Thursday, October 6, 2011

Majesty 2 (PC)


Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Different from your cookie-cutter strategy games
Cons: Not quite enough depth, heroes sometimes difficult to control

Introduction

Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim is a strategy/simulation game developed by one of the largest Russian game developers, 1C Company, and published by Paradox Interactive. It's a sequel to Cyberlore Studios' original Majesty game released in 2000, and it keeps most of the basic gameplay traits intact.

The single-player campaign missions range from novice to expert difficulty. Completing earlier missions unlocks additional missions for you to attempt, but there are only 16 in total. The game also features a few single-player individual missions, and multi-player over a Local Area Network or over the internet via Gamespy. There are 8 different multi-player maps, and half of those are 1v1 maps. The other maps are 2v1, 2v2, a 3 player map and a 4 player map. Slightly lacking and kind of disappointing, but at least there's a multi-player option in the first place.

You play as the king of Ardania, the latest of a long line of kings. Your ancestors were all great heroes who rid the land of terrible evils. Maybe they were a little too great, as the previous king Leonard had no major enemies left to kill and get his portrait up in the hall of kings. To prove his worth, he had a great demon summoned from Hell, bit off a little more than he could chew, and was killed by it. As the last descendant of the ancient kings, it's your job to free the world from this rotten beast and restore your family's kingdom.

Gameplay

Majesty 2, like it's predecessor, puts a different spin on your standard simulation/real-time strategy game. It's still the same basic type of game, but with just a couple very important changes that set it apart. First of all, there's no resource collection in Majesty 2. No chopping wood, farming, picking berries or mining stone. The one and only resource is gold, which is collected automatically from the marketplace or hauled in automatically from trade posts. So what is the other, and most important, difference from other similar games? You don't control any of the units yourself.

You place buildings, such as a Ranger's Guild, and then queue up some heroes to be recruited. After they appear, they just walk around doing their own thing and are completely uncontrollable. In order to get them to do what you want, you must place different flags for different purposes. To get them to attack an enemy camp, you place an attack flag on it, and then set an amount of gold from your treasury. Any hero who thinks it's worth the reward will go and try to destroy the camp, and those who don't find your offer tempting will continue to do whatever they feel like. In the first game there were two types of flags, an exploration flag and an attack flag, but in Majesty 2 they've added two additional flags to help you guide your heroes a little easier. The new defense flag rewards your heroes for defending specific targets, and the warning flag keeps them away from areas you may not want them to go yet.

Building a marketplace and then researching potions will allow your heroes to go buy potions from the marketplace if they want, spending some of that reward money they've accumulated. A blacksmith building with the proper research will allow them to go in and buy improved weapons and armor, but it's up to the individual heroes what they purchase. The peasants that come out of the castle and build your buildings do so when there's anything to build, but they do build their own houses wherever they feel like around your castle.

Different enemies come out of specific enemy camps around the map, and give your heroes something to fight. In addition to this, there are annoying sewer entrances that appear randomly in your town that spew a slow but steady stream of rats to attack your buildings and harass your peasants. These sewer entrances are indestructible, and while that provides you with an endless stream of weak enemies to kill constantly, it really makes it incredibly annoying to protect your town if your also fighting enemies in other areas. Not being able to directly control your heroes does have it's disadvantages.

You can recruit multiple types of heroes. Rangers, rogues, warriors and clerics to start with, and as you continue the game you unlock wizards, elves, dwarves and can upgrade many heroes to new classes as well. Most heroes also have additional attacks that can be researched at their respective guild buildings, as well as a couple spells that you can use directly (like a healing spell and a lightning bolt) that can also be researched there. You can also party like-minded heroes together so they can operate as a group instead of trickling in a few at a time and dying to overwhelming numbers. You can also click on individual heroes to see what they are currently doing. They might be searching for adventure, going to buy new gear, collecting an exploration bounty, etc.

There's really not much else to the game. Supposedly heroes have their own personalities, but really they're all about the same. The ranger supposedly enjoys exploring, but late game you can't get one up to explore the corner of the map without putting tons of gold as a bounty. He'd rather stand in town by his guild doing nothing. Warriors are supposed to respond quickly to attack and defense flags, but they don't seem to get there any quicker or more often than rangers and rogues do. Mostly the game boils down to a balancing act between throwing enough gold at your heroes to get them to respond to flags, and not spending every last coin you have getting them to do simple tasks. When they're just wandering around and left to their own devices, they'll occasionally kill a wandering wolf or skeleton that comes near them, but mostly they'll just walk circles around the explored map area doing nothing.

Heroes have slightly varied stats, one ranger may have 12 agility and the next may have 20. 20 Is the best, so if you get a warrior with 20 strength and 20 stamina you may want to make sure you keep him -- especially in the campaign. At the end of a campaign mission, you can choose a hero to promote to a lord. You can then create a hall of lords building during the next mission and recall any of your lords. It's a little expensive, but if you get some heroes with terrific stats it's definitely worth it. If a hero does die, a little gave marker appears on the map where they died at. If you have the spell to resurrect them, it's cheap and they come back the same level with all their gear intact. Rogues can rob the grave markers, but they can only steal the gold and not the equipment and potions heroes may have been carrying. If you don't resurrect them in time, a bigger graveyard will appear by your town and you can resurrect them there at a higher cost. Useful if your best hero bites off more than he can chew and you'd rather pay the added expense than lose him.

The game difficulty ramps up pretty quick, and there's no way to change it in the options. Sometimes this makes it hard to play more than half way through the campaign, and is slightly annoying, but with some patience and perseverance you'll eventually get through it. Make sure you party those heroes up!

Controls

The controls were pretty standard, except for camera movement. The arrow keys scrolled around the map, the mouse wheel zoomed, clicking a unit selects it, etc. However, there were a couple minor things that I didn't really care for. Holding the middle mouse button allows you to rotate and tilt the camera, while holding the left and right buttons together allows you to scroll around the map. While there was nothing wrong with the controls, I couldn't really seem to get used to them so I used the arrow keys to scroll around and just didn't bother rotating the camera very often. Unfortunately, there wasn't any way to remap your hotkeys or mouse buttons to make them more to your liking.

Graphics & Sound

Using the GEM3 game engine from Best Way, Majesty 2 features crisp and colorful 3D graphics and uses some basic physics. The graphics are nothing top of the line by any means (think Age of Empires III), but they're rendered very well and the textures are terrific. They are pleasant to look at and fit well with the overall theme of the game. The game is presented in a 3rd person view like most other strategy games, and it all works well together overall. While there's nothing groundbreaking, it's a tried and true formula that works. One of my only complaints is that while you can zoom way in have a nice close look at everything, you unfortunately can't zoom out all that far and sometimes it feels a little cramped.

The sounds of peasants building or heroes fighting are pretty average and just what you'd expect to hear. The soundtrack is pretty good and was scored by Andreas Waldetoft, a Swedish composer who is known for his work on the World War 2 game Hearts of Iron. The voice of your royal adviser is done by a Sean Connery sound-a-like.

The minimum system requirements include Windows XP or newer, a 2 GHz dual core processor, 1GB of RAM, a GeForce 6800 GTX 512MB or better video card that supports Pixel Shader 2.0, DirectX 9.0, a DirectX compatible sound device and 4GB of hard drive space. The recommended system requirements upgrade that to a 3 GHz dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 280 1GB or better.

I tested Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim with a triple core 3.6 GHz processor, 8GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB video card running Windows 7 64-bit. Obviously it ran perfectly at the highest settings without a hiccup.

Final Thoughts

Personally I like the game, but I like the idea of the game even more. I like when something different comes along, if I wanted something cookie-cutter I'd just go play something I bought 20 years ago. The occasional frustration at not being able to get your heroes to do anything you want them to, and the fact that the difficulty ramps up a lot midway through the campaign do detract a little from the game, but not enough to negate my recommendation to buy it.

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