Majesty is a solid realtime strategy [RTS] game wrapped in the cloak of a simulation. I’m not really sure why Cyberlore decided to call their game a simulation, because other than sort of designing the overall look of your medieval village, the game is focused on warfare.
I approached this game as if it were a RTS game, and I think most consumers should do so as well if they want to be happy with their purchase. This is not SimCity, but oddly enough it’s not Command and Conquer either.
Majesty is a refreshing twist on the somewhat overdone RTS genre. Cyberlore has actually found a way to add something new to RTS games and for this alone they deserve kudos. The fact that the game is a lot of fun to play, and boarders on being addictive, is just bonus points.
The game is played in a series of missions located on a map of the kingdom. As you complete missions, certain secret quests become available. Each mission is rated for the challenge that it presents and there is also a random quest generator. Unfortunately, I was able to go through and solve all the single player missions in about two days. That is not to say that the missions are easy, some are down right impossible, there are just not enough of them.
The actual game play is conducted on a nice looking two-dimensional map. There is terrain on the map, but as far as I can tell it makes no difference in the game itself. You start most of the time with a central castle and a few buildings, and then go about the task of constructing a village. Each building has a different function, like letting you recruit a certain type of hero or giving you access to certain types of spells.
Here is where play diverges from more traditional RTS games and where Majesty shines. You don’t have direct control over your heroes. You can ask them to go and kill a marauding monster out in the countryside by putting a price on its head, but you have no way of knowing if your heroes will actually take your offer to heart. Also, you don’t really know how the character will go about accomplishing the task at hand. And if things start to go badly, smart characters will turn tail and live to fight another day.
This is a break from games where you have total control over your surroundings. You can’t steer a wall of heroes into a fight where you know half of them will be killed. You can’t really steer them at all. The only thing you can do is to put a very high reward on an enemy lair or creature you need destroyed, and hope that enough heroes answer the call.
Heroes will for the most part defend your realm if they happen to see monsters attacking buildings or killing your peasants. They don’t stand around like mindless drones waiting for their leader to make them an offer. A lot of times they will go off wandering the realm looking for a fight, since monsters carry gold that the heroes can spend in town.
As you build your town you can add buildings like blackSmith shops and trading posts that your heroes can use to purchase magical weapons or healing potions. There is no guarantee that a rich hero will spend his gold upgrading his equipment, but even the stupidest hero knows that sharp sword is better than a dull one and will normally take advantage of the services you offer. Here is where some of that gold gets returned to your treasury, because all buildings in town are taxable. And since you are the only game in town as far as better weapons, armor and healing, a fairly good sized chunk of gold your heroes win will eventually get directed back into your coffers over time.
You also have a few troops like palace and city guards that will only patrol the town, attacking monsters that wander in without a thought to rewards or personal gain. These few troops are generally weaker than the heroes, but their loyalty is unquestionable and they don’t think twice about fighting to the death. Often times they will slow invading monsters down enough for your heroes to move in and make the kill.
I found it refreshing not to have to worry about building up a "tank rush" when playing a RTS game. And I think setting rewards for goal accomplishment is a bit more realistic than having a ton of troops rush blindly into combat with no hope of victory, just to put a dent in an opponent’s armor. Plus it’s interesting to watch smart heroes performing their tasks differently than stupid ones.
But all this artificial intelligence comes at a price that manifests itself as games, especially multiplayer ones, drag on. As more an more characters come onto the screen, the game begins to slow down. This is evident even on a high-end Pentium III 500MHz system, and more so on slower computers. The graphics are fairly sparse, so the only thing that must be dragging down performance is the fact that ever unit on the screen has to "think" about what it should do next. In single player games this slowdown occurs after you have been building up your town for a while and also the number of heroes in your realm.
In multiplayer modes however, the slowdown occurs more or less out of the gate. With four people playing, the maximum supported in a multiplayer match, you reach critical mass pretty quickly. Due to the slowdown, a game that should last 20 minutes can go for hours. Cyberlore has compensated for this somewhat by making all the maps very small, but while this works in most single player games, in multiplayer there is not much you can do.
I would have preferred to have less AI and larger maps really, because with the smaller maps you almost never get to take advantage of the more advanced buildings. By the time you get them built, the game is close to ending because your heroes have, with or without your direction, found and eliminated all the monster dens from the area.
Even with the critical slowdown flaws, the game is very addictive. I found myself playing for hours on end both in the lab and on the road using my laptop. One advantage of the small maps is that games can be played very quickly, so you get a lot of that "just one more game" mentality going and end up losing a lot of sleep. Multiplayer is a ton of fun and would be the shining strength of the game – coaxing your heroes to PLEASE attack the enemy castle now that they are weakened – if it were not for the maddening slowdowns. In heated combats, it almost becomes a turn-based game.
Majesty earns 4 GiN Gems for its treasure trove, with one Gem off for reliance exclusively on smaller maps and slowdowns late in the game. But this is one of the most advanced RTS games we have ever seen, and the intensive AI comes with some tradeoffs. Still, any RTS fan will find themselves quickly hooked on this new way to play war games, where the player is both powerful and powerless at the same time.