Review: Majesty 2

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One of my fondest gaming memories was starting up Majesty 2 for the first time. My wife was out visiting family, I had the whole evening to myself, and a bottle of wine to pass it with. I spent hours building little kingdoms, glass in hand, shouting at my little virtual peasants like the tin-pot monarch I’ve always dreamed of being. Needless to say it was a magical evening, but much like the hangover I nursed the next day, Majesty 2 turned out to be far more trouble than I expected.

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Just as the classic that spawned it did, Majesty 2 casts you as the sovereign ruler of a fantasy kingdom, beset by all manner of foul beasts. In each scenario you build a settlement out from your keep, consisting of inns, markets, guilds, and workshops, all in the service of enticing heroes to your cause. As king, you can’t take on evil directly, but you can hire mercenaries to do all the dirty work for you. The result is a real-time strategy game with very little direct input, aside from constructing your town.

You do have two tools at your disposal to direct your little champions, though. As king you can place bounties on monsters or dungeons to reward those who conquer them, or on locations to encourage exploration. Your tiny heroes are more inclined to go for larger bounties, which you pay from the taxes and profits from your markets and shops. It’s a clever economy, with your heroes collecting gold to spend in your town, which you then use to expand and place your bounties. There are plenty of new units and upgrades to use as well, which will be refreshing to veterans of the first game, as well as a new party system for making more effective groups of heroes.

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What isn’t so refreshing is the difficulty curve. Like I said, my first evening with Majesty 2 was amazing. The introductory levels do a fantastic job of bringing you up to speed on managing a kingdom. Your heroes will level up and conquer the maps for you, and you’ll feel like good King Henry himself living large on your victories and riches. But not a dozen maps into the game, the wheels come completely off. You’ll start running into scenarios where dragons ravage your town without any recourse, or hordes of monsters descend on your keep before you can field any experienced heroes. It’s an incredible brick wall of frustration to smash into after such a promising start, but even with the open scenario map there’s no way around it. After a certain point, every map is an uphill struggle against absurd waves of enemies.

It’s a colossal shame, too, because if not for the crushing difficulty Majesty 2 would be a huge improvement on the formula. The interface is cleaner, the upgrades are more varied, there’s better balance to the defensive buildings (assuming a reasonable challenge), and the presentation is excellent. The look of the game cribs a bit from Warcraft III in a good way, with detailed 3D models and buildings. I really enjoyed the sound design in particular, with some rousing music and a hilariously not-Sean-Connery narrator. But alas, ’tis all for naught if you can barely beat even the middling scenarios. I wish I could recommend Majesty 2 as strongly as I do the first, but the fact is that you’re not going to get more than two or three hours out of it before it pummels you into uninstalling.

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