Ideally an expansion should remind you of why you bought and enjoyed the original game in the first place. It has to offer “more of the same,” because it's typically done on the same engine, but it has to push a bit at the boundaries of the original product. For an RTS this means some new units (or sides) and maybe a new strategic dimension or two. What it doesn't mean is grinding sameness and minimal cosmetic improvements. Battles of Ardania, regrettably, falls into the latter camp. Playing it has actually made me look at the entire Majesty 2 project less favorably than before.
The only major gripe I had with Majesty 2 way back when was that it lacked back-of-the-box features like map editors and mod functionality (I'd add co-op multiplayer to that list now too), not that the mechanics of the actual game were messed up. However after slogging through another (ten hours or so of a) single-player campaign in Battles of Ardania, it's time to admit that the basics were not that stellar to begin with.
Those basics are, broadly, running a big mercenary and mercantile operation. You hire heroes to perform quests, build them places to stay, sell them potions and weapons, and build a few public buildings like guard towers and inns to protect your settlement and give your heroes a chance to get wasted and form up into parties. Your goal in most missions is to clear the map of monster spawn points, assassinate a key bad guy, and maybe something less orthodox like guarding a caravan of precious goods or supervising the reconstruction of gigantic meteor-slinging guard towers to keep the minotaurs at bay. It's more fun than it sounds, as long as the hero AI isn't constantly running off to die (or ignoring rampaging enemies five feet away), and your tax collectors are making their way to the various guilds and shops unmolested.
The fact that Battles does not contain a single significant change to these mechanics is probably at least partially to blame for the fact that I'm less interested in the game. The longer you look at the same thing, no matter how well-made, the easier it is to find things wrong with it – and we've had quite a long time with vanilla Majesty 2, from the original campaign through Kingmaker and the second expansion being reviewed here. It has been too long. The expansion adds some new spells and abilities, plus ice mages, who can now occupy a temple slot like blade masters and paladins. There are new enemies such as plague paladins and noble werewolves, and the campaign focuses less on rabid dogs and weak skeletons and more on lethal hordes of goblins and packs of indestructible minotaurs. An in-game shop where you can buy new missions and equipment, some co-op multiplayer missions and a map editor wrap up the rest of the changes.
"So what you are left with is a harder (more grindy) retread of something you may have played twice already before."
Yet even with the generally increased difficulty level the missions are not terribly taxing. The content additions don't give you enough added flexibility to come up with novel ways of beating the campaign. The AI has not been beefed up at all: heroes still require serious nudging to attack threats which should be obvious, and enemy unit-groups still have zero tactical sophistication. So what you are left with is a harder (more grindy) retread of something you may have played twice already before. If you've played any of the Majesty 2 games then you have probably discovered the game's deepest secrets, which to be honest aren't that far from the surface, and you've come up with a basic formula which can beat every mission for you. I like to go for two cleric guilds and three warrior guilds from the start, and bring in rogues once I start bagging higher-level prey. I rush dwarves to get their nifty towers, build a couple paladin temples and a temple to Agrela so I can get cheap resurrections, and then basically grind all the monsters and all their dens into dust in an orgy of high-bounty conquest. If none of that made sense to you, then maybe Battles of Ardania should be on your list; if it sounded familiar then you can beat the Ardania campaigns in your sleep using the exact same tactics that got you through the rest of your Majesty 2 experience. That's a bummer.
Everything else notwithstanding, the release of the map editor and the new co-op missions are great and will doubtlessly increase the game's lifespan. Playing the game – even if it is somewhat simple, and you're growing tired of it – is always more fun with humans. Plus it's possible that custom maps might fill the desperate need for varied missions. However these technical improvements are not enough. Majesty 2 needs large amounts of new content and a serious rethinking of some of its fundamentals – not the treatment it's received here.