I really enjoyed Majesty 2. Good game, that, with an odd premise that on paper looks really backwards. It’s an RTS where you have no direct control over your troops. Imagine what Starcraft would be if you implemented that. You build your Zerg swarm, and it you have to rely on their bizarre alien insect minds to get the job done, instead of your own ability at the game. Wait! What am I saying! That’s an amazing idea. Somebody, quick, take Majesty 2′s UI and implement it as the control mechanism for the Zerg, or the Tyranids, or whatever they call themselves these days. Not their opponents, just them. Instant strategy gold, I tells ya. Once you’ve done it, send me the cheques.
What was I saying? Yes, Majesty 2. So, you can’t tell your heroes what to do, but you can give them cash incentives to go to certain places or kill certain things (you could use pheromones for your alien brood, Mr Game Designer. See? I’m doing your job for you). If the price is high enough, off they go, to smash the monster-spewing generators around the map before they can overwhelm your base or escort the cart or find the magic treasure, or whatever generic shenanigans you’re paying them for. I like this, because as a freelancer it made me feel I had a lot in common with the heroes. Somebody dangles a golden enough carrot somewhere, and I’ll eventually sidle towards it as though that was my original intent, trying to hide the desperation in my eyes.
It had other ideas that made little sense on paper, but seemed to really work in the game, somehow. Like the bigger your town gets, the more indestructible monster generators it has in it. Sewers pop up around your shops and spray skeletons and ratmen into the street, raising many a question about what everyone’s been eating recently. Build too big too fast, and your own killer refuse literally swallows your civilisation. There’s a moral there, America. Again, it wouldn’t work in, say, Warcraft 3. But here it does, up to a point.
Although the original game was likeable, it was also unforgiving. I like that in a game, it provokes a certain never-say-die, we-will-overcome attitude in me. I will learn the tactics to beat this level or die trying, my psyche seems to say. And fifteen days later, I’ll be through the tutorial. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, though, and critics on the game’s original release did find the learning curve was so steep it tended to lead backwards over your head before crushing you to death after three or four levels. It’s also very repetitive, with one mission very much the same as the next, although the humour and fun of the game’s take on fantasy stereotypes went some way to alleviating that.
So much for the original, anyway. This is a review of the expansions, of which there are three – Kingmaker, Battles of Ardania and Monster Kingdom. This review, if I’m brutally honest, can only deal properly with one of them, Kingmaker. And look, before I start making my feeble excuses, I was enjoying it. It adds a new campaign with new foes in the form of viciously effective goblin regiments. The writing remained fun and fresh, the graphics and sound are great. A few levels in I was still having fun, and it all seemed very polished and enjoyable even if it had the same flaws as the parent game.
But I was getting a bit bored of the same old thing – build your heroes, get them level grinding on the local fauna, then get them spending in the shops you build to regain the gold you spent to build said shops and hope they upgrade themselves enough to see off the next wave of horrors. It’s another interesting premise of the game, by the way, that your units also drive your economy by purchasing their own upgrades, by the way, but it’s fairly mechanical. Plonk down shops and watch the money roll in. It’s like Starbucks the RTS. Thanks, Mr Developer, that’ll be another million pounds, please.
Having got bored, I thought I’d try out Monster Kingdom, which puts you in charge of evil monsters instead of noble heroes. Everything I’d heard about this said it was the best expansion with the most innovation, and it did appeal. But every time I downloaded it, it broke. Not only itself, but also my existing installation of the game and the other expansions. I tried this four times (which took about five evening’s worth of downloading) and various attempts at patches and fixes, then gave up. I have no idea if this was a problem with the game itself, or the site I was downloading it from, and I agree that it makes me a lazy and feeble reviewer.
But here’s the thing, although the game is fun and interesting and is worth a crack if you have the time, it’s not quite amazing enough to really bust a gut to play. The general consensus from older reviews does hold water, it is punishingly hard (which I admit again, I do like) and quickly repetitive. There are just too many games out there that aren’t, and I’m afraid they won their claims on my time in the end.
I never even got to Battles of Ardania, so this is an entirely unfounded suspicion. But I’d be willing to bet it was even more of the same – fun, polished, difficult and actually quite boring after a bit. The lack of direct control does get to you in the end, I think, it distances you too much from the game. It’s very refreshing to play something so different from the herd, but it also underlines why the herd evolved that way, some things just work better than others. Majesty 2 isn’t broken (except for my copy of Monster Kingdom, apparently), it’s just that the way it works isn’t the best way of making a game great. The expansion packs don’t seem to have changed anything significantly, so they don’t ultimately feel like they add a great amount. It’s a missed opportunity to respond to criticisms. You’d be just as well buying the original and playing through that, you won’t be missing much and you’ll be spending less.