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Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Jean-Paul Cardinal (15)
Written on  :  Jul 31, 2000
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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I agree with Zzap's review: MOO 2 still remains the very best Space-empire building game

The Good

1) The game was released in the Fall of 1996 and no other game of that 4X genre has succeeded since then to take away its crown. But it can be argued that "Imperium Galactica II" (released in April 2000) can share the throne, "MOO 2" being the turn-based ruler in this diarchy, and "IG 2" being the real-time co-ruler. Four games will come out, in the next five months of 2000, to attempt to take away the 4X/turn-based crown: "Reach for the stars" (mid-August), "Space Empires IV" (Oct. 1st), "Stars! Supernova Genesis" (?), "Galactic Civilizations" (?). "MOO 3" is seriously under development for a Fall 2001 release.

2) 13 races to choose from, and a very detailed menu to custom-design your own race, playing with a lot of options and variables. This consequently confers to this game a lot of replay value. Three and a half years after its release, I still play that game on a regular basis.

3) Stellar systems most often contain more than one planet to colonize.

4) Even though they are 2D, graphics still look great, except the pictures of some of the races.

5) The command-points system limits the number of warships one can effectively control, preventing a race to produce massive fleets which can overwhelm the game early one.

6) A very extensive technological tree, where the player cannot select every available option, forcing him to make important choices. This also confers to the game a lot of replay value. For example, in one game, you might choose to accelerate production by selecting "automated factories", while in another game, you might rather opt to bolster your defenses with "planetary missile base", or strengthen your warships by selecting "heavy armor". That trio represents one of the tough crossroads of the research-tree.

7) You can hire amusing heroes and mercenaries: up to 3 to become efficient star-system governors, up to 3 to be assigned as warship captains.

8) You can design your own starships.

9) There are a lots of diversified buildings you can put down on the surfaces of your planets.

10) The pictorial representations of the various planetary landscapes are superb.

11) Turn-based tactical combat between warships looks great, is easy to learn, but complex to really master.

12) A 14th race, the Antareans, can be introduced later on in the game to harass the most powerful races.

13) There are 3 different ways to win the game: military extermination of the other races, diplomatic victory by obtaining 2/3rds of the votes needed to be elected Galactic Emperor, destroying the Antarean homeworld.

14) A sufficiently extensive diplomatic menu, with an exquisite "holographic" representation of alien embassadors when you communicate with them.

15) You can spy and sabotage.

16) Lots of cool weapons and weapons-effects.

17) A whole lot of stuff to play with, making it a prodigious game with lots of replay value. I'm sure I forgot something good to mention.

The Bad

1) The galactic map generator is mediocre to bad, in the sense that it can initially create a universe which puts some races in tight spots, surrounded by cheap planets to colonize. You can thus invest hours of gameplay to then realize that you are doomed because of an extremely disadvantagous starting-position.

2) Even though many star-systems offer more than one planet to colonize, there's a maximum of about only 70 systems in the game, with a few systems closed to colonization (because they contain a black hole, or no planets, or only gas giants and asteriod fields). That's frustrating, especially if you combine this limitation with what was mentioned in the previous paragraph.

3) The game, as initially released, was full of bugs. Get the final 1.31 patch: on my computer, it is very stable, bug-free, and it only crashes once and awhile when the late game has too much stuff to process ("stack overflow"). Save often on a few slots representing different times. Don't click too much for nothing when the game enters its late stages.

4) The enemy AI is of unequal value. Except in the initial learning process, don't play below the "average" difficulty setting. What often happens is that one or two races will rapidly become very strong (usually: the Sakkras, Klackons, and Silicoids), while the rest of them will stagnate on few star-systems. I think that the cause of that is a defensive programming which forces them to build early on too powerful fleets for their means, neglecting planetary building, research, and colonization.

5) There are no social and political events on your planets. You can mismanage your empire and overtax without fear of being challenged by riots and revolutions. "MOO 3" is supposed to introduce internal consequences for your decisions.

6) Consequently, it is easy to manipulate the taxation system to unfair ends. When the game has proceeded beyond the early stages, you can overtax your population for a few turns to make a lot of cash and then accelerate production by purchasing items.

7) Spies often take too much time to train. It is unrealistic to see that a planet has to dedicate all of its productive efforts for half a dozen turns just to train one spy. Instead, like in some other games, the player should be able to build FBI/CIA-style buildings which would then generate spies or espionage points, while the planet's production queue would be engaged in building other stuff.

8) Planetary ground combat is extremely simplistic and dull.

9) Starship tactical combat being turn-based, the fanatics of real-time combat might eventually become bored.

10) There's a lot of micromanagement when the game gets into its later stages, with many planets to supervise. In a single-player game, it can still be fun, but in a multiplayer game, it will introduce boring delays.

The Bottom Line

I agree with Zzap's recent review: "MOO 2" remains the very best Space-empire building game, 3½ years after its release. It has a lot of replay value, with all of its options, but that becomes even better if you can get your hands on the third-party save-game editor ("Corion2" by Gonzalus, 1997). Unfortunately, that editor does not come with instructions, and your games will fatally crash or get weird if you mismanage the editing process. E-mail me ([email protected]) if you have questions concerning the game or the use of the editor.