E3 2015 Day 1 Recap – Crossout, King of Wushu, Master of Orion, and More!
Master of Orion (Biggest Surprise of Day 1!)
Unfortunately cameras weren’t allowed to roll inside of Wargaming’s unusually secretive upstairs VIP lounge this year. Not necessarily since we didn’t get to capture the pre-alpha footage of Master of Orion, that clearly isn’t ready for public consumption, but more so because we missed out on capturing my five year old in a candy store visage of unadulterated glee! I walked into the closed meeting room expecting a rehash of the World of Tanks Xbox One news we broke earlier in the day, which in itself is damn impressive (more details on that coming in tomorrow’s recap!). But as I sat there noticing a number of club jackets with Master of Orion logos on them, it quickly became apparent that the jig was up. As the screen lit up with an actual Master of Orion game in progress, not just some hype building promo trailer, my body’s endorphins pumped into overdrive!
For those that haven’t been obsessing over 4x strategy games for the past decade+, seeing a remastered modern Master of Orion on screen is about the equivalent of Square announcing a remastered edition of Final Fantasy VII. Thank the gaming gods that Wargaming’s CEO Kislyi is both a strategy buff to the core, and made enough money from his World of ventures to see this pet project brought to life.
Master of Orion is currently teasing ten factions. Of course you’ll see some familiar faces in gloriously animated and voice acted detail, so get ready to study up on your alien cultures so you don’t bring about nuclear war causing faux pas from throwing a ball of yarn to the Mrrshan Empress.
That kitty’s got claws. Nyaaaaa!
Other factions on roster include the Alkari, Humans, Psilon, Sakkra, Klackon, Meklar, Darlok, and Silicoid. Each faction features animated and voice leader diplomacy screens, as well as an animated voiced adviser who will be there to guide new players through the nuances of gameplay, as well as entertain veterans with their wit. If all the advisers live up to the mad scientist bird brain Alkari shown in the demo, this alone pushes the polish on Master of Orion above 90% of the 4x strategy titles on the market today.
“We’ll see who the bird brain is after I finish researching nuclear fission!”
As you’d imagine, each faction comes with their own strengths, weaknesses, and unique reactions to their surrounding environment. Classic elements necessary for upping the replayability factor in any 4x game. But to expand on that, I need to get into the concepts of the galaxy map, and colonizing planets.
Unlike most 4x games that involve building settlers that you can plop on just about any location you feel has resource potential, the dark reaches of space found in Master of Orion isn’t quite as forgiving. If you’re looking to expand your empire, you’re going to need suitable expansion worlds to send settlers to for global taming. Of course not all worlds were created equal; as such there’s some key factors to consider before exiling those undesirables of society to the abyss.
Worlds are graded based on size (likely max population), biome (levels of toxicity), minerals (assuming production and strategic resource related), gravity (could impact a lot of things!), and “special” (Racially based… perhaps? I’m just guessing at this point). Since the world map, aka your galaxy, is procedurally generated each time, you can expect to run into countless varieties of planets over the course of a few games. Meaning new challenges to face with each new game, not to mention dealing with the unique ways each faction will react to these conditions. As a side note, a cinematic video is generated each time you colonize a new world, which reflects both the conditions of the world you’re colonizing as well as your chosen faction doing the colonizing. That is some unheard of attention to detail, well until you remember this is still Wargaming we’re dealing with.
Behold the toxic majesty of my new world!
Once the planet is under your control, you choose production plans just like any other city structure in a 4x game. All the nice nuances of city management seem to be here, such as reassigning population to food, production, or science. Master of Orion even has a governor system ready to give planets a general direction of what your goals are, so that population can be micromanaged effectively without wasting your time when you have space cats breathing down your neck and scratching up the furniture.
As you explore and time passes, your faction will progress through an expansive tech tree, featuring at least 75 tech boxes impacting two+ elements of gameplay each. The tech tree seemed to have roughly four pathways in the demo viewed, with plenty of upward and downward crossing bars. As any 4x gamer knows, its no fun being locked into a specific path with no means of diverting your technological progression to react to changing times. It seems clear just from the skeleton tech tree in the demo that Master of Orion wants your tech progression to be able to react on the fly to changing political and military conditions, while not going so far as to offer the overwhelmingly novice frightening freedom of the recent Civilization: Beyond Earth tech web. Rest assured the techs are all future based and fantastically imagined. Though on a note on Beyond Earth, as you progress through the tech tree you will be given choices of unit upgrades, meaning you can differentiate your arsenal on each playthrough to meet your changing situation.
Gameplay itself may be hard to envision if you’re more accustomed to fantasy 4x titles. There’s set connector lines in the galaxy one must follow to get from point A to B to C. These lines require various types of ship units to explore, and certain ships can even set up satellite installations to set up blockades preventing nasty creeps like the Psilons from coming too close to your precious homeworld. Diplomacy of course exists should you want to stay on good terms with those expansion hungry Sakkra crocs. Nothing worse than angry space crocs being denied a new home.
Give in to our demands, or we’ll release the hardest Battletoads asteroid space level yet!
Though if said angry space crocs do intend to turn your world into the Land Before Time, there is the option of constructing warships instead of satellite stations to blockade nodes or worlds. This is ideal for preventing colonization until you’re ready to expand, or just to keep a hostile faction off a world that isn’t suitable to your needs, but may be beneficial for their particular race.
And don’t even get me started on those evolved Russian bear cavalry.
These moveable space units and satellites offer the secondary function of scanning vision to discover rival faction units, as well as anomalies. Anomalies are your standard fare goodie huts offering bonus currency, free ships, and other surprises. Gaining traction with other factions requires discovering their units as you may expect.
Sooner or later, all these moving parts in the galaxy are going to come to blows. We were granted a brief preview of how warfare plays out, which seems to have two key components. The first is air skirmishes, played out based on the strengths of each side’s squadron with some leeway for RNG seemingly involved. The tech tree of course will offer plenty of new units over time, that will no doubt require the strategic resources provided by planet colonization to build. Should you manage to clear all enemy units from the protective sphere of an inhabited planet, you then begin the process of formatting the world. And by formatting I mean launching enough nuclear weapons that you might as well have thrown the planet in the microwave for a few minutes on high. Gee I wonder if that will have an impact on toxicity levels, or if the future techs offer clean environmentally friendly nuclear bombs? From what we were shown, cleaning the planet of all alien life seems to be the only viable means of conquest, since there wasn’t any signs of capitulation or puppet government functions present. Could always change though.
Once you’re 300 or so turns into the quagmire of galactic conquest, you might want to start looking into a path to victory. Master of Orion has expanded its victory conditions as yet another means of expanding its replayability. On demo we saw Excellent (score based victory), Conquest (military dominance), Tech (…tech!), Economic (all the energy are belong to us), as well as a United Nations style diplomatic win. Which turns out can be incredibly challenging when you’re running against something that might actually just be a super-computer. A clear user interface is present to keep track of each factions progress towards each goal, but numerical tracking is so 2000 and late. Instead we have the GNN – Galactic News Network!
Keeping in theme with the “Let’s make everything in this game so damn pretty and movie level cinematic,” The Galactic News Network offers two funny little news bots dynamically reporting on the events of the game to keep you informed on major events without needing to interpret them through your spreadsheets. Think EVE Online’s The Scope and you’ve got the jist of this clever little addition that is adding some real character to the game. And that’s where I round this whole preview out.
Although the demo was delivered at shotgun approach, and I still have many MANY questions left unanswered, the one clear and present quality Master of Orion is bringing back to the 4x genre is character. Us old school strategy gamers miss roleplaying in a believable world where AI decisions were somewhat predictable because that predictability gave us a framework for a story in our mind of how things were playing out at every level of our empire. All the cinematics, diverse animated factions, and solid art on display in this early alpha demo shows that the designers agree with us, and are starting early to make sure that Master of Orion will deliver on this level. Believe me when I say we’ll be watching development on this game very closely over the next year, as the galaxy is the limit on this game’s potential.
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