Review: Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares

In 1999, small-time gaming company Microprose got together with an Idea. The Idea was to make a space exploration turn-based strategy game. The goal: to colonize and rule the galaxy.

Yes, it’s very much a cliché idea that has been around since before Star Trek. However, Master of Orion II – Microprose’s great creation – perfects galactic colonization.

The story is that an ancient war between two races – the Antarans and the Orions – was fought for years until the Orions were able to put the Antarans into an alternative dimension, hiding them away forever. Now, thousands of years later, the Orions have gone leaving only one relic behind: an ancient guardian to protect their home planet from colonization.

The most interesting part about this retro-game is the ability to customize. At any time during the game you can design your ships ranging from the normal frigate, destroyer, cruiser, battleship, titan arrangement of ship design, fitting them with any amount of upgrades (provided they have the space). New weapons, shields and specialty items become available through research quite frequently. You can even create your own race with its own features. The races include takes on popular sci-fi including a race known as the Gnolams – a take on Roddenberry’s Ferengi, Elerians – a telepathic all-female race, and the Meklar – a take on cybernetic monsters the Borg. All the races have their own perks. For example the Gnolams follow their template in being fantastic traders, humans follow a democratic government and Psilons – a race that physically looks like the stereotypical “Roswell Grey” alien but have many Vulcan-like qualities. Along with these aforementioned races there are many more that create a diversified field of potential enemies. After you select a race, or create one using the character editing page, you get into the game.

First you name your leader, your home star system and you pick a banner to represent you that will dictate the shape of your fleets. I prefer the red banner because of its Federation-like ships.

The game starts off very slow taking several turns to even create a civilization strong enough to support life. You spend dozens of turns researching basic ship and social technology. About 100 turns into the game – and don’t worry these turns will take 20 minutes tops to play – you can begin really pushing your colonies.

Throughout your time you can explore the galaxy, micromanage colonies, build fleets, hire naval officers and colonial leaders, research hundreds of technologies, construct large cities, play diplomat with the other races, trade away goods, build fleets of ships for both military and industrial use, and most importantly wage war on anyone you see fit to destroy.

This game works perfectly for anyone who likes to lead with an iron fist in their RPGs or anyone who simply likes building an empire from scratch. You can spend hours to even days trying to win this game. Multiple difficulties provide massive challenges. In some cases, the game may be too hard. NPCs gain technology and industry faster, allowing them to create massive fleets almost instantaneously compared to your own. While you are colonizing your second or third star systems, the other races may have six, seven or more systems.

After all this time there are only three ways to win – depending on the choices you make. The first is the simple galactic takeover. Using your massive fleets, talented armies and by using the game’s amazing tactical combat system, you take over the entire galaxy militarily leaving none free. The second is the more democratic way by being elected leader of the galaxy – always hope you win because if you don’t you have an impossible undertaking at hand trying to bring down an empire of 40 plus star systems. The third happens only by choice. If you play with the “Antaran Attacks” selection on, then the hidden race comes back from its dimension to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting empires. The only way to stop them is to build a wormhole that sends you into their dimension and destroy their massive fleet. When that is said and done you win the game.

Master of Orion II may be one of the most fun games to play if you are into science fiction and galactic conquest. There is no galactic strategy game that encompasses all the aspects of this game and they certainly don’t perfect these traits either.

So next time you’re bored and need something to take the edge off try Master of Orion II. You will not be disappointed.

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