Imagine you’re a king. A real king, not some bloated rock ‘n’ roll star with a penchant for burgers and dying on the lavatory. At first it might seem like a pretty sweet deal. You get to sit back on your throne and drink lots of mead and make light conversation with your queen. But then imagine that a host of hideous beasties suddenly invade your kingdom, intent on stomping everyone to bits. You scramble to build an army and tighten your defences, but no one wants to fight for you - not unless you pay them right. Meanwhile, half of your realm is ablaze and a 50-foot ogre has just appeared at your window.
Welcome to the world of Majesty.
The original game by Paradox was a strategic mediaeval romp similar to Age of Empires. The player progresses through a series of missions by building up a ‘base’, then attracting a bunch of heroes to do their bidding. The twist was, unlike most strategy games, you have no control over your troops. Instead, you must get the heroes to do your bidding by offering them incentives. This added an extra level of sim-style gameplay - keep everyone happy or you’ll never be able to complete the task at hand. Who said being a king was easy?
Majesty 2 sticks closely to the original concept, and impressions from the preview demo are generally positive. The interface may be a little intimidating at first, taking up a hefty chunk of the screen, but it’s very intuitive and the average gamer should be comfortable using it within half an hour. You have the usual minimap, toolbar, status bar and menu options, all arranged around the edges of the display. Click on a building and the toolbar shows all the actions you can take, such as upgrades and further construction. Hover over a resident of your realm - or even an enemy - and useful information such as current status and health is displayed.
For the first mission, I had to wipe out a den of ogres to the North. Not content to just sit there and wait for their impending doom, the big brutes set about bashing in the defence towers I’d built around the perimeter of my base. I didn’t realise this at first as the rousing music didn’t change to alert me, but if I’d been paying attention to my map then it would’ve been obvious, as a series of swirling blue squares descended on the location of the chaos.
At first, I decided to sit back and see if any of my heroes would rush in and attack. Just one soldier tried his luck, and was soon the mangled recipient of a club sandwich. My castle fell without much trouble, and that was that. The game-over screen showed just how much damage the ogres had caused, and just how badly I had sucked as king.
Next time, I made full use of the flag system. The flags are basically messages to your people, telling them what to do. Place an explore flag, and your loyal subjects should wander over to that area and have a look about. If a beastie is giving you grief, slapping a kill flag on them should make them a target for lances and pitchforks. Two new flags have been created for Majesty 2 - the protect and fear flags. The protect flag is self-explanatory, while the fear flag keeps heroes away from a certain area. Of course, your loyal subjects aren’t actually very loyal at all. They’re all about the green - or in this case, gold - and you’ll have to attach a monetary reward to each flag as an incentive for them to do your bidding.
As soon as the ogres appeared, I pinned a kill flag on the pair of them and offered a generous sum of cash for their heads. None of my heroes budged. Unperturbed, I upped the fee a little. Still no biters. One of my heroes appeared to wander in their general direction, then changed his mind and went for a stroll instead. In desperation I offered up all of my cash, but by now the ogres had reached my castle and quickly set about reducing it to rubble. A solitary soldier finally gave a half-hearted attempt to stop them, but ended up thinner than a McDonald’s burger. Game over.
Still, at least when your kingdom’s burning down, it’s pretty to watch. Buildings show damage in real-time, so the more they get pummelled, the more they fall away in great chunks. Sometimes the pieces can be a little blocky, but it’s a thoughtful addition. The character animation is smooth and deaths are particularly fun to watch, as the unfortunate victims stagger and shake before collapsing in a heap. Ogres show their might by smashing their way through the scenery, taking down massive trees as they advance on your position, which certainly helps raise the tension.
I had the chance to try out a few other missions, which were nicely varied. One had me establish a trade route with a nearby port, while another gave me the chance to recruit certain heroes from the surrounding area. I found I had the same trouble getting people to do what I wanted, even with tremendous amounts of gold on offer, but hopefully the finished product will have rectified that issue. The AI of the enemy characters was also basic at times, with the ogres often ‘wandering aimlessly’ (as their status revealed) until they happened across a building to smash.
Majesty 2 certainly seems to be shaping up into a complex and enjoyable title, providing Paradox make it easier to get your subjects to do your bidding. Glimpses of humour add to the fun - your tax collectors’ status changes to ‘fleeing’ once they’ve done their rounds - and instructions and updates are given in a refreshingly conversational tone. We’re also promised some new gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to set up your own hero parties and a more complex system for interracial integration. However, I can’t help but wonder how great it would be if you could play the role of a tyrant - threatening to burn down your soldiers’ houses unless they follow your demands, instead of offering them cash incentives. Perhaps that’s one for Majesty 3.