2000′s Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, developed by Cyberlore Studios and published by MicroProse, was a unique entry in the RTS genre. While the game achieved a small cult-hit status, its sequel was only briefly in development before getting the axe. I guess publisher Paradox Interactive and developer 1C:Ino-Co were fans, because they picked up the dead franchise to deliver the long-awaited sequel. While Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim continues to run with the original’s concept, it’s marred by some debilitating AI issues and a downright unfair difficulty curve.
In Majesty 2, you take on the role of the newest king of Ardania. Once plagued by evil monsters and rival kingdoms, your ancestors worked tirelessly to vanquish their foes and transform Ardania into a land of peace and prosperity. However, thanks to their success, the previous king, Leonard, found himself bored. Seeking to prove his right to be king, he summoned up a terrible demon, who quickly proceeded to kill Leonard, take over the castle, and bring all the monsters and bad guys back to Ardania. As the last remaining member of the royal bloodline, it falls to you to restore Ardania to peace.
What sets Majesty 2 apart from most real-time strategy games is the fact that, as king, you don’t have direct control over your units. There are no vast armies — only ‘heroes.’ Heroes aren’t your soldiers; technically, they’re more like independent contractors offering their services for a modest fee. Instead of commanding your heroes, you guide them to accomplish tasks by offering incentive. Such rewards can include bounties that you place on monsters or monster dwellings, new items that you research for heroes to buy, and more. Essentially, you’re creating a cyclical, mercenary economy that thrives off conflict.
Money is your only resource in Majesty 2. It’s used to upgrade items and buildings, recruit new heroes, research new skills for heroes, and resurrect dead heroes. Tax collectors, trading posts and shops bring in money; you use this money to reward your heroes; heroes return your investment by buying more stuff for themselves and protecting your kingdom. As your kingdom prospers and expands, it brings in more taxes, continuing the cycle.
There is, however, a second cycle. For those who played the first Majesty, it’s that point on resurrection that should stick with you the most. Unlike in the prequel, heroes can now be resurrected for a steep fee. In fact, it’s easily the biggest money-sink in the game. Most of your riches will probably go into bringing old heroes back from the dead.
Heroes will die. They’ll die often and the causes of death are many. Sometimes heroes legitimately lose a fight with a tough monster or are caught off-guard alone in the wilderness. More often than not, however, your heroes will die due to their shoddy AI and a severely unbalanced difficulty curve.
Heroes can be more motivated by the game’s bounty flags. As the king, you can place bounties to attack or defend certain characters or objects in the game world, explore certain areas, or avoid certain areas. The higher the bounty offered, the more motivated your heroes will be to pursue it. However, this motivation, even for small bounties, becomes far too effective. Seeing an underdeveloped, lone hero go rushing off after a bounty flag that’s way out of their league is an all too frequent occurrence.
In my usual experience, the greedy, bounty-chasing hero dies almost instantly. No sooner were they resurrected, then they would go chasing after that same bounty, alone and without potions (since they all got used up on the first attempt).
This is especially true of rogues, who are more motivated than most by bounty flags. It’s an interesting idea to have different types of heroes have different personalities and motivations, but the result of this mechanic is that I simply avoid building rogues because they aren’t worth the trouble. A game’s “feature” shouldn’t make you want to completely avoid it.
Another issue with the AI is its lack of cooperation. The player can manually form a party of heroes, which is a process that involves clicking a button at a tavern and then waiting while your heroes drop whatever they’re doing and walk all the way to that spot to gather. Unless you’re willing to deal with this slow process, heroes almost never seem to work together. Even if they’re all physically together and performing the same task, they rarely actually help each other.
The AI issues are a nuisance but the game’s biggest shortfall is its difficulty. Majesty 2 is simply unbalanced and too punishing. The majority of the game feels like trial and error. You can never recruit all hero types at once, as some guilds refuse to work with others. However, certain heroes are far too vital for certain missions, yet you have no way of knowing that until you get slaughtered by something.
For example, well into a mission I found myself suddenly being assaulted by elementals, who were slaughtering my lower level heroes. Oops. I guess I should have recruited the dwarves instead of the elves, since dwarves are resistant to the elementals’ attacks and the elves’ arrows are almost useless against the primal spirits. Time to restart the mission and do it the “right” way.
The trial and error nature of the game is by far its most glaring and obnoxious issue. Add to that the problems with the AI and the frequent crashes I experienced with the review copy of the game, and I simply can’t bring myself to love Majesty 2 like I loved the first one. My flashback goggles may be slightly rose-tinted, I admit, but that doesn’t change the fact that Majesty 2′s best moments are constantly at odds with its worst.
The concept remains interesting and unique, and the game provides some challenges you aren’t used to from other games of the genre, but ultimately its issues are too distressing. Fans of the original will probably still find a lot to like – I did – but there was only so much I could tolerate before it just didn’t feel worth it to trudge through the bad parts to experience the good parts.