Majesty 2

There aren’t many game sequels recently that I’d say I’ve anticipated eagerly. Since my backlog numbers in the hundreds, new releases really have to stand out in some way to capture my attention, and anything with a number after its name starts out with a handicap in that regard. But when the original delivers a unique experience, one that the industry doesn’t imitate, sequels offer the only hope of recapturing it afresh. This was my experience with DROD, with Katamari Damacy, and now, although it’s not as in-your-face weird as those titles, with Majesty.

The original Majesty was released during the height of the RTS craze, and it’s one of the few games to take the basic idea of the genre and completely change how it’s played. It’s essentially a fantasy RTS from an alternate universe where Dune II was never made and the primary model for the genre was instead Populous. You build bases, research tech, and hire heroes, but the heroes are self-willed, not under your control. This is the game’s first major subversion. You can try to influence their behavior by setting bounties on particular foes (or even just offer rewards for visiting locations on the map), but this comes out of the same budget that you use for building and hiring, and it takes a hefty bribe to make the heroes move.

What I’ve seen so far of Majesty 2 is basically similar to the original Majesty, but with prettier graphics. There are a couple of disappointments, though. First of all, it fails to even acknowledge the original’s second major subversion: its use of terrain. It basically didn’t have any. Aside from some purely cosmetic shading, the maps in Majesty were completely flat and open, with monster lairs and other significant features strewn about at random (subject to level-specific constraints). In effect, though, the flow of monster movement became a kind of terrain variation in itself. It was quite a revelation for me to realize that in fact this is enough to constrain your actions — that you don’t need impassible mountains or rivers to force the player to confine and consolidate their forces. This hasn’t been commented on nearly as much as the game’s first major subversion, but it seems just as significant to me.

Secondly, it seems to me that the heroes in Majesty 2 aren’t nearly as varied in their behavior as they were in the original. Behavior there was largely a matter of character class, and the smart player chose which character types to hire, not just on the basis of how their abilities fit the current map, but also on how they would behave. Rangers like to explore unseen territory, which can be an asset or a liability, depending on what there is out there to find. Rogues are usually the first to try to claim a bounty, even when it’s really too difficult for them. Paladins, in contrast, are unmoved by money, and instead seek out monsters to destroy, which is a good thing on levels with lots of small monsters that they can level up on, but a bad thing when they’ll just wind up charging at a boss and getting killed. That’s what it’s like in Majesty; in Majesty 2, everyone seems to behave more or less the same way, hanging out near the town until you post a bounty, then rushing after it if it’s big enough.

But then, I’m only a few maps into the game at the moment, so perhaps my judgment is premature. I’ll recite one more complaint, one that comes from other reviews I’ve seen of the game: that it’s too repetitive, that every single level is basically spent turtling until you’ve built up enough power to rush the boss. And, well, I can see why that would bother the more sophisticated RTS fan, but honestly, I find it a little reassuring to think that the tactics I’ve already discovered might last me the rest of the game.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 8 Dec 2009

    I was really hoping Majesty 2 would bring more to the table, but instead it seems to be prettier, with some minor tweaks to the basic formula and substantially less personality. And since personality was one of the strongest reasons to play the first game, that was a deep injury to my desire to play further.

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