Galactic domination. Many of us dream of it, few of us act on it. Well, that’s not really true, we can’t act on it at all with our state of technology. But, in 1996, Master of Orion 2 was released by Mircroprose. This is really one of the greatest examples of big picture grand strategy games that allowed virtual galactic domination and is still, in my opinion the best of the lot.
There have been imitators and others who played with the formula MOO2 introduced way back then. The reason MOO2 is just so good comes down to the elegant balance between choosing automation of your planets and then yet still being able to micromanage your empire if you so choose. The ship design screen is also brilliant and many iterations later, we have other games that now allow the placement and design of any ship in a three dimensional environment. The most recent examples are Galactic Civilizations, Sword of the Stars and Stardrive.
Each game, of course, has its drawbacks in terms of what you’re actually playing. Some games, like Sword of the Stars completely eliminates any semblance of empire management, instead concentrating on planets as a mere resource so that you can put as many guns as you can on a big ship to blow up all the other big ships. Conversely, GalCiv focused more on empire management and didn’t allow you to design and fight with your ships at all. But nothing since has really come close to the perfect balance achieved by MOO2.
Unfortunately, when everyone clamoured for a sequel to MOO2, one was made, albeit extremely poorly. It was probably the most disappointing 4X game to come out in history. I know the makers wanted to simulate a high level idea of what it would be like to run a huge galactic empire, but all that resulted was a graphically poor high level spreadsheet with absurd AI, a user interface that was more obscure than a pebble in a Japanese garden and terrible battle mechanics.
Writing about Master of Orion 2 makes me want to play it all over again. It’s certainly one of the best games I’ve ever had the privilege of installing on my hard drives!