Some video games sell themselves on their looks, their length, and the ways that they let players kill other players. Majesty 2 could sell itself in a number of ways. It’s an indirect control RTS and a (rather difficult) “tongue in cheek” fantasy genre game. It also has some of the most annoying voice work of any video game that I’ve ever played. Almost every single hero unit and NPC produces an unforgettably unpleasant set of lines. It doesn’t matter if units are dying, fighting, or wandering about, they’re all awful. During my playthroughs of Majesty 2 and its expansion, Battles of Ardania, I quickly silenced these sounds. Unfortunately, I was quickly made aware of the fact that the game’s warning/notification interface isn’t advanced enough to inform players of all of the goings on ingame. Simply put, I needed these awful voices to do well at this difficult game.
Paradox Interactive are happy to release old school, PC-style expansions to Majesty 2. This means that the latest expansion, Battles of Ardania, is a fairly simple affair. There’s a new miniature campaign, new enemies, new weapons, and some new hero units. Mechanically there’s nothing new, though the game’s difficulty starts out tough and only gets more difficult. That’s impressive, considering Majesty 2 had a harsh learning curve and a sharp difficulty spike halfway through. Battles of Ardania assumes that players will be Majesty veterans or at least that new players will enjoy constant, brutal thrashings at the hands of the ruthless AI.
Battles of Ardania is an indirect control fantasy RTS. Players cannot directly order or control their various hero and peasant units. Instead, different reward “flags” provide incentives for NPC units to complete various tasks. Majesty 2 and BoA focus on two pillars of kingdom creation: taxes and combat. It’s impossible to protect your tax collectors (and the people that they tax) without the protection of heroes and watchtowers, and it’s impossible to amass a small army of heroes and protective buildings without a measured approach to spending, infrastructure maintenance, and taxation.
Heroes are hired through specialized recruiting grounds (archers are hired through the Ranger’s Guild, priestesses through the Monastery), buildings that can in turn be upgraded to provide heroes (and the player) with advanced spells and abilities. There are also a host of buildings designed to allow the player to recycle her heroes’ cash. Item shops and blacksmiths will sell potions, tonics, weapons, and armor to eager heroes, as long as those heroes have enough money.
Heroes collect money through monster looting and flag collection. Every monster killed earns the hero a bit of gold. However, if a hero makes good on some player-placed flag, they can earn much, much more. Smart players will learn to liberally use properly priced flags. Every job requires only so much gold, be it the destruction of a local monster lair, the defense of a soon-to-be-built trading post, or the destruction of an enemy castle. There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing that I’ve just provided some low level heroes with a bounty of 1,000 gold, when they would have happily done the same job for 300.
It’s a fun system to figure out. The give and take of flag setting, hero flag collection, and hero in-shop spending is a delicate kind of ecosystem, one that can run dry if not properly tended. Unfortunately, it’s hard to figure out how much each quest flag should be and how much to spend on infrastructure when the game starts at a demoralizingly high difficulty level.
Probably, Paradox assumed that everyone playing Battles of Ardania was a Majesty veteran. Even so, the game goes from difficult to very, very hard, and it’s hard to work out how to master Battle of Ardania’s systems without some serious outside assistance. It turns out that there are only a few starting builds that will allow players to win. Every time that I deviated from these strict guidelines, the game would quickly field high level monster mobs, groups of enemies that made mincemeat of my most capable heroes.
Battles of Ardania has all of the eccentricities, shortcomings, and joys that Majesty 2 had, it just throws a set of new missions at players. The story (narrated by the company’s second best Sean Connery impersonator, as always) is completely unnecessary. Players are here for new quests, new challenges, and a few extra weapons. There’s nothing wrong with Battles of Ardania, but there certainly isn’t much to get excited about either. There’s already an expansion that lets players create their own maps. That’s all that Majesty 2 ever needed: new maps, and lots of them. It seems odd to pay for a new campaign when players can just download community maps or just wait for the whole thing to come out in some kind of collector’s pack. Hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.