Did you ever feel that your RTS games were a little, well, socialist? I mean, you decide where all the houses go, what everyone should work on, how many units to have, and where they should be going at all times. I bet that maintenance cost even goes toward paying for universal health care!
Well, fear not. Majesty 2 is here to inject some laissez faire goodness into your gaming day. As big cheese of a fantasy kingdom your job is to build buildings and collect taxes. Your main method of getting things done (primarily killing monsters and destroying bad buildings) is to put a flag on them. Flags have various meanings which will be described below, but their primary function is to incent heroes.
See, this is no top-down command economy. Your heroes are fleshed-out, well-animated, little people with their own bank balances and names and inventories and levels and classes (fighters, archers, clerics, magic-users, etc.). They wander around your kingdom looking for fame and fortune, or maybe just a little action. As big cheese you have to harness these mighty engines of destruction to do useful things by providing them with the necessary incentives. That is, attach a flag to something, attach a monetary reward to that flag, and let the heroes decide whether they'll take the job.
What do flags incent heroes to do? Well, four things, mainly: exploration, fighting, defending and avoiding. The basic mechanic behind the entire works as follows. You finally find the dreaded lair of the White Worm. This looks like a job for some heroes, so you right click on it, choose the “Attack” flag, and assign a gold amount to that task. Your heroes will weigh the amount against such factors as risk and distance, and maybe some will accept the task. They go and smite those you have found naughty and reap the reward you posted. Note that you do not get to order the heroes about – they accept the assignment on their own – you only get to decide what is worth money and how much.
All well and good, but even large dairy products need an income stream in order to place flags with. The clever part here is that your little kingdom can hold a market and a magic bazaar and a blacksmith and other economic buildings. The heroes stop off at these places to buy stuff like magic swords and better armor. When they do, you levy a tax on the transaction. This tax goes into your treasury, which can then be used to pay for flags. You end up with a tiny little virtuous circle: heroes get bounties for flags which they spend in your shops and the resulting tax pays for more flags.
So how does it all work as a game? The first thing to be said is that it does work as a game. Hands-off game mechanics (the flag/bounty mechanism) can be frustrating if the AI won't behave. The Majesty 2 AI does a decent job of acting how one would expect – bigger, closer rewards get more heroes interested than smaller, more distant ones. It's not perfect – heroes with no hope of making a dent often answer the call while more level-appropriate ones stay home – but it works well enough to be fun. In addition, heroes are reasonably bright about protecting themselves and buildings. When rats rampage through your city heroes will automatically fight them for free. It's really only the major targets that require explicit flagging, which cuts down on micromanagement.
At any particular time, then, you'll be doing the usual RTS tango: How much money do I have? What should I build next? Where's the next threat coming from? Don't expect revolutionary play so much as a slight variant
Where Majesty 2 starts to run into difficulties is in the way the scenarios are structured. First off, every scenario starts you back at ground zero. You have no buildings (except a useless castle) and no heroes. When you build the hero-generating buildings your new heroes start out at level 1. The monsters are not so limited, however, and as the difficulty level ramps up you will find yourself overwhelmed from the start. Play can degenerate into nothing but trying to hold off a computer-run Zerg Rush. In fact this is really the only thing the enemy does – it has no tactics but is very determined.
Second, the difficulty is very uneven. Each scenario has its own difficulty rating. There are 16 or so scenarios, with two “Easy”, one “Medium” and the rest “Advanced” and “Get out the Cheat Codes”. And there is no way to change the difficulty. The higher difficulties are brutal.
Third, and maybe this is just me, but does nobody know how to build a friggin' wall? I mean, the peasants can build guard towers and archery ranges and temples, but piling rocks on top of each other is utterly beyond these RTS Einsteins. This leads into a more serious point – there really aren't many tactics in this game. Terrain looks nice, but doesn't seem to have any effect on movement. Different hero classes are better against certain types of monsters, but the constant stream of incoming monsters means its pretty much everybody always fighting everything all the time.
And then when you have the monsters at bay more indestructible sewer openings show up in your town for the sole purpose of spewing forth rats. Stupid, pointless busywork.
The game works at having a sense of humor and your adviser is an over-the-top Sean Connery impersonator. Mission briefings are fun. YMMV as far as how well the game's writers succeed with all the jokes, but it is a welcome change from the usual GrimDark setting.
The graphics go along with the overall lighthearted tone of the game. The overall look is bright and cheerful, with an edge of cartoony thrown in. Heroes make situation-appropriate wisecracks. The overall feel is “enjoy this fun, cool game. Laugh some and have a good time”.
In addition to providing atmosphere the graphics provide lots of useful information. Damaged buildings look beat up. Heroes have easy-identified status icons that describe what they're doing (often running away). Monster lairs are menacing. Magical effects are clearly indicated. Graphics are both pleasant and informative.
The single-player campaign is worth playing on its own (if you can stand the difficulty) and there is room for expansion packs in the future. Multiplayer is available and looks promising. There is really only one side in Majesty 2 – the good guys – so there shouldn't be any play balance issues. Of course it might be a bit boring with everybody having the same units and all, but it will be balanced.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Can write a better AI than anybody out there. Your mom likes me better than you. So does your girlfriend. Better-looking than you. Greatest living American author (except for Gene Wolfe. maybe). Humble.