The older gamers will definitely and with a certain fondness in their hearts recall a unique title that Master of Orion was, especially its sequel Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares (we shall, at this point, all pretend that the FAIL-train that was named Master of Orion 3 didn’t really happen). The games that are now over 15 years old belong to some of our more cherished memories, and the MOO games are one of the finest examples of the 4x turn-based strategy genre ever made. Oh, and just in the improbable casse that you don’t actually know about what 4X we are talking about – it is the infamous quadruplet of eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate, of course! For those who never played either the genre or Master of Orion games, worry not, help is here!
Galaxy is your playground, once again…
Starbase Orion for iOs is a remake of Master of Orion 2, and it is one of the most marvelous things for iOs we had the pleasure to put our hands on so far. We tried it out on iPad and quickly fell in love with it, while playing and reminiscing the “good old days”; luckily, with Starbase Orion, we can now relive them, and perhaps have an even better time now then we had before. And as for those who never tried Master of Orion, be prepared to fall in love.
At the beginning you will have the opportunity to choose the parameters of the game. For the first one, we’d suggest a smaller galaxy and fewer opponents, even though you can set up a massive galaxy (with 140 star systems!) and up to seven opponents. Each time, the galaxy will be randomly created, which should provide the players with renewable sense of the unique gameplay, and additional settings considering the game itself will make it various and fun. Once you’ve made your choice of your galactic playground, you need to choose your race from five available presets or design your own, unique race with assigning the various positive and negative traits. Basically, your race has about ten points, and investing those points in certain traits will raise some of your performances (your race could be producing more food, have better workers or better scientists, better traders or warriors and so on), others will lower your traits (make your workers waste a bit of food or money they produce) but grant you additional points. So, if you don’t think that research matters, you can take some traits that will lower your research acumen so you can invest in other areas, like industry or food production. Personally, only thing I missed was the Master of Orion 2 trait of your race being able to eat rocks. Rocks. Far-out, dude, as they would have said in the 90′s. But even without that trait, the game still rocks. Haha. See what I did there?
Any-ho, once you’ve pushed out in the great galactic void with dozens and dozens of stars, bent on exploration and expansion, research and industry, you will find yourself attempting to balance all the most important aspects of the star-based empire. First and foremost, there is the colonization. Scout the neighboring systems and decide upon which planet to form new colonies, but beware, since the starships actually run on fuel, there is only a small portion of your home system’s neighboring stars that you will be able to reach at first. Setting up a colony on the right planets will extend the range of your ships and eventually bring you into contact with other species. Planets vary in size, mineral abundance and other features, of which the two most important are the number of available building slots on the planet as well as a number of population cap. But in general, you’d wanna go for the fattest booty planets with the largest living room space.
Research & Development
One of the pillars of your society is research, and your well thought-out research schedules and planing will guarantee you a successful reign. One must be very careful in balancing civil and military projects, industry and trade infrastructure, because you will inevitably find yourself facing a hostile alien race (they are all hostile, btw) and have either a poor, outdated fleet or poor planet defenses or overall weak economy to wage war. You can set your game’s difficulty lower in case you got problems in the beginning, but playing on the hardest setting in a massive galaxy with seven opponents will push you to your limits and beyond. Also, when considering the infrastructure of various planets, one should attempt to specialize and designate certain planets as industries, research centers or main food supplies for your empire. On the other hand, in case of a war (a rather inevitable event, as you’ll see soon enough), with a loss of such an important planet, one may find his empire downright crippled.
Military development parried with a decent research will enable you to build up a good fleet, but if you neglect to invest in that segment, you will find yourself at the mercy of AI. Do not kid yourself, building up a fleet takes time and resources, and falling behind will probably cost you the game. The ships you build can also be upgraded, and creating a new, unique design is very simple. At any stage of war operations the player is able to make a difference, and set out his ships in the most convenient manner. The space battles will be carried out with the ships having been assigned three different distances at which they will fight each other: long, medium and close range. So, for example, it would be a complete nonsense to set up your ships with long range weapons and assign to them the “fight at close range” order. Combining different ship sizes and armament will yield the best results.
While we are at the subject of space battles, they are entirely different than in MOO2. At the beginning of the move you will give your units that have engaged the enemy a set of orders, ranging from attack at long range to evade enemy or retreat. Once you hit enter, the ships will carry out the set of orders and you will get to see the results of the battle after the next turn. So, in essence, a player only gets to see a post-battle report in which the set of orders have become a set of actions. Sometimes the opponents will be equally strong, or simply too numerous, in which case the battle will continue into the following turn(s). In Starbase Orion, entire wars will be decided in one or two major engagements, so one has to choose them wisely. Once the space combat is over, one can get the troop ships and invade and conquer the planets after overwhelming the marines stationed there.
The spy who loved me
Amazingly, the war is not the only answer to everything. Neglecting your spy network will punish you severely and, on the other hand, investing in them can make all the difference one needs to prevail. In a rare game commanding a custom race with a penalty for our spies of 20% we experienced our research secrets being stolen, as well as many of our buildings and ships being destroyed under most suspicious circumstances. The same can happen to your opponents, with proper traits and technologies researched; you will have your spies stealing blueprints for the techs you didn’t explore yet, and their ships will be blowing up as if its a matter of a fashion statement. Another great addition to your spy efficiency would be a proper leadership, and if you manage to snatch the right leader for the job, his bonuses are yours to count on.
Leaders are yet another important factor in the game. After the initial pause, they will start appearing on the galactic stage and offering their services to all races that are interested. In essence, you will have to bid for every leader against other races, and should you have enough money and tenacity, the said leader will join your empire. They can be stationed on either planets where they will act as governors or assigned to fleets as admirals, providing certain traits and stat boosts to the ships under their command. You are limited to only several leaders, and should be paying good attention to your treasury, so that you are prepared to snatch the best ones. Some will provide a bonus for the planet or system they are in, some will provide a bonus for your entire empire, and the bonuses will range from small resistance factors for your ships to the empire wide and significant boosts in research, industry or espionage.
Starbase Orion could be called a Master of Orion 2 “clone”, but that term usually implies lack in quality and essence in comparison to the original. This is, by far, not the case here. In fact, Starbase Orion is one of the finest games we have had the chance to test and is downright perfect for the iPad. The user interface, the gameplay, music and atmosphere, everything has been done with great care and the end result is a very satisfying and fulfilling game. It manages to honor the original and revive it in such a way that we can only hope other game developers will dare to emulate. This game delivers high quality gameplay in any aspect, it runs smoothly on your iPad and will only have about 15 second long turns when playing on the massive galaxy with maximum opponents setting – hell, we could ahrdly expect any better on a high end PC! However, one single aspect is not as good as we would have hoped; we are talking about space combat. Moo2 had a turn-based combat system, where each ship would be assigned orders and then moved, step at the time, while here, you assign orders to your ships, hit TURN button and hope for the best. The highest interaction implies that you will be able to watch the space combat footage post facto, but by then, everything would be already over. Even so, the space combat is still a fairly decent affair, but putting more emphasis on this segment may have made the game simply superb!
Overall, Starbase Orion is a fascinating game, one of the finest strategy titles for iPad up to this date, and we recommend it wholeheartedly.