Wednesday, April 01, 2009
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.