Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Under New Masters

4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) games have been in a rut for the last decade, if not longer, but recently signs have indicated that the genre is poised to make a resurgence.  No more apparent is this than Wargaming's recent announcement that they intend to reboot the "4X" name-maker, Master of Orion.

Purchased on the advice of a store clerk, Master of Orion was not my first exposure to the world of 4X games, but it definitely set the bar for all future entries in the genre.  That said, my first game was not very auspicious.  It mostly consisted of me trapped on my homeworld with the only other star in range being Orion.  Cue inexperienced me spending countless turns building up fleets only to have them smashed with impunity by the Guardian of Orion over and over again.  Later games went better, and at one point I tried out each race in a small galaxy (to completion) just to get a feel for each race.  For me, Terrans were the easiest since I won that game without having to ever fire a shot.  I also concluded that the Mrrshans were the most difficult race because when I played them the game ended with my complete extermination from a prolonged orbital bombardment by a xenophobic foe.  The rest of the races fell somewhere between those two extremes.  Needless to say, each game offered a fresh and exciting experience.  That, and the presentation which is thankfully being preserved in part due to the original art director and music composer working on the reboot.  Unfortunately, there seems to be some kind of conflict of interest going on.

The art director, Jeff Dee, has gone on record saying that even though some of the in-game playable races look similar to certain Earth animals the resemblance is supposed to be superficial.  Take the Bulrathi for example...they might have bear-like aspects to their appearance, but that's merely a consequence of the human tendency to associate the unfamiliar with the familiar.  Each race (aside from the Terrans, obviously) is really...well...alien.  However, some of the example video clips thus far show the aforementioned Mrrshan cat-people making lots of feline based jokes/puns which seems to run contrary to Jeff Dee's previous statements.  It's a bit worrisome, but that's not to say they shouldn't ham it up.

My very first 4X was Spaceward Ho!, a fairly minimalist turn-based strategy game with a goofy "wild west" atheistic.  Planets don cowboy hats once claimed, ships (depending on their configuration) can take the form of space-age sharks, or have the heads of dogs and wolves mounted on the front.  If a game goes on long enough for weapons tech to get extremely high the ship noses will look like real human noses...and that was fine with me.  I've always preferred the vibrant and slightly cartoony look of the original Master of Orion to its much more somber sequel.

Of course there are much bigger concerns as far as gameplay goes, particularly how space battles are handled and the overall competence of the A.I.  Personally, I'm hoping for more decisive fleet engagements than what we've gotten thus far in the franchise, but we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out.  Until then I'm keeping my fingers crossed.      
And that's the way it is...

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