Part 61: Thot's Thoughts: Post-MortemThot's Thoughts: MOO Post-Mortem
As I said before, MOO2 overall somewhat improved my opinion of it through the course of this LP. My overall judgement is still the same though; it can't hold a candle to the original.
** User Interface
This is where the sequel shines best. The Ledger (Colonies screen) is a veritable work of art for it's time. Planets makes it a simple matter to identify what to colonize next. The sorting functions on both screens are particularly excellent. It is not without it's drawbacks - RELOC is a more work and it's difficult to find the right system a lot of the time on the Fleets screen, managing colonies is a lot more work and not always justified by the additional complexity (I'll get back to this), and so on. But overall, there are enough improvements in enough areas to say that MOO2 was a big improvement over MOO1. When it comes to the UI, a big thumbs up as a step forward.
** Strategic Depth
I'm choosing this wording for a reason. If you ask about complexity, MOO2 would clearly be the winner. More ship design options, more diplomatic options, I think more overall techs, etc. I do not actually think it makes for a deeper, but rather somewhat shallower game. Having additional missile rack sizes, for example, is pretty much useless because there's no good reason to use them. The weapon mods for beam weapons are a good example in other direction. Freighters are another. On the other hand, diplomacy doesn't work as well and frankly just plain doesn't matter often enough that a big piece of the core puzzle is yanked out. Rather than choosing sides you're thrust into a galactic free-for-all that eliminates a lot of potential choices. Same with the research system which has predictable and often unbalanced decisions for all not-Uncreative races. MOO2 does things of more marginal importance better in some cases, but MOO1 got the core systems right a lot more and had it's share of nuanced plusses (like planetology scaling population production). Planetary buildings added a lot more busy-work than strategy, and so on. Stockpiling. Rush-buying. The list continues.
It's for reasons like this, bloated complexity that unbalances the game, that MOO2 isn't considered nearly as challenging as the original. Ask a MOO1 expert to play with one of the weaker stock races and they'll probably win, but won't guarantee it. Ask a MOO2 expert the same question, and they'll ask you for house rules to make it more difficult. There are just too many ways to abuse it.
Clearly the points all go to Master of Orion 2 here. The question is whether that's a good thing or not.
I greatly prefer replayability through customization to replayability through randomness, so it's more of a different philosophy on what we want from the game than anything else.
This is a great, concise assessment of the situation. I'll come back to it.
As Sulla has eloquently written, the theme of the original MOO's design was the willingness to say no the player for the betterment of the game, to strip out unnecessary elements to strengthen the core. I think his comments are particularly instructive because he compares the game to CIV IV, which he worked on and demonstrates the rigid tech tree, replayability via customization concept, and talks about why he thinks MOO is superior.
I don't always think randomness is better than customization; I enjoy AI War: Fleet Command for example which is all about the customization. I just don't think it works for symmetrical gameplay. In a traditional 4X such as the MOO titles, it's a key feature that you have a number of races starting from the same basic position and using the same basic means to advance. That only works if you have a reasonable level of control over the variances in their abilities. It does no good to create a balanced playing field, and then grossly unbalance it with customization options that are trying to do two contradictory things at once; cram the MOO1 races into a balanced system, and provide the ability for players to have wildly different abilities. The MOO1 races weren't exactly balanced and weren't supposed to be - functioning as an additional difficulty lever - but there were no races that has grossly OP stuff like Creative or Lithovore. Why? Because that would, and does, totally break the game. If you want that level of customization in a strategy game, you need a fundamentally asymmetrical system to begin with. Otherwhise you're like the Architect in the Matrix trilogy, forever trying to balance an inherently unbalanced equation.
My conclusion is that the level of customization in MOO2 makes the game worse; it's just too much for the rest of it to absorb.
I'm calling it pretty even on this score. MOO2's AI is more aggressive, but I'm not sure it's all that much more intelligent. The additional ship design elements that it uses just as badly as the first game did balance out somewhat better attacking on the galactic scale. I think the game might have been tilted more towards attack having the upper hand to benefit the AI, but it also came at the cost of making things more unbalanced. In research, the design of the system itself makes the AI appear worse for making bad choices.
Neither game is crash-prone, and both have their share of bugs. Having said that, the systems of each game don't work as consistently in MOO2. In the original, some of the diplomatic personalities don't work properly, the ship overflow bug was a very big one, but it was generally more sound. There are a lot more things (such as no double damage range penalty) that simply do not work the way the game says they are supposed to in MOO2.
My Final Word
I still hold Master of Orion 1 to be among the top handful of strategy games ever made. Master of Orion 2 is above-average, but not great; anything above 'fairly good' is a stretch. Well worth playing and learning, far better than either of the sequels which came later, but it doesn't deserve it's loftier reputation.