Leading a kingdom of peasants, heroes, and wizards is no simple feat, and yet defending your territory, inventing health potions, and invading evil villains is all in a day’s work for the King of Ardania. At last, the long awaited sequel to 2000’s Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim has made its way to the Mac courtest of Virtual Programming. Majesty 2 brings 3D graphics, additional characters, and many hours of battle to the popular real-time strategy game. A few problems with screen navigation aside, Majesty 2 makes for a fun, brain-bending test of planning and defending a fantasy kingdom.
In Majesty 2, you play as the last heir to the throne in the kingdom of Ardania. Like many real-time strategy games, in Majesty 2 players must set up their own kingdom complete with stone palace, tiny peasant dwellings, and bustling marketplace. But Majesty 2 differs from many strategy games in that unit production and organization is tackled very differently.
As the ruler, you’re not directly involved in any building construction, battles, or money exchange. Instead, your role is strictly strategic. Sure, you choose which buildings to buy, which heroes to hire, and what rewards you’ll give them for completing certain tasks. But those interested in commanding armies and micromanaging your troops should look elsewhere; all tasks in Majesty 2 must be completed by your independent-minded minions. You set about enticing them to do as you wish by offering monetary rewards. For instance, if you want one of the destructive local sewer rats slain, you place an attack flag on the vermin and determine how much money you’ll award to the hero who kills it. The same goes for larger battles in the game. Putting an attack flag that offers a large sum is the only way to defeat the evil wizards, hostile neighboring rulers, and demons who plague Ardania. Oftentimes, the free-willed characters won’t perform difficult or dangerous work for pocket change, so you’ll have to up the ante if you want the job done fast. Similarly, you can pay for protection flags if you want your heroes to rally around a particular person or building and fend off any threats to it.
Each level or mode in the game calls for completion of a different task—surviving for a given amount of days, defeating an ogre, and discovering new territories are all common quests. Of course, it would be unbecoming for a king to perform such menial tasks, which is why you must hire heroes to do them for you. You set up a fleet of heroes (there are ten races of heroes to choose from) by building a guild for them. Once a guild is constructed, you can use the royal treasury to buy certain races of heroes and special skills, tools, or powers to accompany them. Each guild of heroes has special skills and is more inclined to perform certain tasks than others. For instance, warriors are better fighters and protectors who respond quickly to attack and defense flags. On the other hand, rangers are more curious and interested in expanding the kingdom’s borders by following after an exploration flag (which you set in one of the dark, uncharted territories on the screen).
It’s important to grasp the complex, yet manageable economic system of Majesty 2; without it, bankruptcy and destruction are inevitable. In-game currency is used to hire heroes, entice them to complete tasks, and build new structures in the town. There are several ways of making money. The most convenient of which is to sit back and wait for peasants to pay their taxes. Every ten minutes or so, the royal treasury (located in the bottom right corner of the screen) will show that the tax collector has deposited funds from the locals. However, should any villains destroy peasant dwellings, taxes will no longer be paid, so it’s important to secure other means of finance as well. Setting up a marketplace and trading posts will ensure heroes are spending their hard earned cash (a portion of which goes back to the treasury as well).
Impressive displays of texture and shadowing make Majesty 2 look beautiful, and there are hundreds of well-rendered characters lurking around the kingdom. The countryside is bare at the start of each level, but by the game’s end, is made up of an incredibly rich, detailed empire. The visuals are accompanied by the sounds of the wilderness, construction, and battle, but the repetitive sound bytes quickly become tiresome. After a few hours of gameplay, I opted for my iTunes library and muted the sounds of Majesty 2. While this might seem like a minor detail, other developers—Blizzard, for instance—manage to create a secondary dialogue that is interesting and dynamic.
On my 2.4GHz iMac Intel Core 2 Duo, Majesty 2 ran well, without any hiccups or noticeable frame-rate drops even when my kingdom had grown to imperial sizes. Virtual Programming seems to have created another strong port of an unheralded but worthy title.
My problem with the game’s visuals came not from design or performance, but navigation. Like many real-time strategy games, the entire territory of the game can be seen on a mini map on the lower left of the screen, but it’s cramped and doesn’t always help you locate the spot you’re trying to find. When trying to move about the territory by zooming in and out or panning across the landscape, and you’ll quickly see that such maneuvers lack fluidity. Instead of clean, continuous panning, the screen movements felt jerky and inaccurate. I also didn’t have as wide of a view as I needed to play the game comfortably. Majesty 2 relies heavily on a player’s ability to navigate the entire kingdom quickly, and while it’s fun to zoom in close and watch the action of a certain fight for a little while, it’d be more helpful to have an impressive wide zoom rather than a fancy close up. Overall, the 3D graphics look great, but the game’s inability to help me find my bearings was a serious setback.
As a strategy game, Majesty 2 is right on the mark. The quests in each mission are diverse and challenging. Setting up a strong defense first worked well on some levels, while a flawless economy was necessary in others. There are such a pleasant variety of heroes, buildings, and villains, that players are unlikely to find it monotonous. However, I expected (likely due to the company’s overly enthusiastic claim that) the heroes would have some sort of personality. Really, other than their powers, the only thing that sets different classes of heroes apart is how much money it takes to bribe them into completing a task. In fact, the game’s publisher’s website claims Majesty 2’s heroes are free willed, “leaving you to try to control them through monetary incentives”. Realistically, the game is played by toeing the line between pouring money at heroes and staying out of the red.
Macworld’s buying advice
Majesty 2 might not be for everyone; as a battle simulator, it’s quite lackluster. Still, if you’re looking for a purely strategic role, Majesty definitely delivers.