Being a leader is all about influence. Regardless of whether power is vested in someone of good or evil intent, their common trait will always involve holding significant amounts of sway. That said, many of gaming’s most influential leaders are more often then not likely to follow them onto the battlefield, or intricately control and mastermind the success of their objectives.
Thus, it is with a slightly different tact that Majesty 2, developed by 1C:Ino-Co, one of Russia’s largest development studios, takes on the traditional RTS genre. In a similar style to Squaresoft’s WiiWare title, My Life as a King, players are tasked with banishing the land of evil not by their own hand, but by hiring heroes, who’s alliance is to nothing but money. Does this quasi-sim provide the right balance, or is it destined to be thrown into bargain bin of irrelevance?
It’s a premise that is really nothing short of fascinating. While many other RTS titles have attempted to add RPG elements, providing a fast pace of play without the nasty chore of micro-management tends to be a difficult task for developers. Thus, taking some of the control from the player changes the ruleset somewhat, as the strategy shifts from unit control to objective management and economic twiddling; imperative to a well oiled war machine. No-one will fight for free in this one.
But what you’re probably wondering is, does it work? The short answer is “yes”; the long answer is… complicated. The interface looks and operates like a standard RTS. You have your nav bars on the sides of the screen, you can move around the map, zoom in and out, and change your perspective with the middle mouse. Movement is fluid, the available display is wide and the graphics are crisp enough so you can differentiate between buildings, units, heroes and enemies.
There are two elements to play; one being economic and base management, the other tasking orders, or “flagging” to your heroes. Heroes are purchased via “Guilds”, which operate as a barracks of sorts. Once purchased, heroes are completely autonomous. That is, they cannot be directly controlled by the player. As a result, you’ll notice them wandering around, defending the town, discovering loot, and purchasing items from the marketplace and other shops. This tends to form your economy, but I’ll get to that later.
There are four basic types of heroes; rogues, clerics, warriors and rangers. Anyone who has played any fantasy based title will know that these form the essential abilities, from brute force to healing. I found myself feeling a strong and surprisingly connection to World of Warcraft as I played, as your heroes level up, complete your quests, and buy new equipment. The quests you assign range from the boring, to exploring “fogged” terrain, destroying enemy camps or entrenchments, to the interesting, such as defending your kingdom or assaulting someone else’s.
I’m sure you’re now asking yourself, “what fun is it if you can’t control the units”? One thing you learn early is that not being able to directly control your units simply makes one aspect easier and about ten others more challenging. Your heroes are clever, and know the risks involved in a particular mission. If you put a 200 gold bounty on what can only be described as a suicide mission, your units are not likely to go charging into the unknown. However, bumping it up to 2000 will herald an entire army of multi skilled heroes who are more then happy to take it on.
The combat AI is just as good. Heroes will flee situations where they are likely to die. They will drink potions as their health and mana get low, and will heal each other if needed. Heroes are aware of range along with their own armour and health conditions and take these into account. As a result, combat is enjoyable to watch and direct, especially when you smile after watching certain units decide to leave one objective to take up another, more valuable, bounty. Sometimes, they might just prefer to head home, or sit in the Inn, sinking an ale.
It’s addictive, and basically you have to see it to believe it. While many who played the original Majesty won’t find many new surprises in the gameplay, new players will discover a completely intuitive and innovative playstyle. While at first glance it may feel strange, you’ll quickly realise that most of the issue is shrugging off old stalwart conventions. You’ll be surprised how much fun an RTS can be when you aren’t searching the map for idle builders or forgetting about a clump of units you had stashed away in the corner of the map.
But while I’m happy to sing praises of the system, it’s not all a bed of roses. Certain hero types are more then likely to run out at almost any bounty, regardless of their level or combat skill, then die, costing you money for resurrection. At the same time, this can be counteracted by assigning the correct bounty to an objective, along with planning your objectives carefully so heroes don’t run through enemy infested areas. Although there are times where you might be screaming at units to flee or stay at base, it’s usually likely that you weren’t making the right decisions in the first place.
Thus, growing and sustaining, a hefty amount of gold is paramount. As heroes get stronger, they become greedier. And while they are willing to protect their homes and guilds, they will not follow orders that don’t support their gold habits. Majesty 2 again breaks the standard mold by removing the standard resource harvest and replacing it with a functioning local trade economy. Heroes need equipment to fight, right? Building blacksmiths provide your heroes with new gear, marketplaces issue potions and even guilds provide cross-class upgrades and skills. The money you pay your heroes allows them to fund their repertoire, and in turn, those profits flow into your coffers.
Each unit, from peasants to heroes, also pay taxes, which provide a much more regular and stable income, while setting up trade posts send caravans that (which can be hijacked or destroyed) provide very lucrative sources of cash. As the missions increase in difficulty, so does the ability to balance this economy. Majesty 2 also makes subsequent buildings more expensive the more you build of them, thus forcing you to be careful with purchases and placements. Keeping an eye on your money flow is key, and especially in multiplayer games, it can be the difference between a win and a loss.
As you play through, heroes can be promoted in a few ways; either as lords, (commander type units) or into upper classes, which unlock new skills and traits. Lords are still hire-able heroes, so they are simply “instant” veteran warriors for rent. It’s almost essential to build up a dream team of high level lords in the early missions, since you’ll need them later on. Promoted lords are absolutely devastating, almost to the point of breaking the game, but this is only as a result of careful planning by the player.
There are about 16 missions in all, which I found I was able to complete in about 5-6 hours. A reasonably rousing, but generally forgettable story is tacked onto the campaign, and while there doesn’t tend to be a lot of variety in the missions, there’s enough fun in building bases and plotting attacks alongside completing the story based objectives.
As a result of this genre twist, multiplayer blends the line between conventional and revolutionary. Initially, it’s difficult to plan complicated or elaborate attacks based on different types of units and placements, since the bounty system removes the individuality of unit specific advantage. That said, Majesty 2 forces you and your opponent to devise new types of on-the-fly tactics, as you watch and direct your heroes to fight massive proxy battles in the dead space between your castles. Epic.
Majesty 2 succeeds in delivering a new kind of RTS experience. The removal of direct control promotes new tactics, especially in multiplayer, and provides a different way to progress through yet another RTS campaign. While the lack of overall objective variety along with a lower difficulty level ends up providing a reasonably shallow single player campaign, the process of creating new bases and watching your heroes’ create their own destinies never gets old. Genre fans should jump on this one.
Clean, crisp and functional graphics, along with an accessible interface and decent framerate make for a great looking title.
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The sheer addictiveness of guiding, rather then controlling your heroes, makes for a genuinely entertaining experience.
Aside from some mildly amusing voiceacting, the sound isn't anything to write home about, but it's harmless.
With 16 reasonably short missions, the game feels like it's over far too soon; especially after you get into the groove. A future expansion pack is likely.
Majesty 2 wins you over with its style, presentation and creative twist on the standard RTS formula. I'd highly recommend it to any strategy fan!