Majesty 2 Full Preview
Preview - posted by YourConscience on Tue 28 July 2009, 05:57:07
Majesty 2 Full Preview
While our first preview of Majesty 2 was based on a very incomplete alpha build, this time around we got the chance to play with a full beta version. Before proceeding I think it is important to be honest: I (someone jaded and disappointed with recent releases) couldn't stop playing it for a whole week now. Why is that? Well, because it's Majesty all over again and the magic is still there!
But let's start from the beginning. Majesty 2 is a sequel to Majesty (surprise surprise!) which was a game where you are supposed to rule a little nation without ever assuming direct control over your units. The gameplay in Majesty 2 again revolves around spending money on the construction of guilds and on placing bounties and hoping that the darned mage doesn't run into trouble all alone again.
In the beginning you always have your castle and three peasant houses which net you some tax income every once in a while. That tax income needs to be fetched by an autonomous tax collector and brought back to your castle. That is important, because he will often die and loose all the money if not protected. Now, if you want fighters to defend your tax collectors and peasants, you spend some money to build a fighters guild. Then you spend some more money to attract a fighter. And from then on this fighter wanders around looking for some beastie to kill. If you have built a market, the fighter will also go there from time to time to do what every RPG player does in shops: he buys healing potions.
At this point the first monsters will come charging from out of the dark and your fighters will have a tough time not dying, not speaking of defending the poor peasants. To help them you can build defense towers or guilds, such as a mages guild, a clerics temple, a rangers guild or a rogue den and hire the corresponding type of heroes. Clerics are very useful because they can heal other heroes. Rogues also have their role by inflicting special crippling attacks that temporarily disable or poison even powerful enemies. But all that depends on your kingdom having enough money, which depends on the peasants and the tax collector surviving. Just observing this dependency circle working or breaking down is fun. Here there are many interesting observations to be made, such as a desperate battle of three clerics against one high-level vampire. Or a rogue trying to outrun an ogre whom he awoke and a warrior charging to help, or a giant rat suddenly jumping out of the sewers and eating the tax collector just when he was about to return with a coffer full of gold...
As your city grows (by the player building guilds, a market, a smithy, etc.), more peasant houses will pop up, but also more sewer entrances appear randomly. These are indestructible spawn points of rats and other beasts. At the same time, your rangers and rogues will have discovered more of the surrounding lands and other spawn locations of specific enemies will become visible, such as an ogre den, or a dragon lair. Theoretically the player is supposed to place a bounty on them in order to attract heroes to destroy these lairs. However, often it is better to wait before doing that, because otherwise "training material" for your heroes will cease to appear and in some missions it is important to train up your heroes to high levels quickly.
Defensive bounties can also be placed on your own units or structures. This will lead to that unit or building being protected, but should be used carefully so as to not leave the center of your kingdom unprotected. Fear bounties can be put on places where you don't want your heroes to go to. Finally, exploration bounties can be placed on undiscovered places of the map, which will usually be picked up by rangers.
Improvements over the old formula
An interesting addition over the original Majesty is the introduction of special places on the map, such as holy places and mule stations. On the latter you can build trading posts which will spawn mule carts full with gold from time to time. If such a mule cart manages to arrive at your market in one piece (as opposed to in the stomach of that hungry ogre) that gold is yours. On the holy places it is possible to build one out of a number of temples where the player can hire especially powerful heroes, such as paladins or blademasters. However, these places are guarded by rather strong enemies and also the player castle needs to be upgraded to the very expensive level 3. Hence, by the time the player can actually build something there, these new level 1 powerful heroes look rather weak against the high level early stage heroes such as clerics and warriors that did most of the dirty work from the very beginning. I guess this needs some balancing on behalf of the developer. The trading posts are pretty well-balanced so far - it does pay off to build at least one of these and the respective defensive infrastructure (defense towers) early on.
Another well-conceived addition is the tavern (at least I don't remember these from the original Majesty). Once built, they allow you to form parties of up to four heroes which will from then on stick together and work as a team. This considerably alleviates some of the frustration of lonely heroes getting into trouble from the original. The only gripe I had with this is that there seems to be no possibility to dissolve or change parties later on. Also, the new idea of showing a list of all your heroes (slightly similar to the empire tree in Sins of a Solar Empire) is neat, but it doesn't really support parties yet. I would actually expect it to be more tree-like.
It also seems that this time around there are more structures that the player can build where heroes can spend their hard-earned cash on trinkets such as magic rings, magic potions and arms. This is nice, because even until the end-stage of a mission, there is (very expensive) stuff to be built or researched. Also, most guilds allow several enhancements to the heroes of that guild to be researched, such as better mana regeneration for your clerics, or a firestorm spell for the mages. I think that this could be split up into more stages and more mutual exclusive developments (like making the clerics more offensive, or more defensive).The AI of the various hero types is sufficiently varied to make the hero types believable. Rogues will only attack as packs and run in almost any other circumstance. Paladins charge recklessly into the thick of the battle and rangers skulk around in the woods and usually outrun the powerful enemies they discover there. The only gripe here would be that the AI doesn't take ranged attack foes into account properly. This means that a simple fire bat can kill a ranger simply because the ranger will decide to flee, but the bat can still spit its fire on him two or three more times before he leaves the spitting range of the bat, usually killing that ranger.
The campaign in this game consists of about a dozen of missions with increasing difficulty and varying themes. Even though most of the missions boil down to "kill every monster on the map", they all have very different themes which require considerably different approaches. One of the last missions for example consists of clearing a map full of vampire lairs. Since vampires are undead and very dangerous for low-level heroes, a single one could defeat the player early on. The only possible solution for this mission turned out to build several cleric temples and avoid any other type of heroes until the late stages of the game. Another mission had a virtually invulnerable dragon coming to your kingdom from time to time to destroy a building. Here it was important to notice the typical route of the dragon and place some cheap buildings in his path for him to destroy.
The descriptions of the missions are hilarious, though. The beta build we received still had the Russian voice in the introductions and it had a very good quality and was fun to listen to (that despite the fact that I usually just skip such introductions). Fun and humour is actually the most important aspect of the whole game. Not only are the introductions funny, also the comments of the heroes are cheek-in-tongue, like when the mage mutters "Damn, where did I place my spell book again?" or upon perceiving an enemy "Yay, now I can finally try out my new spell!". However, I wish I had some kind of in-game whip to be used every time I hear "I am meeltiiiing!", which is what the mage says (in English!) when he again died. This is especially frustrating because reviving them is so expencive... On the other hand, once a mage survives to higher levels, there is virtually nothing that can stop him.
Graphics and stability
As stated in the alpha preview, the graphics are pretty, clean and nice and everything fits together, nothing looks out of the place. There are even some nice effects, such as sand winds from dunes, or partial destructions of buildings. Some of the monsters are exceptionally well-done such as the ogres, some are not so nice such as the sisters of Agrela. On my C2Duo E8400 with an ATI 4850HD it ran smooth but not silky-smooth with all settings to highest. Since most of the potential customers of this game would be families the developer would be wise to make it run on even very dated hardware and on notebooks with very weak 3D cards, because they are still competing with the much cheaper original Majesty which has now finally become easily buyable through legal sources.
The stability of the game remained as high as in the alpha build. There was actually only one crash-bug, and that was reproducibly associated with the load-game feature. Never in the whole time did it crash during a mission. There also were no other bugs, or at least I couldn't notice any. And since starting the game and loading a save-game is really fast, there was no frustration associated with the load crash-bug. I really think that loading times should be at least as short as here in all games.
The only real complaint about Majesty 2 I would have is about what I would call the "tipping point". There is a specific point during a mission when your heroes become so powerful, that nothing can ever harm your kingdom. From then on it usually is just mopping up the map. I think this game could benefit from something like Valve's director AI idea. That could generate "leveled" trouble for the player, such as waves of monsters based on the amount and power of your heroes or where stronger monster lairs would randomly appear throughout the map. The same goes to the kingdom AI in rivaling kingdoms in skirmish games - they are simply no match for the player once his heroes become too strong.
In the end, all there is to say is that this game really delivers. It is fun as hell, addicting like a drug and is a nearly perfect mix of staying true to the original while also being original in its own right!