Monday, March 1, 2004

Majesty: Gold Edition (PC)


Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: A fairly original game, lots of fun, with loads of replay value
Cons: For the price? None..

Introduction

Cyberlore Studios' Majesty is a simulation game, where you get your chance to build the ultimate fantasy kingdom. Cyberlore is well known for its Mechwarrior titles, as well as Risk. Majesty was released by Infogrames Interactive in 2000, and spent a lot of time on the shelves of your local video game outlet.

Majesty: The Northern Expansion is a nice expansion pack that was released for Majesty, containing 12 new quests for the game, most of which are harder than the quests in the original. In 2002, Infogrames put the two together and released Majesty Gold Edition. A nice blending of Strategy, RPG, and Simulation, this is one title I will continue to play for a long time.

Characters & AI

When you think of a simulation game, images of Sim City or The Sims probably come to mind. While these games allow for control of almost every little detail, a lot of micro-management, Majesty takes the road less traveled by. You have absolutely no control over what the heroes in your kingdom do. What? Yep, you heard correctly. Your heroes have got more free will than the enemies in most other strategy games.

If you want one of your heroes to explore a section of the map, you will probably find yourself placing an explore flag there. Is there an enemy attacking your kingdom? Place an attack flag on the enemy. The flags are very useful for getting your heroes to do what you want, but only if the reward you have attached to that flag seems worth-while to them. You can set the reward for any amount you want, the greater the reward the more heroes may decide to go after the bounty.

It is money well spent however. There is no resource gathering in this game, so your only real source of income is to tax your citizens. The money you give out for rewards will come back to you in taxes later anyway, so spend away. You don't get it back immediately though, you have to wait for your tax collectors to make their rounds and bring it back to the castle.

There are many different heroes you can recruit, from rogues to rangers, paladins to dwarfs, mages to gnomes, and a variety of priests and monks. They can be recruited only after you have built their guild building, and you can only recruit a few of one type in that building until it is full. If you want more than four warriors for example, you will have to build a second warrior guild.

The artificial intelligence is extraordinary. Your heroes will spend any money they earn as they see fit. If you have built a blacksmith, and researched upgraded weapons or armor, heroes will flock to the place and buy whatever they choose. If you have built a marketplace and researched them, your heroes will go there to buy healing potions, teleportation amulets, and rings of protection.

If a hero is attacking an enemy, and realizes he has bitten off more than he can chew, he will run away and take cover in a building. That's right, he will often flee in terror rather than die a senseless death. Also, the collision detection and pathfinding are top-notch. You will never see two heroes or monsters bump into each other, or a hero get stuck behind a building, unable to figure out how to get around it.

Heroes gain gold for killing enemies, not just from collecting your reward flag bounty. They also gain experience, and their stats increase, much like a good role playing game. Another way of leveling up your heroes is to build a fairgrounds. Here, after you research tournaments, they can gather and compete against each other to earn experience outside of battle.

Gameplay

There are a sometimes different victory conditions for different quests. In one quest, you may have to seek out artifacts that were captured, and recover them. They are always placed inside of abandoned castles, caves, or other enemy-producing buildings on your map. The other main type of quest is your standard slaughter-the-masses game of killing every enemy.

Which ever type of quest you have, the most important thing to do is crank out some heroes right away, and build as many different buildings as you have gold for. During some of the advanced difficulty quests, you will often find yourself getting butchered very, very early on.

You must to ask your citizens to build buildings for you. You specify which building you would like built, and where you want it, and it will be built when your peasants get around to it. They have free will, just as your heroes do. Besides building, they will also upgrade buildings if you wish, and they will repair damaged buildings at their leisure.

There are many types of buildings in Majesty. Besides your castle, there are 16 different guild buildings to build, but not all of them can be built at once. Warrior, Ranger, Rogue, and Wizard guilds can almost always be built, but after that it's more of a pick-and-choose. Elfs, Gnomes, and Dwarfs all have guilds, but none of them get along with each other. This means you must pick one, and the other two will not be available for that quest.

The same holds true for temples. Dauros, Fervus, Helia, Lunord, Agrela, Krypta, and Krolm all have temples available, but some of those religions conflict with each other. You will find yourself only able to build between one and four temples of the seven available during any quest. This is a welcome change from most games, where nearly every unit is available at any given time.

Besides training your various priests, monks and healers at the temples, a couple of them allow for upgraded units from your warriors guild. Building a temple to Dauros allows you to produce Paladins, while a temple to Fervus allows you to recruit Warriors of Discord. Both of these units are powerful additions to your roster of heroes.

Other buildings you may produce include a guardhouse, trading post, royal gardens, statues, libraries, and a wizard's tower. At the guardhouse, guards will be stationed to protect your castle. Unlike normal heroes, guards do not gain levels or experience. You can, however, research veteran guards with a level 2 guardhouse, which are stronger. Trading posts are handy to place along the outskirts of your kingdom, so that heroes will not have to travel all the way to your marketplace to purchase more healing potions. Statues and royal gardens are pretty worthless for single player games, but invaluable for multilpayer games, more on that later..

The library and wizard's tower both are tied to the wizard's guild. At the library, your wizard heroes can study additional spells, which will then become available to them. There are also spells that you can actually cast yourself, but you can only cast them within range of a wizard's tower, so you will find these handy to build all around your kingdom. A good flame strike spell will weaken a stronger enemy, making him easy prey for your heroes. On the other hand, a good healing or resurrection spell may just save the day.

Multiplayer games are very similar to single player games. The requirements are low enough, that even with my connection (half the speed of a 56k modem) I could still enjoy the game, and did not experience nearly as much lag as I usually do with multiplayer games. This was a wonderful thing for me, as my speed usually forces me to stick to the single player version of everything...

Statues and royal gardens increase the loyalty of your heroes by 5% and 15%, respectively. This determines whether your hero will buy items from your shops or another player's shops. It also effects whether your hero will heal another player's hero, or whether it will attack your own buildings if there is a reward flag on them.

Also, if a guild or temple is destroyed, the heroes that were recruited at that temple may not leave the game. They may instead, defect to another player's forces, if that other player has space available in their guild.

Graphics, Sound & Video

The graphics in Majesty are just great, in my opinion. While they may lack vibrant color and appear slightly grainy, they are all hand drawn and look pretty realistic. The animations are fluid and smooth, and I have no real complaints. Other than that, Majesty looks like your standard real-time strategy game. With an isometric perspective, you get a nice top-down view of the landscape, and control the action from there.

Every map in the game is randomly generated. Every single quest in either campaign, every multiplayer game, every free build game, everything. This means that even if you beat a quest ten times, the next time you play it, it will be different again.

One thing I really like is the bar on the left side of the screen. While it takes up roughly 20% of the screen, it comes in very handy, and is a nice change from the standard interface. It includes a tracking window, which is a small screen that follows a certain character or monster around. This allows you to keep track of characters, monsters, buildings, reward flags, you name it.

The side bar also has a zoom button that allows you to zoom out and see more of the map, or zoom in to the normal view. Unfortunately, these are the only two zoom settings, and you will often find yourself wishing you could zoom to a level somewhere in the middle. Either that, or have the left bar disappear with the push of a button, so that you can see a bit more of the map at once. Not a major issue, but worthy of note none-the-less.

The sounds are right on par, with realistic sounds for almost everything. The smack of a mace, the clang of a sword, they all sound just right. Heroes have wonderful voices, and they use them often. Your advisor, who gives you hints and tips through-out the game, sounds a lot like Sean Connery. While I'm not quite sure if this was a good or a bad thing, I will certainly not forget it.

The cinematics in Majesty are just beautiful. Everything is bold and vibrant, and generally very well done. Seeing the sun glint off of the knight's sword as it zooms in to him while he stands atop the castle, with the forest in the background.. just marvelous. The same Sean Connery sounding voice of your advisor also does the narration, and it is exceptionally well-suited for this task.

Additional Information

Along with the game, you get a nice handy chart that depicts building dependencies. It is about as wide as a piece of paper, and a couple inches longer when unfolded. It lists every building that you can build during a game, and the requirements for building that building. If you flip it over, it has a diagram of a keyboard, and lists all of the hot keys, and all of the buttons to which you can assign custom hot keys. It also has a few quick start tips for new players.

At the time of this writing, none of the extra downloadable quests that are available from www.majestyquest.com (the official website) are compatible with Majesty Gold Edition, only the original. I hope they decide to change this in the future, but seeing as Majesty Gold is already a couple of years old, and Majesty 2 is on the table, it's not likely to happen.

Also available from the website are sound files and character voices, a neat sound editor, various screen savers and wallpapers, and some collectible character cards, which are simply JPG pictures of wizards, warriors, monks, and all the various characters that can be recruited in the game.

The last thing of note about the website is the forums. There are tips and tricks, unofficial technical support boards, achievement & high score boards, as well as various discussions about many of Cyberlore Studios other titles.

System Requirements

Majesty is not very resource intensive. The minimum system requirements are a Pentium II 233 MHz with 32 MB of RAM, and 600 MB of hard drive space for the minimum install. A 4x CD-ROM drive, an SVGA video card with 2 MB of VRAM, a sound card, and DirectX v7.0 top off the requirements. DirectX v8.0a is included on the CD. Windows 95/98 is also required, though there is a Linux version in the works, as well as a Macintosh version available. A 28.8 modem is required for multiplayer, but 56k or broadband is recommended.

I tested Majesty on an AMD Athlon XP 2200 with 512 MB of DDR RAM, and 200 GB of hard drive space. I have a 48x CD-ROM, a CMI 5.1 channel sound card, and a GeForce 4 MX 440 graphics card with 64 MB of DDR VRAM. DirectX 9.0b is installed on my computer, along with Windows 98 SE. My 56k modem only gets 26.4k speeds due to some horrible phone lines in the area, but it was sufficient.

Conclusion

Take all the benefits from a simulation game, mix in the real-time strategy, and take out all the micro-management. Blend in elements from a good role playing game, and you get Majesty Gold Edition. A fairly original game, with two complete campaigns, multiplayer games, and a multitude of variety, you will be playing this game for a long time to come.

If you like any of the genres above, you should absolutely give Majesty a try. If you like Majesty, you might also want to try Age of Empires, Populous, or Seven Kingdoms.

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