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Majesty 2 is an update to the old classic, Majesty. I always thought that it was a great and unique fantasy RTS. My old Majesty Review should give that away. That said, I'll try to not look at this game through nostalgic glasses, at least for the most part. I will provide a direct comparison at the end for returning fans who want an answer.
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Majesty 2 offers what can best be described as indirect control. You have to accomplish various tasks, such as killing monsters and protecting trade convoys, without any direct control over your soldiers. Your job as king is to build the guilds, draw in heroes, and establish a system that allows them to get new equipment. You can only influence their actions with certain flags. You can issue bounties on monsters, rewards for exploration, rewards for guard duty, and fear flags to bribe them to stay away from the giant monster.
This is a very fun twist. I don't know of many other good games that actually offer this. The real bonus is that each of the hero classes have their own quirks. Rangers are prone to exploration. Warriors will recklessly charge to any fight. Rogues will jump at any reward, and often hilariously fail. The clerics, wizards, and various religious warriors each have their own behaviors too.
The AI is also pretty good. They tend to be smart enough to run away from a losing fight and collect healing potions before they set out for any adventure. You won't have to do too much babysitting, except for a few really tough monsters that roam the land and devour your heroes.
Besides managing the different hero types, you'll also have to build up your town. Your heroes can buy poisons from the rogues, enchantments from the wizards, new weapons and armor from the blacksmith, and potions and charms from the marketplace. It actually forms a neat economy. Your heroes go on adventures and get loot from killing monsters. They return and submit some of that back to you in taxes. The rest is their money to spend, which will eventually work its way back to you as taxes on the marketplace and blacksmith when heroes upgrade or resupply. It's a neat system and one you don't see every day.
You can take direct intervention a few times. There are special king spells that you can cast to hurt monsters and aid your heroes. It's also now possible to form parties from any interested heroes who answer the call at the inn.
The one problem I have is that this seems to get very repetitive. There just isn't as much action as there used to be. The levels just seem to be the same. Ratmen, skeletons, wolves and bears attack. Your men kill them. They wait for action flags and then kill the big baddie. It just gets really stale. There also aren't that many monsters either, and they all have the same basic attacks. It just isn't nearly as interesting as the mix of the last one.
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The graphics are pretty ugly. You should be able to see the low level of detail in the screenshots. I normally wouldn't nail an RTS for its graphics, but this is just really ugly. Some of the monsters have very little detail and a few of the heroes are quite non-descript. It's not terrible, it just looks dated and uninteresting.
The only saving grace is that the animations are quite nice. There are some well detailed attacks for the heroes and the spells are really well done. The particle effects are just cool and I'm always impressed by shiny lights. There is also a physics system. Heroes can be thrown backwards until they hit something. It's mainly just a novelty, but it's a nice touch that I'm glad they added.
It's at this point that I'd like to add a pet peeve. Why did they go to 3D? It seemed pointless. Nothing was gained and the graphics are just disappointing. A little thought just runs in the back of my mind about how awesome this would look with the same amount of time going into 2D models. There was nothing wrong with using 2D for a strategy game. Stronghold made this same mistake at the time the franchise jumped the shark. I know that the consumers seem to demand 3D graphics, but well done 2D graphics shouldn't be discarded just because. I'm very disappointed that they trashed the charm of the detailed 2D graphics for some generic 3D stuff.
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The story is pretty good. It hangs on to a tongue in cheek nature and it's pretty funny. The manual even cracks some pretty good jokes which is a little odd in this day and age. Your advisor is particularly funny with little quips about the oddities of fantasy worlds. It would be a little senseless to spoil them all here. One sidebar about how odd it was to name a dragon Rafnir was really funny.
I'll also add that the general story is pretty good. Your ancestor decided to summon up a demon lord so that he could be recorded in history as a great hero. That didn't turn out so well though, and the demon captured the throne. You're the last distant heir who's trying to get control of the kingdom back. This gives a nice justification for capturing land and performing some heroic feats.
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Well, it's there. There's some standard maps in place. Basic competition maps that are run through gamespy's system. It's a little hard to judge it right now. I'll give this a little more of a complete evaluation in another week once the community forms up around it. An RTS' multiplayer is only as good as the community that plays it.
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Majesty 2's system requirements are modest: just a 2GHz processor, a 512 MB graphics card, and 1 gig of RAM. This shouldn't be too much for anyone with a fairly recent machine. I played this on my XPS with 2.6 GHz dual processors, 3 gig of RAM, and an Nvidia 8700M GT card. I had no problems with it at the high preset.
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Nostalgia Comparison - How Does It Stack Up to Majesty 1
Before I turn into a retro fanboy, I'll go ahead and list the things that they did really well. There are some big problems that they fixed. Guards and guardhouses are cheaper and more effective and trading posts can defend themselves once you upgrade them. The homefront is a lot easier to defend at later stages thanks to this. The protect flag is really nice and logical. It works well and makes a lot of sense. I'm also glad that they threw in the chance to organize parties. The biggest upgrade is the AI. It actually works well. Heroes understand when a fight is lost and usually run away in time. That's probably the most noticeable good change.
The problem is that they really messed up a few of the old things. First, the temple system is really messed up. You can only build temples on special holy land spots. This usuallys limits you to just one close temple or no temples in many stages. You also have to put in 10,000 gold to get one. I wouldn't fault this in a new game, but it's a really stupid change. We can hope for a patch.
This leads to my next point. What happened to the characters? Rogues are just cheap warriors now. They don't use a cowardly throwing dagger for hit and run attacks anymore. Wizards aren't weaklings at level 1. They're tough from the start. Elves are just standard fantasy elves, not greedy slumlords. Gnomes are gone. The priests are gone. Krolm doesn't make beserker barbarians, it makes Conan the Barbarian ripoffs that are just different warriors. Dauros doesn't have a priest, just a paladin. Agrela makes generic undead killers, not healers. Helia just makes special archers. Lunord is just gone for no apparent reason.
The activity also isn't there. Rogues don't wander around and collect poison flowers. Healers don't tend to healing flowers. They just wander around, unlike the old ones that would intelligently follow heroes. Warriors don't raid lairs for fun. Rangers don't explore for fun. They also don't hunt for fun, which is annoying. They shouldn't just ignore the skeleton right next to them.
The heroes may have better practical AI, but a lot of their autonomous behaviours' quirky charm is just gone.
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First things first, I do recommend this game. It's a good fantasy RTS that newcomers will probably like. It's a good new game, it's interesting, and it's pretty cool. There's not really anything else like it. There's a certain joy to people watching and seeing your rookies turn into hardened veterans. That said, I just feel like they dropped a lot of the interesting charm from Majesty for some pretty minor improvements. 1 step forward and 3 steps back.
It's still a good game, but I really feel like it should have been a whole lot better (Fanboy! I never played the original and Majesty 2 struck me as a fun and unique RTS with amusing personalities, though yes the graphics look very dated -Ed). They just cut out so many old favorites and made it much more mainstream. It's not bad, it's just different. Fans of the original will have to decide whether these changes are dealbreakers or not.