Nine years ago a lesser-known title was released called Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim. It was a unique strategy title released amongst a sea of Star Craft clones. It was a different kind of game that was less about micro-managing a large army by directly telling them what to do, and more about building your city and making effective use of your gold to ensure that your heroes were as strong as possible. Motivating them was done via reward flags that gave them gold for completing certain tasks. You could build them a blacksmith to upgrade their gear, a market place so they could buy health potions, and there were even rival heroes of whom you had to pick. If you wanted Dwarves then you would have to give-up the ability to bring Elves or Gnomes into your city. There were also rival temples, allowing you to either recruit healing priests, or skeleton-summoning necromancers among other priest types. The game was a cult hit with it's uniqueness being one of the favored things by its fans, but it seems that Majesty did copy one aspect of Star Craft, and that's its sequel release. After nearly a decade's wait, we finally have Majesty 2.
Majesty 2 plays virtually identically to its predecessor, but with a few noticeable changes. Where in the first Majesty you could micro your tax collector's route by removing certain buildings from his collection path, in this game you can only modify how much gold is needed before your tax collector sets out. The game also removed your ability to manually destroy one of your own buildings, a move to counter players from making cheaper buildings at the edge of their exploration zone and destroying them to creep along the map as an exploration method. Also gone is the rival dynamic of the races and temples. You can bring both Elves and Dwarves into your kingdom (Gnomes are strangely missing), and you can build any combination of Temples you want. The game still makes it a point to tell you who doesn't like who, but there seems to be no penalty for ignoring those warnings.
There are certainly some refreshing changes though. For one, you can now assign a defense flag to a friendly hero or building. This counters having to put attack flags on multiple enemies who are all attacking a single target. Instead, you can assign that target to be defended and your heroes will react by attacking anything threatening the defend target. Another nice change is that Rogues are no longer a redundant third arrow-shooting class, instead being tooled as dagger-wielding melee combatants who can stun their opponent. Temple classes have had their power balanced a little by restricting where they can be build, now you need to track down some hallowed ground before you can recruit the powerful Paladins or vicious Blade Masters. Majesty 2 also seems to have brought its own quirky sense of humor, mostly delivered through your adviser who gives the mission briefings with an uncanny Sean Connery impersonation, but it isn't such an over-bearing humor that you feel forced to laugh at it if you'd rather ignore it.
The game isn't without it's flaws, however. The game's balance seems a little off, in that some missions will be a cake walk, and then the next one will be hair-pullingly frustrating. Part of this is a lack of balance in the heroes, in that using certain heroes will make the game a lot easier, meanwhile all the other heroes can be easily ignored. It's a unique synergy between my first two philosophies behind game design, the first faltered, and it snagged the other while it tumbled down. The lack of a freeplay option means your restricted to either the campaign missions or the few single maps available. Another lacking feature from the first game is the presence of borders when placing a new building to help you see where you can and cannot place your new building, instead you just have waver around the area you want to build and wait for the red highlight to go away as you seek the ideal spot.
Over-all though, Majesty 2 is an enjoyable game, especially for those RTS fans who are seeking something outside of the norm. This isn't just another Star Craft clone claiming to do something, this is a completely different kind of Strategy title that almost plays closer to Sim City than to most other common RTS titles.