Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Majesty: D&D's Endgame on Your Computer


Majesty is an oooooold game. It was originally released in 2000. The version I'm reviewing here is a combination of the original game with The Northern Expansion, which adds a few new features. The game is simple enough: you're given a castle and a few other buildings, and you must accomplish a goal (usually clearing the countryside of monster lairs) while collecting taxes, expanding your settlement, and warding off monster attacks.

Your tools for accomplishing your goal are fairly limited, making the game pretty simple to just dive into. Your primary resource is gold, which is collected as tax revenue. Most buildings generate tax revenue, usually based on how much use they get. You use taxes to recruit heroes, cast spells, and build more buildings. Buildings provide static defenses (such as the guard tower and wizard's tower), improve your heroes (the blacksmith improves weapons and armour), recruit heroes (the warriors guild allows you to recruit bog-standard warriors by itself, or various flavors of holy warriors when combined with certain temples), allow you to cast spells, and generate revenue (one of the first things you want to do in every scenario is build a marketplace as it's your primary revenue generator). Most buildings have multiple uses; the wizards' guild, for instance, allows you to cast a number of spells, recruit up to four wizard heroes, and also adds magical improvements to the weapons of your heroes.

And that's the bulk of the gameplay. You drop buildings on the landscape, recruit heroes up to the associated building's limit, and cast the occasional spell. Everything else is automated. Your heroes, guards, peasants, and tax collectors are controlled by the AI. You can influence their motions by taking buildings off the repair and taxation cycles, or by offering rewards for the exploration of certain parts of the map, or the destruction of specific monsters or lairs. But that's pretty much it. Otherwise, you sit and watch your community do its thing from a god's-eye-view. It's not unusual at all to be busy improving your buildings or dropping a new wizard's tower when you're interrupted by a report that you've won the game. Because of this lack of control, it's hard to shake the feeling that the game largely plays itself. If you really enjoy micromanaging, this isn't the game for you. If you enjoy setting up situations and watching them play out, Majesty can be an enjoyable distraction. This is furthered by how you can create your own scenarios and the fact that most games play out in about an hour. It's a fun way to kill a bit of time between, say, work and dinner.

My own reactions to the game are heavily mixed. On the one hand, sessions are so simple and quick, I've yet to actually save a game in the middle of play. On the other, I still play it occasionally, and I didn't expect that. I'm not a huge RTS fan, and the very hands-off style of play further distances you from the action. But I love to fiddle with things like this, setting up new arrangements, imagining how the locals react to a new temple to the Goddess of Death being plopped down next to the marketplace, and stuff like that. And at $5 US from the local used bookstore, I feel I got my money's worth. If I'd bought the game at its release price, I'd probably have felt cheated, but as it is, it's a fun way to waste time that won't devour my entire day.

6 comments:

Oddysey said...

I just read that there's a sequel coming out soon. I'd never heard of it, but it sounds intriguing -- I'm a huge simulation game fan. The big thing the article talked about was that heroes can be put into adventurer groups (via the tavern) and that you have a little more control over them.

trollsmyth said...

That would be nice. In the current version, they use inns to recharge their hit points, and I try to put some other useful spots nearby as well. And they do tend to team up, but in odd ways. For instance, in one game I played, three healing priestesses ended up following a ranger all over the map. Guess they had a thing for his rugged, outdoor image or something.

Another thing the sequel is doing moving the graphics to full 3-d. In the current version, occasionally the action will happen behind a building or tree, and you won't be able to tell what exactly is happening or click on anyone to influence it. The new version appears to allow you to rotate the camera so that won't happen so much.

As a sim fan, Oddysey, do you know any good sim games for the ancient world or mythological realms? I played a game called Pharoah, I think, on a friend's computer years ago, but I haven't seen anything else like it. I've seen a number of good games on Rome, but not much else.

Chris said...

@Trollsmyth: IIRC it was Sierra that did Caesar, Pharaoh, Zeus (Greek society sim) and Rise of the Middle Kingdom (China) as part of their City Builder series. I got really hooked on the Chinese one back in the day...

Email me if you want my old copies.

Blotz said...

On Steam you can pick up a similar game to majesty called "Hinterland" that I reccomend. You start off as an adventurer trying to clear ot an area of the Hinterlands for his king.

Kubrick said...

It's really like a virtual toy per se. Sandbox-toy. It was a decent little diversion at the time. A friend of mine really wanted to borrow it from me so I lent it to him and never saw it again :)

Michael Cote said...

Love this game. The artwork, music and presentation is classic. In fact, finding it in the bargain bin years ago was partially responsible for reviving my interest in D&D. There's a game called "Medieval Conquest" that has similar flavor.