Battles of Ardania, the second expansion for Majesty 2, is a grueling slog that beats you over the head with excessive difficulty from the very start of the single-player campaign that forms the majority of its content. Little else is added to the basic formula, so there isn't much of interest to be found in this add-on aside from the hair-pulling difficulty. While serious devotees of the series might enjoy this sort of extreme challenge, just about everyone else will be crying uncle within the first couple of hours of play.
Not much distinguishes Battles of Ardania from the previous Majesty 2 expansion, Kingmaker, or the original game released in early 2009. The premise remains the same. You play the role of a king in a medieval fantasy land called Ardania. The look and feel are very similar to a traditional real-time strategy game in the vein of Age of Empires in that you build, order up units, and do research on various upgrades that give troops better gear and let you whip off the odd lightning bolt. But there is one catch. You can't give direct orders to units. Whenever you want to reveal some of the inky-black map, you need to pin an explore flag to the locale you want checked out and assign a gold reward to the task. Whenever you want to clear out a crypt full of stinky undead, you need to pin an attack flag to the spot. Whenever you want to defend your home turf, you need to pin a defense flag to the spot. And so forth. Pony up enough loot, and your lads hurry over to do your bidding. Cheap out, and they just ignore you.
This hands-off style of unit management can be tough to deal with. Type A personalities can expect a rough ride, since there is a lot of randomness incorporated into the core of the game design. You need a ton of patience and a willingness to let the game go where it wants to at times, because warriors supposedly on the hunt to kill monsters and score loot often wander right past flags loaded up with gold. The extreme difficulty makes everything even more aggravating. Scenarios are absurdly tough. Every mission in the campaign rushes you with waves of enemies from the get-go, which emphasizes your lack of control and cranks up the frustration. You almost certainly won't win missions the first time through, because you're always taken by surprise by some bizarre, impossible-to-foresee element like rampaging bearmen appearing every few minutes from the edge of the screen and turning half of your buildings into rubble. Everything has been rigged so that you have to take part in a lot of annoying trial-and-error experimentation, which extends the length of the game at the cost of sending your blood pressure through the roof.
Nothing compensates for the sheer brutality and simple-minded nature of the difficulty, either. The plot is barely there, with the returning Sean Connery-soundalike narrator the best part of an episodic tale that has the king heading out to war simply because he's bored and should probably go kill bad guys. The Lord of the Rings, this ain't. All the "story" does is string together eight basically disconnected fights around the kingdom based on the same general themes and goals that have always been a part of this series. You wind up battling a mage-werewolf, but generally, the expansion holds true to its generic name. Other additions are hardly worth noting. None of the units or buildings have been bolstered or changed in any significant way, aside from a couple of new monsters that are just variants of existing creatures. So you're still constructing the same old bases, cranking out the same old units, and researching the same old spells and equipment upgrades. The visuals and sound effects are identical to those in Majesty 2, right down to the goofball order acknowledgements (which still include the rather appropriate elvish dying line "Not fun…not at all"). A handful of new multiplayer maps, including two with co-op support, have been tossed into the mix, but that's about it for brand-new features.
While the Majesty 2 formula of managing a fantasy kingdom at arm's length can be catchy if you're blessed with lots of patience, the combination of this laissez-faire mechanic and endless waves of marauding monsters is maddening. There is some real challenge for series vets in search of a game that tests their skills, albeit in some decidedly unfair ways. But for most players this exasperating expansion offers more frustration than fun.