Review: Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim (iPhone/iPad/Android) Slaying Dragons With Better Bookkeeping

Majesty iPad1Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim has always been a unique title. Birthed by now defunct developer Cyberlore in 2000 for PCs, Majesty put you in charge of building a fairy tale city stocked full of AI controlled fantasy characters such as mages and paladins. While the game would go on to gather a strong cult following (including members of the GUO homestead), the promised sequel failed to emerge and Majesty faded into memory. Strategy powerhouse Paradox eventually acquired the rights and created an all new Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim in 2009. Today we have a new game with a familiar title under the care of yet another development house, HeroCraft. Can the unique qualities of Majesty survive yet another change in management and the move to the iOS platform?

 

Majesty puts you in the role of… well, Your Majesty. Your job is to sit on a throne in the castle and dictate construction, research, and the hiring of heroes just as in any number of countless other RTS games. The trick in Majesty is that you have no control over those heroes themselves. You shell out the cash and just hope that warrior you hired is more Aragorn than Boromir. Each little virtual hero has his own personality based on class. A page worth of D&D stats and inventory ensures he plays by the rules. The closest you can get to controlling the little twerps is by means of placing reward flags in the level. A 200 gold flag placed in an unexplored area will draw in passing rangers while a 1200 gold flag placed on a Troll lair will attract even that lazy level 1 mage who is sure do die on the way due to a mosquito bite. Even with the nudges offered by reward flags you will still shriek in terror as you level 13 healer just has to go shopping seconds before the dragon horde arrives and that frickin’ elf is doing his best Nero impression by playing the mandolin while your castle burns. It is this unique synergy of being all powerful builder and powerless leader that won Majesty so many fans in the days of yore. Its charm has not been diminished by either the change in platform or developer. Majesty is still all about the construction and direction of a community rather than then exploits of an individual.

Majesty iPad3Or perhaps I should say economy rather than community. While knowing your wanderlust intoxicated Rangers are essential to exploring the map but dead meat against anything stronger than a goblin on crutches is helpful, when the chips are down the only thing you can truly count on is cold, hard cash. Not only is gold critical for placing those influential reward flags, but also for casting spells and creating buildings. It is Majesty’s only real resource and mastering the ‘spend money to make money’ nature of the game’s economy is the only true path to success. Buildings in your kingdom slowly generate a small amount of tax revenue, but the Big Money comes in from heroes returning from adventuring laden with treasure and looking for a new sword or shield. Building and upgrading a blacksmith not only provides them with the opportunity to become a better equipped hero, but you’ll also skim a tidy profit off of the sale. Proceeds are transported back to the castle via AI tax collectors and added to your coffers which can then be spent on big, sharper swords for the shops or saved for a quick heal spell next time Sir Doorknob forgets to pack enough healing potions. So critical is mastering Majesty’s economy that you can expect to bang you head against the 3rd level repeatedly until you get it. The trick is not which of the mutually exclusive churches or demi-human races to welcome into your kingdom, it’s knowing that you need 2 marketplaces alternately generating income.

In spite of all the accounting, Majesty is packed full of whimsical character. While the kingdom of Ardania may be as generic of a fantasy setting as they come, the missions you’ll find yourself on are not. Scenarios range from aiding a Dwarven fortress under siege because their king stole a minotaur’s fiancĂ© to defending the last of the trolls because the caravan protection racket is just too lucrative to allow safe travel. The cute Facebook style character graphics may not be to everyone’s tastes, but they add to the charm of the world and ensure that each character class is identifiable at a glance. Majesty paints a magical kingdom you can laugh at without ever taking the easy, and tiresome, track of mockery or parody.

Majesty iPhoneSadly the game’s audio is not as enchanting as its setting. Sound effects are of low quality and the the shriek of dying mages is downright annoying. Audio cues are, at least, consistent. You’ll have a good sense of what, if not where, things are going on at any given time just by keeping your ears open. There is one shining gem in the audio department: The inclusion of the original soundtrack from the game’s 2000 release. Playing on the couch with iPad in hand one night, I glanced over to see a sparkle in the Mrs.’ eyes I hadn’t seen since our honeymoon night. “Are you playing Majesty on that thing?” she uttered in slack jawed amazement. Oh, yeah. It’s that intoxicating to the old fanboys and the music is just as wonderfully fitting a companion to the accounting as ever.

There are a few technical issues with Majesty I need to mention; Some good, some bad. Good news first? Okey-dokey. Majesty is packed full of content: 10 Hero types, a dozen monsters, 30 buildings, 95 achievements with online leaderboards, and 9 scenarios playable in 3 different difficulty settings. It is a modern miracle that the install footprint for Majesty clocks in at a puny 30 MB! With the obscene premium Apple puts on storage space for their devices and app sizes ballooning to over a GB, it is a welcome departure for the norm. This is one app you’re never going to delete for lack of space. Also sure to delight the upgrade impaired, Majesty runs flawlessly on older hardware. Even with a couple dozen AI minions flitting about while a goblin horde assaults my carefully crafted capitol a second generation iPod Touch never missed a beat.

Majesty iPad2On the downside, Majesty does not have an autosave feature while playing a scenario. Campaign progress is saved, but the actual gameplay portion relies upon iOS’s multitasking feature as its only form of backup. This is a bit of an issue on older hardware incompatible with iOS 4’s multitasking as games of Majesty can run upwards of an hour. There is a manual save feature but you must A) Know about it, B) Remember to use it, and C) Never hit the Home button on accident.

The other technical gripes I have relate directly to the interface. While Majesty actually has a fairly good interface, the few gaffes it makes are annoying in the extreme. For example, the usability of the menus suffer from a bit of schizophrenia. You’ll need to double tap on a button in some menus to activate it. This simply feels wrong. Once I conditioned myself to double tapping, I found that other menus, such as spell selection, only required a single tap and the extra input would send my selected spell uselessly into the game world costing money. The other major interface issue is that the information panel on the left of the screen, which you will have open most of the time, covers the mini map, blinding you to the tactical situation. This puts the player in the uncomfortable conundrum of either seeing the situation or doing something about it. Neither of these issues break the game in any fundamental way, but were a constant source of irritation. Irritating enough, in fact, as to cost Majesty a perfect review score.

Majesty iosMajesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim is every bit as enchanting today on a tablet or phone as it was in 2000 on a desktop. The unique hybrid of God game and real-time strategy is still fresh and unique with the added bonus of being able to hurl lightning with your finger. You get a metric ton of content packed into a storage friendly 30 Meg that will run on nearly all your iOS devices for a measly $3. It is fast and funny, deep and complex, yet fun and accessible. The difficulty curve and interface annoyances may cause an occasional swear, but in no way render this fine game any less brilliant. Majesty is a strategy role playing experience unlike any other and fans of either genre (or tower defense players, for that matter) would be doing themselves a disservice by missing it.

Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim is a universal app on $2.99 via iTunes icon or Android Market. Reviewed on iOS 4.3 iPad 2 and iOS 4.1 iPod Touch 2nd gen.

A lite (demo) version is available on iTunes for free.

Reviewer Rating: 4/5 Stars – Good4star

2 comments :

  1. I used to play the original Majesty for hours upon hours...it was awesome! I just got the app for my Android phone and it really has the same feel as the computer games. A+++ and great review!

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  2. Yeah, its a great game! I hope they put out some more levels or a sequel someday.

    Thanks for the compliment. And good timing! I've been having a bit of a crisis of faith regarding my writing recently.

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