last few months have seen a spate of real-time strategy games, mostly
add-ons to established titles (Firestorm, Iron Plague) or clones that
follow the tried-and-true C&C/AoE/Starcraft model. We all know the
classic RTS drill--hammer together some buildings, crank out some troops,
pump em up with some upgrades, select em all and send that churning
wave of funky death steamrolling right into your enemys base. And sure
its fun, but its also getting a more than a bit predictable.
Thats why Microprose and Hasbros Majesty is such a nice change of
looks a lot like other fantasy RTS gamesyou get your standard ¾
overhead view and 2D graphicsbut it plays a whole lot different.
The biggest difference between Majesty and you standard RTS clone is that
you dont directly control your troops. In Majesty, you cant just
drag-select a group of elven archers, click on an enemy building, and
expect them to march posthaste to the target. In fact, you dont give
your troops any direct orders at all. Rather you influence themmostly
by offering them money to attack certain targets. While this might sound
like a pretty reductive model of kingdom management, and those who love
micromanaging might cringe, Majesty will actually keep you plenty busy,
and its gameplay has more depth than you might expect.
Majesty is set in the
fantasy kingdom of Ardania. Its a fairly standard fantasy world. You
play the good guy, and your troops will be made up of the usual suspects.
In most games, youll be able to build guild structures that will
produce rangers, warriors, and rogues almost immediately. As the game
progresses, youll begin to erect temples and special buildings that
allow you to turn out such heroes as wizards, elves, monks, cultists,
dwarves, elves, and barbarians. Some of the more advanced units will be
able to cast a nifty assortment of spells, and as they gain experience and
you upgrade buildings their spells and attacks will increase in variety
and power. The nasties that populate Ardania are also nicely
variedthere are over 30 different evil troop types, including
everything from minotaurs to skeletons to the terrible rock golem.
you have no real control of the troops you enlist to your cause, most of
your time will be spent managing your palace and its surrounding
structures. Your kingdom will have a wide variety of buildings (though
not all are available in every scenario). Some, like temples or guilds,
will give you troops. Others, like guard towers and ballista towers, will
provide defense against swarms of enemy troops.
Blacksmiths allow you to upgrade weapons, marketplaces and trading
posts will boost your income, and inns will offer your heroes a safe haven
when theyre far from home. Its fascinating to watch your charges go
about killing monsters, spending their money on new weapons and spells,
and training at the fairgroundseven more so because you dont have
any real say in what they do. Youre
not entirely locked out of the game, though--most of the temples and the
Wizards tower allow you the power to cast sovereign
spellsspells cast by you rather than your heroes. And some buildings
are less useful and edifying. For instance, once you build an elven
bungalow, which allows you to recruit decadent elves, youll also see
gambling halls and lounges begin to spring up. These dens of iniquity will
deter your more weak-willed heroes from carrying out orders.
mostly revolves around making wise selections about what and when to build
and where to attack while carefully managing your money.
Gold is pretty scarce in Ardania, and most of it accrues from
taxes. Your tax collector will make the rounds of each of your buildings
and bring home the bacon. Hes extremely vulnerable to enemy attacks, so
you have to keep an eye out for him.
Theres never enough money. You can choose to buy bunches of
melee troops or supercharge your magic users, but its the rare scenario
that allows you the resources and/or time to do both. Once youve
purchased your troops and buildings and upgraded them, you can begin to
attack your enemies. Most of the games scenarios involve seeking out
enemy lairs (and eventually their main base) and destroying them.
Since you cant just send your troops out to attack these places
or the monsters that guard them, you have to rely on the less-than-subtle
motivation of bribery. In Majesty, you get your units to attack where you
want buy placing either reward or explore flags. It costs you money to
place these flags, and the more you spend, the more likely that your
heroes will attack.
course, your heroes will never do exactly what you want them to. Some will
decide to get loaded in the gambling hall, some will think money crass and
ignore rewards, some will flee in terror from less-than-terrible monsters.
If youre the type who likes to control every movement of your troops,
this might drive you nuts and you may not want to play this game. You
might also want to think very carefully about ever having kids. But if you
can get used to the more subtle methods that Majesty demands, youll
soon find yourself fascinated by the games depth and your troops
actions. It took me a while to warm to Majesty, but once I unlearned some
old RTS habits I found it utterly addictive.
Majesty also looks
awfully good. Dont expect any whiz-bang 3D stuff, but the graphics are
extremely polished and striking. Spell effects are especially cool, and
the sound and voice acting is superb. Its clear that Microprose and
Cyberlore put a lot of effort into the game, and it shows in the attention
paid to small graphic and audio details. The games manual is also
excellent and attractive.
Though we havent
had the opportunity to play online, Majesty includes about every
multiplayer option you could ask for, including modem, LAN, and internet
play on the Zone.
all of Majestys strengths, it does have some problems that keep it out
of five-star territory. First, Majestys campaign game is pretty weak.
You can play any of the scenarios in any order, and while the early
beginner scenarios do a great job of teaching the games concepts in
easily digestible bites, the advanced and expert scenarios lack any kind
of coherent narrative. Its just one damn thing after the other, and
theres no real sense of closure or accomplishment when you complete the
game. Which doesnt take long, by the way.
The campaign game is pretty shortyou can finish it in a couple
of long days of gaming. This isnt all that horrible, especially since
Majesty includes a great scenario generator for Freestyle games, but still
. . . . And frankly, the games scenarios could have used a little more
variation. Too many of them are of the kill em all variety, and the
ones that arent usually consist of trying to make a bundle of money in
a short amount of time.
But overall, Majesty is a vastly entertaining game. It may take hidebound RTSers a while to get use to it, but once they do theyll find themselves wishing, as I did, that the campaign game had just one (or ten) more scenario(s) in it.