It all seems so quaint. There you are happily building up your village, nurturing a few chosen heroes to become favoured lords of the land, chirpily following the commands of a faux Sean Connery and… Oh GOD, “a plague of rats upon thee!” the game roars at you. “Defend thine kingdom from my veritable flock of serpentine dragon kin ye weedy effeminate whelp!” All the while zombies from your own darn graveyard are nibbling away at your towers. And wizard brains.
Majesty 2 tasks you with reuniting a generic fantasy medieval land from the clutches of a rather arsey demon, through a divine prophecy where by “ye must destroy(e) thine enemees buildings repeatedly in a sette of levels packed with increasinglee difficult monsters (and satellite TVee owning Dark Wizards)”. It should be a recipe for generic RTS condemnation and hellfire. Intriguingly however, I’ve really had quite a lot of fun with it.
First off, it’s wonderfully easy to pick up. It builds up quite slowly (perhaps a little too slowly) drip feeding fundamental mechanics, units and tasks until you’re comfortable using them before the aforementioned vermin swarm levels descend upon ye. It also boasts some novel, if not thoroughly unique features worthy of some attention: indirectly controlled units (called Heroes) and an economic model more complex than any base building RTS affair probably has the right to feature.
Heroes then. As per any standard RTS you build the relevant abode and queue them up. That’s just about the extent of your direct control of your forces; from then on you’ve got to entice the pretentious blighters to work with promises of gold upon completing the quests you assign them. Thing is though, they also level up (yup, you can carry one from each level through, thankfully) through doing what heroes do – you know – hit things till they die and all that. Indeed, without a little training down in the little leagues of wolves, bears and lowly sewer rats they’re seriously going to struggle when larger mobs and more powerful enemies start paying your fledgling settlement a friendly visit. Problem is though, the gits get delusions of grandeur. The more powerful they get, the less likely they’re doing to do the dirty work unless you’re paying a significant bounty. More than once you’ll see your most powerful heroes watching idly by while their beleaguered inferiors struggle away. It sounds more awkward than it is, though in reality it’s not that rapid a departure from standard RTS mechanics – you tell your units where to go, and what to do there, but you have to prioritize what needs doing most through assigning financial incentives. Interestingly however, your money isn’t quite lost to the deep recesses of Merlan the Amazing’s pockets, since he also needs to buy things.
This is just one of the interesting ways the economic side of Majesty 2 ties into the rest of the game. We’ll go from the start. Your currency comes in the form of taxes periodically taken from most buildings you can build. So long as you prevent bears from chasing your tax collectors (amusing as it is to watch) you slowly accumulate the riches of your subject’s toil. Furthermore, your hero’s pretensions of status mean they like to adorn themselves with flashy new armour, protective trinkets and new weapons, and while you need to upgrade and research these items to facilitate their retail therapy, you actually get a portion of the money back through tax. Therefore, you get some of your bounty money back, in effect. As you expand throughout the map you can open up trade routes with predetermined locations allowing for greater wealth – though at a cost, since you’ve got to keep the roads safe, which itself costs money. Everything ties together. It’s a surprisingly and refreshingly realistic economic model; something I don’t think any medieval RTS has been able to make claims to since Warrior Kings.
In the later levels, once you’ve got the hang of things, you genuinely need to have a grasping of how this all ties together, since things get tough pretty suddenly, forcing you to plan in the long term to get your economy going, while balancing out the various classes of heroes to defend against increasingly difficult enemies. In a few missions you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by huge numbers of rats, pyramid dwelling minotaurs or a dragon or two before you work out an effective balance. Once you eventually do (and perhaps a bit too suddenly) find that once you’ve clear the areas nearest to your settlement of enemy nests you can reach a position of economic dominance, since for the most part the AI enemies don’t actually seem to actively strategise against you, and it just becomes a matter of assembling a large and powerful enough force of heroes to take down the last building. Otherwise, missions are satisfyingly challenging.
It’s a wonderfully presented game, too. Graphically it’s does the job admirably, though not spectacularly (besides the fiery delights of wizards). It’s free of interface bloat, and everything seems well thought out in this regard. I’m particularly impressed with the dialogue, which proves for the most part entertaining while keeping the game moving and the player informed. A lot of effort has clearly been made in making Majesty 2 an accessible, challenging and humourous experience, and a seemingly bug free one at that. There are a few minor issues; more than once I craved a rotate buildings option (apologies if it’s there and I’m just being stupid), and the indestructible sewer entrances and graveyards that appear as your settlement grow can get in the way of base expansion since you’ve got no control over their placement, and is further made irritating by the lack of indication how far defenses can fight against these home grown enemy spawns. But these are minor issues, and the game still remains highly playable regardless.
There’s indeed some scope for re-playability in the form of some excellent and tough one off scenarios, including some genuinely tough “survival” missions that task you with holding out for 75 minutes against increasingly tough enemies. Crucially, there’s no skirmish AI however. I really do think some decent skirmish AI would go along way; and could have added more to the campaign, even if it manages to mix up the formula enough to keep each mission interesting enough to keep going. I would be very happy to see it patched in at some point.
Majesty 2 is not going to revolutionise the genre by any means; but it’s certainly an accessible, entertaining and well produced experience, worthy of consideration if you’re looking for a no-nonsense RTS to pass a few weeks. I’ve certainly enjoyed it, and look forwards to playing it further.
Easily a Hit! Try the demo here.