background is just flat black with green grid for reference. Pretty boring. But here's wishfull thinking for a patch.

Now the good news: even if the graphics stink, you will get all excited and squeal like a schoolgirl when you see your first medium-smallish TF exchange fire with another (the first scout-scout encounter doesn't count, let's face it). And when you get the larger fleets going in for planet kills, it's very cool. Here's why:

Every ship, every fighter craft, and every missile is independently controlled. The graphics are light but when you've got ~100 ships, dozens or hundreds of fighters flying around like gnats, missiles streaking in and swerving to strike independently selected targets, starbases and planets pounding incoming invaders, the screen can get very busy. Every ship, fighter, base, and planet is targetting and firing at every other ship, fighter, base, and planet. It looks like a good Star Wars battle (only on a Super Nintendo).

So while the graphics are nothing to get hyped up over, the overall fireworks show is impressive and fun. Space battles are what MOOers play for afterall, and MOO3 delivers. Nothings gets you going like Zeon Missiles shredding an enemy task force, only to be ambushed by a short range stealth wave you had no idea existed until they unloaded all Hellfire Cannons on you and your fighters didn't have a chance to get out of the bays and you perish in your short scanning-range foolishness...

Ground combat is much more complex than in previous MOOs. It's complex enough that I have not really figured it out yet myself. Like MOO2, there are a variety of combat units ("grunts") you can deploy ranging from Militia to Battleoids. Each has a slew of stats and comes from a racial stock. Meklar Infantry don't perform the same way as, say, Ithkul Infantry. When you drop ships on a planet after having razed the space defenses, you can either let the AI handle the ground combat portion or do it yourself. If you opt for the latter, you can choose what type of attack you want, again ranging from Massed Assault to Defensive Retreat. There are dozens of attack options. Combats can last several turns as both sides try to trick each other and whittle the enemy down, gaining and losing territories.

Putting an army together works a lot like putting a task force together. You have grunts in reserve and put them in an army formation, pack their butts on a Troop Ship, and send 'em off. There are different sizes of armies, and more options for experience levels (don't send in the newbies when you need some real men [women, fish, ants, blood sucking aliens...] to get the job done) and unit preferences. After putting the units in an army formation, you send them off to assault a planet, but you could also station them on a planet and counter an incoming assault. Of course, that only works when you can see the assault coming. Once the blockade is in place, nothing goes in or out.

When you actually commence combat and choose to conduct the battle, after pushing GO, the battle starts with your laid out instructions. You see a planet overview and a bunch of statistics on who's got what units, how much damage they have, and so on. You also get treated to the Cool Radio Show, which is the generals talking back (in audio and in subtitles) to you from the battle lines while you sit in your comfy chair drinking a Coke. "We can't seem to hit the enemy no matter what we throw at them, sir." "We've penetrated some strategic enemy strongholds, sir. It won't be long now." "This planet is ours!" Before I played the game, I was sure this feature was going to be dumb, but after going through a few combats, I ended up liking it after all. Like diplomacy, there are enough tag lines to keep it interesting.


Leiavoia said pretty much all there is to say about space combat, so I'll focus on ground warfare. Your colony viceroys will pretty much handle building ground units for you, though if you want something specific (Bulrathi Marines, or something like that), you'll probably have to queue them up yourself. When it comes time to launch a ground assault, you'll have to create your armies, which can be pretty fun in and of itself, picking and choosing from the best your reserves have to offer. Load those armies up in transport ships and send them off to your hapless enemy.

Once you're ready to land troops, the real fun begins. You are given a summary of both sides' forces and you choose what type of battle you want to wage. (High/Low Intensity, NBC On/Off, Collateral Damage, Overall strategy, etc.) Once you hit the start button, the "radio show" begins. And your squad leaders TALK TO YOU. "We've got them on the run now, sir!", "They're holding us off, general!", etc.

I never really cared for ground combat in Moo2, too cheesy. In Moo3, it's so fun I look forward to it.


First, let me gripe a bit. Did we mention poor tech description and documentation? We did? Let me say it another way. Better understanding of internal game mechanics or checks and balances make for better enjoyment of computer games, in my experience. Especially with one of this complexity. Let's take weapons for example. If you understand how a weapon works and can predict how it will perform in a controlled environment then you know when and where you should employ that weapon. In MOO3 I believe that each weapon is supposed to have positive and negative traits that would affect your choice in using it on certain platforms. There is absolutely nothing describing pros, cons, effects, whatever on the ship design screen. Is there any reason why a Mass Driver is sooo much larger than a Rail Gun that I should ever use it? A Mass Driver being a level 1 weapon and Rail Gun in the neighborhood of level 12. So much, no, everything is left unsaid in what I believe is one of the most fun parts of the game - designing ships. I thought one design goal was that no weapon would ever completely lose it's usefulness as technology advances but I never found Mass Drivers useful. Plus were back dealing with that crappy font and the pull down menus look like something I designed back in my college days with Fortran 77.

So after I build my fleet of corvettes and lancers and send them forth to do battle the first thing that I notice when you are brought to the combat screen is these ships are soooo small. I have the green grid overlay in the background but it's so light and transparent that you can't really even see it without concentrating on seeing it. Okay, where's the enemy planet? I can't scroll around the map to get my bearings and pause the game at the same time. There isn't any 'pause' feature. Not good. Especially for single player games. Okay so while I'm scrolling around trying to find the enemy's planet so I can move towards it I hear something like beam weapon fire. Apparently while I've been trying to figure out what direction to move the enemy's system ships have moved in range and started to waylay my TFs. Now I'm trying to relocate my TFs in a frantic because I'm being shot at and can't find my ships on the map. At least I have the brilliant trail of a enemy laser beams to guide me to my TFs. I just wish there was a pause button.

Okay, so for all my griping is space combat any good you ask? Besides the graphics? Yes. It's very good. It's still cool watching a planet unleash an enormous volley of missiles towards your TF containing your heavy hitting Battleships and watching as your point defense ships frantically try to engage those missiles streaking in for the kill. Fighters are very cool. Although they look like tiny specks, when you see swarms of them speeding in to deliver what ever nasty packages they have in store, it's enough to get you worried in a hurry. Finally when you assemble a large force and take on an equally large force in what turns out to be only the first of many epic electrifying battles, don't forget to wipe the drool from your chin before your lady comes downstairs. Space combat is everything it should be. It's furious, it's fast, it's colorful, it's spectacular, it exciting and it's fun.



Now before I say anything else, let me say that I haven't played a whole lot of multiplayer. I look forward to it later when we are all more experienced. I played one single game between 3 people and it was never finished either.

The one big thing I can say about MP is: bring your pillow, it's going to be a long night! Single Player makes for a slow game, but MP makes for a veeeeeery slow game. Much peppier than MOO2 ever was, but still pretty slow. The good news is that you can set timers and turn limits on everything. If you want, you can play Speed-MOO and set the planning phase timer for 60 seconds. This should keep the game moving along a bit smoother, but factor in space combats @ 5 minutes a pop, occasional ground combats, etc, and you can see how it goes. It goes this way in SP too, but in MP, the game only goes as fast as the slowest player. And when that player likes to fiddle with all the knobs and watch two 5 minute space combats every turn, you might go crazy.

One thing I've heard a lot of complaints from the beta testers about is the chat system, and now I can see why. The chat box is a slide-out on the top of the screen in planning phase. The problem is that it gets in the way, and when you roll it up you can't see what people are saying! Then after you click the Next Turn button, there is no chat-while-you-wait kind of thing. So you just sit there waiting for the other players to finish. This seems really backward. You need to chat while you have nothing else to do, not during the planning phase when you are busy getting things done and holding up the show if you aren't! Hopefully [wishfull thinking] this can be added in a patch someday.

Regardless, bring something to read while you wait for Mr. Micromanager to finish his turn.


Mutliplayer really only suffers from one glaring omission. There's no chat window at the waiting-between-turns screen! This is really a big issue as it seems to slow down the pace of MP a lot. Hopefully QS fixes this in a patch.

Otherwise the game seems stable and just as playable online. I've been playing it over a 56K connection with no hiccups


I'll briefly reiterate what leiavoia said. MP will be a long process. I did play one multiplayer game where we played nearly one hundred turns in about two and half hours. However, there wasn't much combat and we had no turn limit set since we were experimenting more than playing. One thing that that gets your attention like a wet sock is the woefully poor and inadequate chat system that seems like it was tacked on as an afterthought. This is the only time you'll hear me say that something needs an entire overhaul in MOO3. The only real difference between playing SP and MP is that when you knife your buddy in the back maybe you'll read the lovely chat message he sent you -- if you only knew he was sending you one.



Just like MOO2, Master of Orion III puts you in the MOOd [please don't hurt me for that]. The score is done by Brian Williams who works in the general category I have musical interests in, so I may be a bit biased. MOO3's music can best be described as "dark ambient" which lends itself wonderfully to the theme of the game which is dark and spacey.

There is a galaxy map theme and a credits theme. For each species (that being 8 total), there is an "okay" and a "mad at you" diplomatic score, and in combat there is a full-combat and a prelude score. There are probably more that I' m not thinking of though. I have not tested it, but you may be able to mod the sound files if there are any you do not like. It would not be unthinkable to hotswap the MOO3 sounds with the MOO2 ones as long as you can shoehorn them into an .aif format. That said, I like most of the sound track in the game, especially the combat music. The galaxy map theme is a bit too cold for me though, but it never gets on my nerves.

Sound FX serve their purpose. I don't find them to be extraordinarily cool, nor do I find them annoying. Some of the weapon sounds are lame, but that can be fixed, I' m sure.


The music does a great job of conveying the mood, and sound effects (especially for space battles) are great. Hats off to Brian Williams for his excellent work!


I like the sound effects so far more than the background music. I've not played too many races yet so perhaps my position may change as I hear more races' music. For the first tracks I was indifferent and the second actually begged me to turn them off. However the the race I'm playing now I like and find non-intrusive. Hit or miss with me really. The sound effects I like. The space combat and the ground combat. Basic, yet effective and quite simply entertaining.

The Bottom Line


The biggest deal with MOO3 from your point of view is the learning curve. It's more vertical than steep. It's steep like the Grand Canyon looking up from the bottom, but the view from the top is really nice! There are so many things to do in Master of Orion III, that you may get lost. I have put probably 15 hours or so into the game and I am just now starting to get the hang of it. There are plenty of things I still don't understand: side effects of weapons, usefull task force construction, pretty much anything relating to technology, Antaran X's, how to use the Harvesters (or even what they, you know, do). I've never fought a Guardian, seen an X, conquered Orion, destroyed an entire empire, or found any Antaran techs. I've never fired a Stellar Converter. For that matter, I've never even won a game yet, but I have lost a game! I say that as an exclamation, because even losing took me a good 8 hours of play. That's an accomplishment in my book.

MOO3 plays out much slower than MOO1 or 2. In the two previous titles, I could get a feeling for if I was going to win or lose after an hour of play. Now it's much more like 5 (in a small galaxy). Even a "quick" game of MOO3 feels like a campaign. I could imagine that a Huge 3-arm Spiral galaxy must take an eternity to play, but hey, you asked for it and don't tell me you didn't. The jump in playtime between MOO2 and MOO3 has gone from a quick(ish) romp to a serious campaign.

The graphics aren't terrible, but they certainly could have been better. This is mostly due to a publisher-enforced rule on tech specs by Hasbro Interactive, which are now 3 years old or more. That doesn't mean the game is a total bomb though. The UI feels nice and combat is smooth on my machine. It seems like Quicksilver did a good job given the rules they had to work with. Like Penny Arcade said, [paraphrased] "It's like a test from the Gaming Gods to see if the gameplay really is all that matters." The gameplay really shines through here, the graphics do not. It's fun though, no problems there.


The combat graphics aren't the greatest, but they convey the necessary information. Documentation (in-game and manual) severely lacking when it comes to specifics. A must-own game nonetheless.

Moo3 is the best space-strategy game I've seen, ever. I can see this game being very popular in the coming months/years/decades. A few minor drawbacks (ship combat graphics, poor documentation) and an incredibly steep learning curve might scare off the faint of heart, but for those that remain...the addiction awaits.


Everybody else has said it and I'm going to re-emphasize it. The game has a learning curve so steep it should be called a right angle. Now for some of us this is a dream come true. However, for the causal gamer it's going to be a frustrating mess. I find it a cruel irony that they (whomever) wanted this game to run on such low system specs as to appeal to the broadest demographic base (the causal gamer) yet the game is so inherently complex and with such poor instruction and documentation that the very people (the causal gamer) for which they tried to appeal will be alienated by the overwhelming complexity.

What would have really, really, really helped this game appeal to a broader base would have been in-game instruction and documentation written by a veteran gamer. A grognard. Someone that knows how to explain game mechanics, how things work and why. I can do without the background story but I can't do without knowing what these technologies do. This is what I think is missing mostly from MOO3. I've been playing MOO3 for almost three weeks and I'm still confused on some things. Everything else needed to make this a great game is there. We just have to understand how it's all put together.

One thing I will say that I don't believe anyone else has mentioned. Bugs. I haven't found any. CTD or otherwise. Sure the game may need a tweak here or there but as far as bugs go I haven't found a one. When I say this, I say it with confidence - Master of Orion 3 is the most bug free game I have encountered or can think of in recent memory. I have run it on three systems from a PII 233 (below specs) to my Athlon and haven't encountered any trouble.

Overall I really like this game. I think those of you that truly enjoy a strategic level game of conquest, diplomacy, exploration will enjoy it too. The UI gets the job done on what is probably one of the most difficult challenges of a game of this nature. That is, getting you the information you need and getting it to you easily. This it accomplishes well. The graphics, well, they're kind of sorry but graphics aren't why we play these kinds of games. They're adequate and will keep you engaged. A game of this nature is all about gameplay and MOO3 nails it here. Finally an administrative AI we can count on to do well, infinite replayablity, intelligent opponents and a plethora of options. I'm having fun and I haven't even won yet.

Pros & Cons

  • Very long games :-) Endless hours of playtime await you.
  • Replay value is like MOO2 on steroids.
  • Some of the spreadsheet data is hackable. More fun for moders and strat guide writers.
  • Easy minimum system requirements to meet. Most people will well exceed them.
  • Multiplayer that actually works.
  • Very solid gameplay. There are still some adjustments that could be made, but don't expect any Civ3 oil or MOO2 6-pick "Creative" problems. The only thing that might come close is missile vs point defense power, but those can probably be tweaked in a patch or by hand in the spreadsheets.
  • Good sound and FX. Some of the weapon sound FX are a bit lame, but that's probably intentional. The cooler weapons have the cooler sounds. The El Cheapo lasers and Mass Drivers are weak and sound like it too. The space combat music is good as well, with 2 for each species.
  • Atmosphere: dark and spooky. 75% less cheeze. Good choice.
  • Harvesters   f r e a k   m e   o u t. -leiavoia
  • Very long games :-( There is no such thing as a "quick game of MOO3".
  • Weak graphics, however it has the side effect of allowing you to install on that crusty old laptop you have and also making combat and turn times go much faster on a newer RAM-pumped Gigahurts machine.
  • Poor documentation and out of date manual. The tech description for instance, don't say much about what they do, but still take up a good paragraph to say it! The encyclopedia is nice, but only if there is an entry for what you are searching for. If you got a question about "piracy", you'll have to look elswhere. The manual is out of date and contains some bad information. The only reason it's not completely out of date is because it was reasonably vague in the first place. The manual is also 50% backstory, and weaving the backstory in between gameplay chapters was a poor decision IMHO. I look forward to the Online Strategy Guide here at the Orion Sector, as well as the many FAQs that will spring up.
  • Extraordinarily steep (vertical) learning curve (cliff) will throw off a lot of people who can't invest the time for a good game and time to learn. This might hurt MOO3 sales, but I hope not. I'm looking forward to a MOO3 Special Edition just like everyone else. Just like your mom told you to take 2 bites before you said you didn't like it, you need to dump a good 10-15 hours into MOO3 to really know if it's any good or not. "There is a game in there somewhere"

So, that's a pretty good overall review. If you want to actually "taste" Master of Orion III, you can read any of the beta tester After Action Reports or try reading "A Typical Game" which is a kind of walkthrough for a, you guessed it, typical game (where I lost in 220 turns).

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