Majesty 2: Time Limits and Wandering Monsters

Majesty 2‘s campaign mode has 16 maps, each of which is a satisfying length for a single play session, provided you’re not determined to play the whole thing through in a burst like me. And on most maps, one session is all you need: if you do it wrong, if your heroes die and your city crumbles, that’s just a setback. You haven’t lost, you just need to regroup and try again. Time makes you stronger — partly because your heroes are constantly fighting monsters and leveling up (even if you’ve destroyed all the monster lairs, your own city’s sewers and graveyard keep emitting low-level crawlies), partly because more time means more income, which means more upgrades for your surviving heroes. In theory, you can lose if your palace is destroyed, but generally speaking, if you can survive the very beginning, when you don’t have guard towers or powerful heroes yet, you can survive until the designer decides you’ve had enough time and ends it.

Most maps don’t seem to have time limits. In fact, I’ve seen only one that has an explicit time limit, a novelty level where your goal is to accumulate a certain amount of cash on a deadline (while spending enough to stay alive, of course). This, for me, has been the hardest map in the game so far, because of the self-restraint it requires. If I have a failing in strategy games, its my urge to upgrade everything to max, rather than take a considered look at costs and benefits. Really, though, any time-limited level makes you prioritize what you want to do with your money. It’s just that, on most, the worst thing you can do with your money is hoard it.

On most maps, the mission objective is to destroy something, either a building or a boss monster of some sort. And if I read things right, these boss monsters are how the game imposes time limits without making them explicit. For example, I just finished (on my second try) a map involving an undead king, who either wanders the map or periodically appears and vanishes, I’m not sure which. (There were still substantial sections of the map unexplored when I won.) What’s certain is that he eventually shows up at your base and starts demolishing it. There’s no point in trying to rebuild when this happens. All you can do is set a hefty bounty on his head and hope that your forces are strong enough to whittle him down before he runs out of buildings to smash. The resulting donnybrook feels a lot like the “Armageddon” spell in Populous, the finishing move that makes everyone in the world rush to the center and fight until only one side is left, except that you can still meaningfully participate by, for example, resurrecting heroes that die in the dogpile. Now, both of the times that I played this map, the skeleton king found me on day 86 or so. 1There’s a little inconsistency about how time works. The UI reports a number of days elapsed, but the graphics display some maps as taking place in daylight and some at night. Perpetual daylight is something we accept as an artifact of the way time is represented in RTS games, but throw in nighttime and it starts to seem a little weird. Also, there’s one level where you’re told in the beginning that it’s an opportune time to attack because it’s raining, and the rain then continues for however many months you need to finish. This could be coincidence, but it seems more like a time limit. A soft time limit, sure, because it doesn’t end things immediately, but if you haven’t built up your forces enough to win the battle by that moment, you never will.

The problem is that it doesn’t read like a time limit. The first time around, it seemed like I simply had a stroke of bad luck and the boss just wandered into my camp before I was ready. If it’s a time limit, it’s a surprise time limit. And while I can see the need for time limits to create challenge in a game like this, I don’t see any need to be coy about them.

   [ + ]

1. There’s a little inconsistency about how time works. The UI reports a number of days elapsed, but the graphics display some maps as taking place in daylight and some at night. Perpetual daylight is something we accept as an artifact of the way time is represented in RTS games, but throw in nighttime and it starts to seem a little weird. Also, there’s one level where you’re told in the beginning that it’s an opportune time to attack because it’s raining, and the rain then continues for however many months you need to finish.

No Comments

Leave a reply