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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Microprose and Cyberlore

Ups: Innovative and vastly entertaining gameplay, Solid graphics, very polished. 

Downs:  Campaign game a little short and not very compelling.

System Reqs: P166 MHz (or equivalent) w/ 32MB RAM, 4X CD, 312 MB HD.

The 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 enemy’s base. And sure it’s fun, but it’s also getting a more than a bit predictable. That’s why Microprose and Hasbro’s Majesty is such a nice change of pace.

Majesty looks a lot like other fantasy RTS games—you get your standard overhead view and 2D graphics—but it plays a whole lot different. The biggest difference between Majesty and you standard RTS clone is that you don’t directly control your troops. In Majesty, you can’t 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 don’t give your troops any direct orders at all. Rather you influence them—mostly 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. It’s a fairly standard fantasy world. You play the good guy, and your troops will be made up of the usual suspects. In most games, you’ll be able to build guild structures that will produce rangers, warriors, and rogues almost immediately. As the game progresses, you’ll 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 varied—there are over 30 different evil troop types, including everything from minotaurs to skeletons to the terrible rock golem. 

Since 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 they’re far from home. It’s fascinating to watch your charges go about killing monsters, spending their money on new weapons and spells, and training at the fairgrounds—even more so because you don’t have any real say in what they do.  You’re not entirely locked out of the game, though--most of the temples and the Wizard’s tower allow you the power to cast “sovereign spells”—spells 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, you’ll 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.

Gameplay 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. He’s extremely vulnerable to enemy attacks, so you have to keep an eye out for him.  There’s never enough money. You can choose to buy bunches of melee troops or supercharge your magic users, but it’s the rare scenario that allows you the resources and/or time to do both. Once you’ve purchased your troops and buildings and upgraded them, you can begin to attack your enemies. Most of the game’s scenarios involve seeking out enemy lairs (and eventually their main base) and destroying them.  Since you can’t 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.

Of 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 you’re 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, you’ll soon find yourself fascinated by the game’s 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. Don’t 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. It’s 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 game’s manual is also excellent and attractive.

Though we haven’t 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. 

For all of Majesty’s strengths, it does have some problems that keep it out of five-star territory. First, Majesty’s 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 game’s concepts in easily digestible bites, the advanced and expert scenarios lack any kind of coherent narrative. It’s just one damn thing after the other, and there’s no real sense of closure or accomplishment when you complete the game. Which doesn’t take long, by the way.  The campaign game is pretty short—you can finish it in a couple of long days of gaming. This isn’t all that horrible, especially since Majesty includes a great scenario generator for Freestyle games, but still . . . . And frankly, the game’s scenarios could have used a little more variation. Too many of them are of the kill ‘em all variety, and the ones that aren’t 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 RTS’ers a while to get use to it, but once they do they’ll find themselves wishing, as I did, that the campaign game had just one (or ten) more scenario(s) in it.

--Rick Fehrenbacher