This article works much better if you’ve read my companion piece for the original game.
Oh sure, I dreamt of Master of Orion, but I dreamt of Master of Orion 2. Maybe it’s because I didn’t quite understand the elegance of the first game’s simpler gameplay, but at times it felt like I was gazing upon massive reservoirs of unfulfilled potential. They could put in multi-player! They could spruce this and that up and various aspects could be pulled from the realm of abstraction! Space battles can look like space battles! Master of Orion 2 arrived less than a year after my original peak with the first game, so it was a bit like wish-fulfillment. Unfortunately, many of the unsung reasons why I loved the original came up missing in the sequel, even if it fulfilled many of the features my mental version had in store.
I want to perform an experiment with you. (No, not that. Or that.) I’m going to post a bunch of screenshots of Master of Orion 2. I want you to slightly unfocus your eyes and scroll past all of them until you reach the next block of text then scroll back up. Do this a few times. I’ll meet you at the end.
With me now? Did it work? Do the colors of the outside world suddenly seem far more saturated and lively? Playing Master of Orion 2 for any period of time is a drain. The game’s disturbingly flat art direction is a complete bummer, which fits well with the rest of this game’s problems. What was once beautiful and distinctive has been put through a machine wash, leaving only the raw silicon and muted green highlights. What was once intuitive and fast-paced is now labyrinthine and slow. Let me begin our first lesson:
This is the Customize Race screen. Among the many things that were expanded in Master of Orion 2 is the DNA of each race, giving each one a bit more specialty than ‘THESE GUYS CAN PRODUCE MORE STUFF FASTER.’ A race like the Klackons working under a Unification government has no traitorous agents, doesn’t have to worry about morale, and is more productive. Creative races like the Psilons can research every item on the tech tree while Uncreatives will only see a sliver of its outline. And, yeah, you can customize all that, too.
Need info? There’s plenty of that around here!
Starting a game, this is the first thing you’ll see. A big, empty galaxy. On the right are your resources, which was something you never really needed to worry about before. You have a tangibly finite amount of funds, so you need to keep your eyes on the coffers. Food needs to be grown and freighter fleets need to move it around. Starvation causes morale to sink and, I suppose more importantly, people to die. You’ll even have to control your fleet sizes, too. No more amassing fifty thousand of your largest and most powerful ships and sending them out to meet your foe, you’ve gotta make sure your ships don’t dry out your bank.
This here is your largest galaxy, which has fewer stars than the biggest galaxies of the original, but there’s something new here…