Majesty is old enough that most people who saw news of its sequel on their RSS feeds a few months back were ignorant of the original – which is a shame, because even though Majesty 2 is a decent game in its own right, the lion’s share of its positive qualities has to do with the fact that it’s the heir to one of the coolest pedigrees in all of RTS gaming (saying a lot, I know).
The original was a sneaky, smirking kind of strategy game that took the traditional dungeon-crawling mold in which most CRPGs are made and inverted it into something that strategy gamers could be familiar with. Instead of filling quests, you set them. Instead of buying weapons and armor, you sell them to adventurers. You don’t have any “units” of your own to control at all; all you can do is influence your bands of wayward, stupidly brave questers into doing what you need them to do. You can research new products to sell, plop down buildings, set bounties on the heads of trolls, vampires, liches, and elementals and collect taxes. That’s about it. The genius of the original game was its ability to take these relatively weak methods of interaction and build up something that was really fun. Majesty 2 tries to do essentially the same thing.
And it succeeds, essentially. The move to vibrant, fully-realized 3D (complete with club-smacking physics and slick spell effects) hasn’t altered the formula at all, and those of us who remember clocking long hours watching gnomes and mages get reduced to bloody smears in Majesty will not feel at all out of place in its sequel. The developers have prudently tweaked the “flag” system to add some new options for players: instead of just setting exploration and kill bounties, players can now order heroes to protect key locations (that clerics guild that keeps getting reduced to rubble by ogres, maybe) or to avoid locations or enemies which they otherwise might attack. This makes the job of indirectly managing your heroes less frustrating, though they are still prone to do dumb things on a regular basis. This isn’t so much a problem for the heavy hitters – the warriors and paladins – but it gets a bit old watching some wet-behind-the-ears mage with a bathrobe and a twig go up against an ogre. I guess it could be chalked up to the cheesy atmosphere the game effects – it wouldn’t be high fantasy without heroes taking on extreme challenges with long odds against them, and it wouldn’t be Majesty without the humor inherent in watching them get skewered.
Other relatively minor changes have been worked into the formula. Some classes have been consolidated, others eliminated, some added, and it is now possible to move heroes of one class (take the warrior as an example) into another, higher class of the same general type (warriors can become paladins, which are much tougher and have cooler sound bites). The way certain buildings work (the trade post-market system, for instance) has been changed. It’s nothing too serious, and if you never played the original obviously you won’t even notice.
The game has a number of standalone scenarios which can provide some diversion after the main campaign is finished (three of them resemble tower-defense games in the sheer amount of monsters that get thrown at you), but they’re over relatively quickly for the non-obsessive gamer whose desire is mere completion and not spreadsheet-and-calculator mastery. The campaign is certainly entertaining as well, but only while it lasts. And it doesn’t last a terribly long time either. Majesty 2 only comes with 15-20 hours maximum of playtime out of the box. There will probably be some sort of community activity around building new maps and disseminating them, but unless you’re either satisfied with that relatively paltry amount of gameplay or supremely confident in the powers of the community, you might want to hold off until Majesty 2 comes down a bit in price.
The main culprit here is the lack of a skirmish mode, which in A.D. 2009 is bit ridiculous. Majesty had one, after all. It let you set all kinds of variables: map size, the specific types of monsters, the tile set, etc. You could (and you probably did, if you played Majesty at all) “waste” hours cooking up novel random maps and then clearing them lair by agonizing lair. The developers are hinting at an expansion with a fully-featured map and hero editor included but no random map generator. The expansion is likely another $20 and several months in the future. As in everything, it is your call.
Majesty 2 is only lacking utilities, not gameplay, graphics, or even atmosphere. What is there is satisfactory, and with the added gloss of nostalgia (it’s good to see a great game remade in a finer graphical style) and the vague promise of new content, it’s not a bad proposition, especially if you enjoyed the original or have a zeal for scenario-making. If you were looking for something to tide you over for the next decade-long wait between now and when someone else resurrects the license, then this isn’t the game you’re after.