Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim
This long-in-coming sequel is clearly crafted with a deep appreciation for the original, despite being developed by an entirely different company in a later decade on a separate continent. Majesty 2 hits on most cylinders and taps into many of the same creative veins that made its predecessor so beloved. Its lack of both content and a random map generator are disappointing, but dozens of hours of entertainment await regardless.
Majesty 2 asks players to hire and provide the necessities for a stable of heroes to enable them to defend the kingdom and crush its enemies. The challenges here are not in mastering the perfect build order or micromanaging your forces. A successful sovereign looks farther forward, subsidizing blacksmiths so that heroes can spend their hard-earned loot on upgraded equipment instead of squandering it in the tavern. A clever monarch places a standing reward on the defense of outlying trading posts, keeping commerce flowing while lining the pockets of his heroes. Combining the simulation and real-time strategy genres like this is a fantastic gameplay hook, and the implementation is largely solid.
How you spend your limited income is the primary gameplay vector. Do you rush to upgrade your palace and get some super-tough Dwarves on the field, or is buying a single high-level hero from the Hall of Lords a better idea? Should you unlock new attacks and equipment, or build more guilds and go for quantity over quality? In addition to putting up buildings, you can place bounties on exploration, combat, or defense to entice your heroes toward a critical goal or away from a dangerous monster. The game rarely lacks interesting decisions to make; you never have enough money to do everything you want, so prioritizing is crucial.
A few spots on each map are designated as temple building sites, upon which a monarch with a fully upgraded palace can build temples. You have to make serious choices here – you can hire only a few of the several types of templar. Priestesses of Agrela pack powerful healing abilities and grant access to the amazing Resurrection spell, but the undead hordes summoned forth by their Krypta-worshipping counterparts could prove more useful.
The game ships with a progression of campaign missions that introduce the game's mechanics and eventually task players with fending off the assaults of legendary, army-incinerating monsters. Even gamers who spent huge amounts of time with the original will find plenty of challenge in the campaign, and I'd be surprised if anyone is able to finish a playthrough in less than 20 hours. Several single scenarios are available as well, but none offer much replay value. Add in functional (if not amazing) multiplayer, and that seems a fair value for your $40 – even if strategy gamers are used to getting more replayability.
Majesty 2 is a better designed game than the original in many respects – the balance is improved, the interface is less horrible, and the economy model is vastly superior. However, it fails to project the kind of quirky charm that made the first title such a classic. Heroes are generally smarter in game terms, but lack the distinct personality that made forgetful wizards and lazy elves so memorable. With the exception of the snarky narrator and smarmy tax collectors, the voice work is a definite step down. Nonetheless, I'm very impressed that an old favorite that I'd long since given up hope of receiving a sequel got a competent, and rather entertaining one.