The original Master of Orion was a simple game - minor differences between each of the different races - the smart one that had quicker tech, the big one that was good at ground combat, etc... Everyone had the same tech - it was a beautiful simple game for its day.
Master of Orion 2 was a worthy successor to it, expanding the races, the diplomacy, and the combat. Designing the ships and the great space battles (controlling the ship to ship combat) were two of the high points of the game - they are what made it fun.
Master of Orion 3 has now become too complex of a game.
- The Viceroy
complex to the point that you have to have the AI to help play the game on - its not even a choice to turn it off. Economics and management of the planets has become much more involved.
This reminds me of Civ III where the first thing that you do in the game is turn on the AI to manage citizen moods... unless you like scrolling through dozens of cities, making certain that everyone is happy.
The AI is impossible to turn off, and every few turns you have to go back through the planets to make certain that the AI didn't do something that you didn't want to (I have enough scout ships and troop carriers to carry 10x the total ground force I could make - I don't need any more!). Nor can you turn around and have everyone crank out ships or some planet just going for money.
The only slightly good thing about the AI is the ability to classify planets - saying that a "large" planet should become a manufacturing center and a planet that is starving should focus on farms.
With MOO 2, you had the choice of researching any particular branch of the tech tree. Nothing was forbidden, though sometimes there were hard choices (unless you played a 'creative' race). Now, in MOO 3, technology is near impossible to keep up with (unless you fall way behind in the tech race) and constantly designing new ships and marking the old ones as obsolete to keep the AI from building junk for you (why are you building that old frigate with lasers? It can't even scratch the armor on the new ships I'm fighting... argh! maybe I can use it as an escort for some colony ships as they limp along).
Not all the tech is available to everyone, and you need to either steal it (spies) or trade for it (diplomacy). If your race isn't good at either of these, you're in a world of pain unless you happy to luck out with the technology draw.
The beautiful ship to ship combat of old has become 'task force to task force' combat - abstracting it one level... and real time combat at that. This is awful for those who don't have fast enough machine and are left to sit there and 'watch' rather than try to click everywhere that needs to be - don't quite have the itchy finger skills. The real time element is probably in response to the other real time fleet formation space games out there - this is a bad thing.
One of the biggest problems is that of not knowing what a weapon does or its upgrade does. Does auto-fire on a point defense make sense? This was fairly clear when playing the old game when you could control each weapon firing - now its done for you again.
In most cases, ship design is left to 'select ship chassis', 'select ship type' (90% of the time starship), and select ship mission (long range, short range, missiles, point defense, etc...). (The ship mission forces you to have ships grouped together in different sizes - One example would be no more than five core ships, three have to be 'this type' of mission, and there must be at least one escort ship and one one picket ship.) At this point you hit 'auto build' which goes and makes the right sized ship for you with the 'right stuff'. However, this 'right stuff' is very lopsided in favor of the newest tech always - this is not always a good thing (one weapon only hits the shields of a ship - not the armor).
I compared this to Civilization earlier. Games appear to have gotten to the point where you have the AI playing most of it for you. This is boring. Civ III just skirted under the 'too complex' and 'too much AI' point. MOO 3 failed both of these being too complex, needing the AI. However, MOO 3 is a game where you let the AI play most of it, can't help but do so, and would loose horribly to something that can keep track of a dozens of planets and micromanage each along with making certain that the ships built are always the best, etc...
In summary - this is a game that one should avoid getting unless you have to have the game to know what it is. I did this - so don't feel too bad if you did too.