When Starfleet Command Volume II was originally released late last year, one of its most highly touted features, Dynaverse II, was not functional because of some last-minute changes by the company originally providing the service. Dynaverse II is a semipersistent universe where you can travel through the universe as any one of the races in the game, engage in battles with other players, and work your way up to getting new and more powerful ships. Fortunately, the development team eventually got around to releasing a patch that fixed the Dynaverse II problems, among other things, but the damage was done, and Starfleet Command Volume II's most intriguing feature went largely unnoticed by the gaming public. The new official expansion to Starfleet Command Volume II, Orion Pirates, includes a fully functional Dynaverse II mode out of the box, and it also contains new skirmishes, a new race, gameplay improvements, and basically all of the features of the original game. You don't need the original game to play it, either. Orion Pirates has an impressive amount of content for a stand-alone expansion, so it's great for new players; but ardent fans of Starfleet Command Volume II will merely find more of the same, making it more difficult to justify purchasing.
As the title indicates, several pirate factions have been thrown into the mix along with all of the other races from Starfleet Command Volume II such as the Klingons, the Federation, the Romulans, and others. Unfortunately, these pirate factions are really different from each other in name only since they all have the same interface, the same types of ships, and the same overall objectives as all the rest. The only substantial differences between the pirate factions are the excellent captain voices used to indicate which faction you're a part of and their diplomatic relations with other races. The addition of a rogue group focused solely on economic prosperity is excellent for role-playing in the Dynaverse, but it would've been nice to see a little more variation between the factions.
The single-player modes in Orion Pirates are for the most part exactly the same as those in Starfleet Command Volume II, but there have been some changes made. In the skirmish mode, where you can jump right into a premade scenario, you can now select from numerous missions immediately, including the Wrath of Khan, in which the movie's final battle scene in the nebula is played out within the Starfleet Command setting. The expansion offers a large number of new skirmishes that are genuinely fun even if they may be a little too difficult to play through effectively at first. Since the skirmish mode has received such a significant boost, most of your single-player experiences will probably be spent there since the campaign mode still suffers from a poorly designed interface.
Like in Starfleet Command Volume II, Orion Pirates uses the same color-coded hexagonal layout to represent the galaxy and the factions that are in control of particular areas of the map. On the right side of the interface, there is a list of the factions that you can click on to reveal your current diplomatic status, and on the left side, there are general options for viewing the map, as well as gathering information on events that occur within the galaxy. The major problem with the interface is that all of the information appears within a single screen, so you have to constantly maneuver in between the map screens, the news screen, and the general diplomacy screen to find suitable missions for your ship. The campaign mode also has some general design flaws. When you start a new campaign, your ship is supposed to be placed in an area of space with easy patrols or similar types of missions for gaining some prestige points--used for upgrading ships--early on. But, in fact, many of the early missions can be incredibly difficult, and since you're not given any detailed information on the mission beforehand, retreating becomes an all too familiar practice.
Orion Pirates' best feature, a working Dynaverse II, uses the same interface as the single-player campaign, which is unfortunate, but the difficulties of switching between information screens are somewhat easier to deal with since you receive a constant flow of information from other players within your faction on a small chat window underneath the main screen. Some problems are still prevalent, such as the lack of detailed information before entering a mission, but again, it's not quite as annoying since other players can accompany you on missions. Otherwise, Dynaverse II works surprisingly well, and it's fun to watch factions strategically move across the map and to engage them in battle whenever they overstep their boundaries. The addition of playable pirate factions only makes this mode more diverse and entertaining. If the Dynaverse seems too open-ended, you can always take on opponents in a skirmish-style setting with the GameSpy player-matching program packed in with the game.
As a stand-alone expansion, Orion Pirates has plenty to offer. The game has all of the features of Starfleet Command Volume II--such as the full single-player campaign, skirmish, and tutorial modes--and it adds new skirmishes and playable pirate factions. More importantly, Dynaverse II works fine right out of the box and adds a great amount of replay value to the game. But, if you've played plenty of Starfleet Command Volume II, then you may want to avoid Orion Pirates--the graphical quality is the same; music tracks for the pirate factions have been added, but all others are the same; and the gameplay still relies on micromanagement of various ship systems. As such, while Orion Pirates might not be completely satisfying for fans of Starfleet Command Volume II, it's clearly better overall, and a great opportunity to get into this engaging strategy series for those who passed on the previous installment because of its shortcomings.