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What's Hot: Easy to understand; Faithful remake of a still-unique classic
What's Not: Frustrating at times; Repetitive mission structure
Crispy Gamer Says: Try
2000's "Majesty" was an odd real-time strategy game. Cyberlore's fantasy-themed RTS gave you no real control over the action. Yes, you constructed buildings and recruited units, but then they were on their own -- a couple of dozen fantasy archetypes wandering the world, seeking monsters to kill and loot to steal. But, as king, you had things that needed doing, so you would put price tags on specific tasks. Kill this, explore here, protect me, etc. And, if the bounty was high enough, someone would take you up on the job.
"Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim's" fidelity to the first game will be more than enough for that aging cohort that fondly remembers the original. Newcomers to the series will experience the same thrill that comes when you have to rely on persuasion instead of orders. But it's not long before continuing seems more a matter of obligation than delight.
The game structure is very simple. You start with a castle and a few buildings. Your first construction orders will probably be a market and a military building of some sort. Your kingdom is surrounded by enemies, so you have to put a price on their heads. As your adventurers survive encounters, they gain levels and gold -- precious gold they can spend on healing potions or better weapons. You collect taxes based on what they spend and from trade routes; and then you can upgrade buildings, research spells and offer higher bounties for harder tasks.
Bounty is the key concept in the game. As your adventurers get more experienced, they will be a lot less likely to clear out a nest of snakes for a couple of hundred gold. If you make the prize too high, though, then everyone will rush out there and no one will be available for home defense. (As your city gets more populated, it becomes plagued with giant rats from the sewers and wandering undead from the cemetery. No cliche is left on the shelf.)
"Majesty 2" has no random maps, and its standalone missions are very difficult. The first one, for example, tasks you to clear out bandit camps. Then, just when you are getting started, an ogre shows up. And then a dragon wanders into town and burns you to death. Every standalone mission has a little trick to it, but the punishment will be enough to force lesser souls to forgo these altogether in favor of multiplayer action or the story-based campaign.
This campaign is the centerpiece of "Majesty 2." The story is the usual "Once upon a time there was an ancient evil" deal, but since this is a game that unapologetically revels in the tropes of fantasy stories, it would be churlish to expect anything else. The narrator -- perfectly voiced by original "Majesty" actor George Ledoux -- does his best Sean Connery and keeps things from getting too serious. Each mission involves a few small chores leading up to a major quest, along with the usual random, roaming monsters and lairs to eliminate. The difficulty is manageable in the dozen or so scenarios, but you will play some of them more than once, including a dragon-themed killer that will punish both the hasty and the laggard.
The most challenging part of the game is managing the cash flow. You need to get trade routes going as soon as you can to get that extra tax income. Rewards for exploring or slaying also give your heroes spending money for new gear and potions. And upgrading your markets and blacksmith is not optional -- better stuff for your heroes to buy means more money for you, which means you can access the higher-level content like the lords, paladins and beastmasters. The campaign's frantic pacing never really gives you much of a chance to learn the economy slowly, so it's hard to get a grip on things like setting appropriate bounty levels for certain heroes, or when you should spend money on a spell.
To ease your way, you can make parties of adventurers or hire "lords" -- experienced heroes from earlier missions -- but these are an additional investment in time and research. Being able to carry lords from one mission to the next is a nice idea in the sequel, though they are stuck at the level they were when you hired them (consider them mercenaries trapped in time). Parties prove to be a great way to match up higher- and lower-level heroes so that the weaker ones can get experience. You can now also revive dead heroes as long as you can pay the fee, so there's no waiting around for that resurrection spell. But for the most part, this is a better-looking and smoother-playing version of the first "Majesty."
And that is part of the problem. It's probably too much to expect a nine-years-late sequel to do much experimentation with a popular game and its central mechanic, but "Majesty 2" makes clear why the first one was an evolutionary dead end on the RTS tree. In a genre and subgenre that, at their best, emphasize choice, the lack of player control over precisely what is happening on-screen means that "Majesty" never really becomes more than a trifle, a cute and funny distraction. More player control and it's not "Majesty." Less player control and it's not a game.
But even if you have decided to keep an admittedly interesting mechanic, you are not freed from the obligation to do interesting things with it. "Majesty 2" is repetitive, and the repetition is rooted in that lack of control. This becomes readily apparent by the fifth or sixth campaign mission, when you have to build the same things as in the previous four or five missions in order to do a roughly similar task. Once you discover the secret to moneymaking -- something veterans will find readily, even if newbies struggle -- where is the decision-making that will keep the experience fresh?
This is not a game designed for replayability, multiplayer aside -- and even there you have few maps to choose from, and the same lair-clearing to do before you turn your sights on your opponents. This should suffice for gamers who just want to relive 2000. If you never played the original, the sequel gives you a good feel for what you have missed.
"Majesty 2" is more remake than sequel. This is completely understandable from the business side of things. And since it has been so long, there is no real risk in just sticking to the formula. But sometimes a king wants more.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PC game provided by the publisher.
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Video Games: Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim - PC
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