Paradox Interactive certainly have a considerable CV under their collective belts. Games like Supreme Ruler, King Arthur and Sword of the Stars are not to be passed over lightly. They have carved a niche in the RTS market for themselves and now the pressure is on to keep that niche filled with worthwhile candidates. Do they manage this with Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, the sequel to the 2000 best seller? Too bleeding right they do!
We start our story in the kingdom of Ardania, which is a very nice place to live. The lands are peaceful, the grass is green and fertile and the locals frolic around in a kind of absent-minded bliss. All very serene. The reason why this land is a Saga Holiday dream destination is down to the noble, brave and pointy-chinned line of kings who have courageously fought off dragons, ogres, rat-men and various other unpleasant beasties throughout the five hundred years since the original Majesty game. Their portraits line the halls of the castle and the locals sing songs of their great deeds. This doesn’t go down to well with the current king, Leonard, however, who sits worrying about his role in history. He can hardly have his picture up in the castle for the noble deed of sitting on his backside all day long.
So necessity, like Frank Zappa, being the mother of invention, and old Leonard being the king and everything, he had the wonderful idea of summoning up the lord of all demons so he could then fight it off and banish it from his realm, thus giving him a bit of kudos with his subjects. As far as bad ideas go, this one was top of the league. The lord of all demons was none too happy with the king or the king’s wizards who summoned him: presumably he was in the middle of a game of Monopoly with Satan! So he broke free, killed the king and all his servants and, Ardania being as nice it is, decided to settle down on the throne. Needless to say, Ardania is now about as much of a holiday destination as the Gaza Strip. Many years pass with many heroes trying to overthrow the demon and failing miserably. This is where you come in. You are the last in the line of kings (I’m guessing the result of an indiscretion between a barmaid and the king late one night). And it’s your job to unite the land and eventually beat the living daylights out of the demon lord to regain your throne and make Ardania the nice place it once was again.
As you have already guessed from the screenshots, and what I said to start with, M2:TFKS is an RTS, but an RTS with a difference. Yes the semi-isometric-esque view is the standard for such a genre. Yes you have buildings to, well, build, and yes you have various types of offence and defence to unleash upon the enemy. But where in previous RTS games you had resources to gather, citizens to select and allocate work to, great armies to highlight and ravage the landscape with, M2:TFKS differs in that the usual level of micro-management has been refreshingly removed, allowing you to concentrate purely on the objective and the economy of your town. Sound interesting? Well read on, because it is.
A tutorial leads you gently by the hand when you start your sixteen mission campaign, showing you how to build and how to navigate around the world. However, listen carefully to it as it details the combat and exploration system. As I said, the micro-management aspect has been removed from M2:TFKS, your army – or heroes in this case, are completely autonomous, they decided on their own actions and what should be done and when. You have to encourage them to explore a certain area, or attack an enemy by raising one of four flags either on the area or on the enemy. The flags are: Attack, Explore, Protection and Fear. These flags can be raised anywhere on the map and the way to coerce your heroes to the flag is to place a bounty on it. For example, you want your heroes to attack an enemy guard tower. Place an attack flag above it and give it a bounty of, say 500 gold pieces. Your band of heroes will then toddle off and begin the attack. They’ll attack until either the unit is destroyed or they are running low on health, in which case they’ll flee back to your town for a bit of a breather. I know this sounds a little confusing and admittedly it does take some getting used to, but persevere and you get the hang of it.
This trick of bribery to induce your heroes to do anything represents the main focus on your role as the sovereign; you have to keep an eye on that treasury. Building and upgrading any structure, researching new tools and items, hiring heroes all costs gold. How do you get gold? Well, like every good ruler, you tax the pants off your subjects. Your taxman will automatically call round the peasants houses collecting as he goes, then dropping off the ill-gotten gains to your castle. This brings in a small amount so to increase your wealth you can build a market place, where everyone buys food, clothing etc., a blacksmith, where your heroes purchase their armour and weapons, or an Inn, where your heroes can gather, swap manly stories and recover any lost health. It is in these places that your heroes and subjects can spend their money, so that bounty you placed on the head of a demon, for example, was collected by a hero then spent in your market place, which was collected by your taxman – ingenious. Further into the game you can build trading posts, but only in certain locations, these really bring in the loot but require a fair amount of protection from your heroes when traveling on the road.
Speaking of heroes, you have several that you can choose from: Warriors, Rogues, Rangers, Clerics, Mages and many others, up to thirteen different classes. These can be ‘built’ from different types of guilds – the warriors guild produces warriors and so on. As the game evolves, so do your heroes by levelling up and increasing their skills. Building a temple allows you upgrade your heroes even more. A warrior becomes a paladin or a blade master, a ranger becomes a beast-master or an archer belonging to that particular temple’s God. Your heroes, being basically heroic and all that, are fairly good in battle. I won’t go into the ins and outs too much of what the different types do, as I’ll be here all day, but suffice to say they handle themselves reasonably well against the enemy, who are made up of Rat-men, Skeletal Warriors, Skeleton Kings, Giant Ogres, Zombies, Imps, Demons, Minotaurs – you get the idea.
Build, slash and hack your way through the campaign, and when you’ve had enough of that and you’ve driven the demon lord under your booted heel, you can have a try at one of the nine single missions or, if you’re feeling really confident, you can go online and wage war with up to four players for ranked and tournament games. Not to mention the three current expansion packs, Kingmaker, Battles Of Ardania and Monster Kingdom (all of which will be reviewed soon)
The graphics are very nicely presented and the game world moves around without too much trouble. They also contain a certain level of humour, such as the flailing arms of a hero as he/she flees from the enemy or the comic angry face that appears over your hero to indicate their mood. The naming conventions of the heroes are also worth a look, with names such as Larryl Tightpants, or Roberta Yourpurse. The music and sound is fine for a fantasy type RTS, but again the humour is injected into the voice over of your aide, who’s dialogue is funny, but not as much as his attempts at a Sean Connery impression. The difficulty gradually builds as you progress through the game, it becomes hard but not too frustratingly annoying. I found it to be very balanced and although I noticed the increase in the AI’s behaviour, it blended in nicely with the missions.
I do have a couple of gripes though. I found that the autonomous heroes and subjects, although a very interesting aspect, a little too autonomous for my liking. There were times when a demon wandered into my town it got passed the defence towers and was quite happily destroying buildings whilst, despite the attack flag, several so-called heroes wandered idly passed and didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow at the destruction of their property. Only when I increased the bounty to over 600 gold did anyone bother to do anything. Another example of the flag raising and autonomy issue with the heroes is the exploration of the world. Occasionally you will find treasure chests containing a certain amount of gold. I had, a number of times, an exploration flag up right in the middle of a group of treasure chests. The ranger wandered up, collected the bounty on the flag and came back home, ignoring the brimming chests of gold that were right next to him – what a tool! One more gripe is the appearance of enemy bases. You build your town and over time a sewer is created with a few openings. Out of these pour Rats, Rat-men, The Un-Dead and other unsavoury characters. The only problem being, it’s slap bang in the middle of your town and if you have most, if not all, of your heroes off completing the mission then you can quickly find yourself undefended and being attacked from within.
Apart from the above gripes, the game is very playable and visually pleasing. I enjoyed the different way of doing things and I appreciate the clog in the works on the usual RTS scene. I would recommend this game to any RTS fan, the expansions and online mode make this a splendid addition to a gamers collection.
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