Master of Confusion.
The universe is in a state of chaos. With over 16 races populating the Orion sector, conflicts were bound to happen. The Orion senate, founded by the ancient New Orions, was formed as a political and diplomatic alliance to help bring order. However, not all species belong to the Senate and some are openly hostile to other species. Members of the Senate even plot and scheme against each other. And that's where the fun begins...
Actually, that's where the fun is supposed to begin. Master of Orion III is a good game that gets so bogged down by its complexity that only a few hardcore gamers will have the patience and the dedication to play. For the rest of us, it appears they've given you everything that is difficult about ruling an empire, and removed most of the fun.
A continuation of the classic PC franchise, Master of Orion III has been in development longer than anyone would care to admit. Anticipation for this game has been high, considering its pedigree. Frankly, the game is a defining argument for the difference between console and PC games. Never would this game appear on a console due to it's complexity and difficulty.
'Difficulty' is probably an understatement. As a college graduate, I tend to think highly about my own intelligence, at least in comparison to, say, a typical turn-based strategy game. Master of Orion III has decided to prove me wrong. While turn-based strategy games are generally more difficult to learn than other genres, this game takes it to a whole new level.
You start with one planet. On that planet, you can set research funds, ship building funds, military setups (ground and space troops), environmental options, budgetary options, tax rates and a host of other small details. That's just one planet, and your goal is to build an empire. Your empire options include your general financial output, research specifications, governmental specifications (what type: democracy, totalitarian, etc.), ship building options (where you can design your own ships), treatment of your citizens (forced labor, internal spying), foreign relations (diplomacy, Senate bills, espionage) and personnel (generals to help you run the empire). The list goes on and on...
I'm not kidding. There are so many options in this game, it would take about 140 pages to explain it all...which just happens to be the length of the manual. Explaining all that makes for a fairly boring read, and I don't want to put you, gentle reader, through that. You can thank me later.
Needless to say, this makes the learning curve for Master of Orion III the steepest ever. The first time you sit down with the game, expect very little to happen for the first 2 hours while you follow the in-game tutorial tips and learn how to play. Even then, you'll still be confused and will have to fall back to reading the manual to figure out exactly how to do things. After all that, you just have to start playing and learn as you go. Expect to lose...badly.
However, if you have the patience to go through Master of Orion III's intense hazing ritual, there's a very rich gaming experience waiting inside. The sheer complexity that makes the game so hard to learn also makes it deep and multi-layered. The universe is fleshed out; each race has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each must be dealt with in different ways. Military might does not always make right, so much of the game is focused around your diplomatic skill and cunning. Leaders come in many different forms, and Master of Orion III lets you choose what type of leader you wish to be.
Plus, the deeper you get into the game, the more you come to rely on the game's AI. You don't have to watch every little number and setting yourself, as much can be automated. While it's a great feature and desperately needed in a game like this, the AI itself can cause some problems. Sometimes, the AI simply contradicts your orders. You'll think you wanted to build one type of ship, but no, the AI had other plans for your fleet. Little annoying changes to what you want to do are very frustrating, but you don't want to turn the AI off because then you have to do everything yourself.
Though hardcore turn-based strategy gamers will probably enjoy this game, there are some annoying bugs that no one will enjoy. For some reason, the keyboard shortcuts don't always work, forcing you to find alternate ways to get to important menus. While much of the game is point and click, being able to simply press a button to bring up a menu is handy and not having it work gets slightly annoying.
Speaking of which, the menu layouts themselves are overly complex. In order to adjust certain options, you have to enter submenu after submenu. Also, adjusting certain options can affect other options and there's really no way to control it. If you're prone to fits of anger and frustration, this is definitely not the game for you.
Keeping with the tradition of its predecessors, Master of Orion III puts he graphics on the backburner. Lots of little dots make up the main star map and the combat graphics aren't really very impressive. But you aren't playing this game to be bowled over by bump-mapping.
It appears as though Master of Orion 3 suffers from a development cycle that lasted a bit too long. The developers and testers got so used to this game's ponderous interface and extreme complexity that they lost sight of the average gamer, whose primary goal is to have fun. Games like this have their place and their fan base, but even a turn-based strategy fan like myself doesn't really have the time to invest in this game. In the end, it's a good game for those who have the initiative to play it for hours upon hours, but the rest of us are better off finding a game with a little more fun and action.