Written by  :  weregamer (157)
Written on  :  Oct 23, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.2 Stars3.2 Stars3.2 Stars3.2 Stars3.2 Stars

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Disappointing as a MoO game, but unique and arguably good if taken on its own

The Good

This game is an amazingly complex simulation of a star-spanning empire, with details down to the planetary region level in all sorts of things. This is not a game about micromanaging a shallow simulation, but one about managing a complex one.

One particularly interesting change is the introduction of task forces into naval operations. Although you can still design your own ships, that is done with regard to their designed role in a TF; it is the TF that must be carefully crafted for a specific mission. Although the combat module is generally less interactive than in previous games, the effects of TF composition and layout can be very substantial.

The Bad

Sadly, most of the simulation is simply invisible to the player, and even some of what is visible can't be influenced directly.

Back in the early 90s, Sid Meier gave a talk at a CGDC entitled "How I almost ruined _Civilization_". He discussed several key elements and decisions in the design of that classic in terms of analyzing "who was having all the fun". If the value of a given feature was something you could point proudly to in front of other game designers, but that a player would not notice, that was letting the designer have all the fun. If the simulation was extremely detailed and beyond the ken of the human player, that was letting the computer have all the fun.

Sadly, in the form that it finally shipped, MoO3 is a game where too often the computer has all the fun. During the first couple of years of development, the plan was to have a deep simulation that the player could see all the way down to the bottom in, but a limited pool of "Imperial Attention" points which were needed to actually manipulate things. If you wanted to micromanage the production on one planet you could, but it would reduce how much attention you could give to other things that turn. Unfortunately, in playtesting this idea didn't work out. The Imperial Attention points were dropped, and the UI was simplified to get rid of immense levels of detail that would bog down a player for days per turn. But on the whole, those detailed calculations were still there - you just couldn't see or manipulate them.

The result was that all too often your simulated planetary governors would make a decision based on priorities and information that you simply could not see, and it looked like they were just arbitrarily doing stupid things. Even worse, there were some bugs in the data, and some stupid decisions were effectively forced by the bad data entries.

After 3 patches, most of the cases where this happens are no longer visible, but there's still a frustration that you can't see the details behind some of the numbers.

The Bottom Line

On the whole, it doesn't come close to displacing MoO2 because it's really not the same sort of game at all. Taken on its own, it's an interesting game about empire management, but it's really going to appeal only to those gamers who like both military simulations like the (earlier) MoOs and serious management games like 1830.