If Majesty helps set a trend, then 2000 might go down in history as the year in which gaming changed forever. First there was Maxis' successful suburban-life simulator The Sims, in which you set simulated people in motion and watched them live their lives under your influence. And now there's Majesty, which won't seem so revolutionary when you first look at it, but gets much more interesting as you start to play it. As in The Sims, the point in Majesty is influencing your subjects rather than directly commanding them, even though Majesty seems like a fairly traditional fantasy-themed real-time strategy game on the surface.
The big deal about both The Sims and Majesty is that they simulate autonomous behavior by recognizing that just because you want a person to do something, doesn't mean he'll actually do it. Although Majesty certainly doesn't simulate the full complexity of intelligent autonomous free will, it's still a great deal of fun and will likely help set a precedent for future games that take game characters' artificial intelligence even further.
Majesty is a real-time strategy game set in a medieval fantasy world. Your goal is to establish your kingdom and try to expand it. The problem is that there are lots of people and creatures out there who would rather not have you infringing on their rights, either as devoted citizens of other kingdoms or simply as individuals, and who defend against your advances or try to pummel your homeland. You have to build military defenses, cultural institutions, and everything else that will keep your people satisfied and prosperous, all while repairing what gets damaged and pumping tax dollars into an increasing number of things. At first, Majesty doesn't seem different from any other top-down real-time strategy games or empire-building games released in the past few years.
As the ruler of the land, you start each scenario with a palace. The palace gives you access to various actions such as constructing buildings, setting henchmen limits, and establishing rewards. All other aspects of the game revolve around balancing these various actions. You need buildings to protect the kingdom, produce materials, generate revenue, and act as home bases for your heroes. You use henchmen to perform the kingdom's necessary functions such as guarding, trading, and collecting taxes. But the core of the game, and its true innovation, lies with the heroes you'll have to recruit.
Recruiting heroes in Majesty is crucial. The henchmen that your palace and its guard towers automatically produce, which include city guards, palace guards, peasants, tax collectors, and caravans, perform the kingdom's day-to-day work. However, heroes let you expand your kingdom by exploring the territory surrounding your palace and by engaging in combat with monsters and other enemies throughout the land. To recruit heroes, you have to construct buildings in which they'll base themselves. Build a gnome hovel, and you can recruit gnomes, which are cheap but not very useful. Build a warrior's guild, and you can recruit warriors, who are more expensive but much more powerful - and later in the game you can recruit paladins, who are even stronger than the warriors. A dwarven settlement will yield engineerlike dwarves, while a ranger's guild will let you recruit your most capable explorers. Wizards can be recruited once you construct a wizard's guild, and they can cast powerful spells but are easily killed. You can also construct temples to various deities, and each will also let you recruit a specific kind of hero. One temple gives you healers, another provides priestesses, and still others offer monks, cultists, adepts, and fire-wielding women called solari. Each type of hero has its own capabilities, and each type costs a different amount of gold to recruit. You'll often find yourself unable to recruit the hero you need because your treasury is too low, and at these times you can miss several golden opportunities to expand. Expanding your territory is when Majesty is most fun and most unusual. It's one thing to construct a guild or a temple and recruit heroes. It's another thing entirely to actually get your heroes to do anything. Heroes will spend their time wandering about, shopping for new weapons or other items, defending the kingdom if it's under attack (or if they feel like it), or just lollygagging about, waiting for action. As ruler, you have to provide them with the incentive to do things.
You do so through Majesty's very elegant system of offering rewards. If you want an area explored, you click on the explore-reward icon and drag it to a shrouded area of the map. To attack a monster, a location, or an enemy building, you click on the attack-reward icon and drag it to that destination. Then - and this is the important part - you assign a monetary value to that reward to provide the incentive for heroes to go there. If you just wanted them to collect the money from nearby treasure chests, you'd put an explore-reward in the area and assign it the lowest amount. However, if you want your heroes to attack an enemy stronghold, you must place an attack-reward of a much more significant value on the stronghold. If the reward is substantial enough, you'll see your heroes exit their guilds and temples and start heading toward the location. Some of them will take on monsters along the way, while others will turn aside when the going gets tough.
Majesty's interface is mostly good. You click on a building, character, or item to get information about it and act upon it. Acting upon a building means repairing and upgrading it. In several cases, such as with a guardhouse, marketplace, or blacksmith's shop, you conduct research into areas specific to that building, such as weapon- and armor-level upgrades for the blacksmith and additional types of goods for the marketplace. After a specific number of items have been researched, you can then upgrade the building to the next level. An upgraded guardhouse provides better protection for the kingdom, while an upgraded blacksmith's shop provides better weaponry for your heroes. Upgrading the library gives you knowledge of weapons you can build and technologies you can use, which in turn allows for additional research in other buildings. Upgrading the marketplace provides a more varied store of available goods and a quicker revenue stream.
Maintaining a revenue stream is extremely important. As in any game similar to Majesty, you need a steady income of resources to survive, and in Majesty your revenue mostly comes from tax collectors. In fact, your entire kingdom depends on a little guy called who walks from building to building collecting taxes. You can put each building on the tax route, or you can order your collector to tax a specific building right away to get quick cash. Ultimately, you'll need more than one tax collector, or your cash flow won't be suitable to your needs. Marketplaces are a major source of taxation revenue, so you must pay close attention to protecting and upgrading them to make them as lucrative as possible. You can also build caravans, trading posts, and inns to help your economic cause, and you can also send your recruited heroes to collect money from treasure chests and enemy buildings.
There are 18 scenarios included in the game. Four of them are secret and require you to complete one or more of the other 14 before you can start them. The others are independent, and there's no cohesive story or campaign linking them together. Some of the scenarios are designed for beginners as a means of introducing the various elements of the game system, while some are rated as advanced, and a few are designed for expert players. Each quest is replayable to a certain degree, since some of the components are randomized each time you start a new game. You can also continue to play each quest past the point at which you complete the victory conditions, so that the game becomes one of exploration, building, defending, and conquering, rather than one of trying to work toward a more specific goal. In many ways, playing without a specific quest is actually more fun, since your concerns then center exclusively on the building, maintenance, and survival of your kingdom. You can also play (mostly) cooperative multiplayer versions of Majesty over modem, LAN, or on the Internet through the MSN Gaming Zone.
Majesty is one of the rare games that you won't want to stop playing until you find out what happens next. Your heroes can die quickly, but you'll find yourself cheering for some of them and delightedly watching them grow into increasingly powerful characters. There's frequently so much going on in Majesty that it's too hard to keep track of everything, and the action happens so quickly that you'll hardly have any time to watch the enjoyable graphics and animations. While some elements of the game's interface are a bit clumsy, Majesty is truly excellent overall because of its simple but immensely effective system for getting your heroes to do their jobs. Majesty is original, fun, and challenging, and it's a winning combination of real-time strategy and role-playing elements.