Very few gamers in the world, if any at all, have asked themselves what it would be like to be a quest giver in an RPG instead of a hero. Cyberlore answered this question anyway in 2000 with Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, and their answer is quite intriguing – a reverse-RPG that is in the form of an RTS where you don’t directly control your heroes. Wait, what?
Even in a time when most other RTS developers at the time stopped ripping off Command & Conquer and WarCraft for a living, Cyberlore got really unorthodox. In Majesty, you are the eponymous royal majesty who is trying to unite the monster-overrun land of Ardania under the same crown, working from southern estates to all other sides of the world. Being set in a fantasy world, Majesty has absolutely no shortage of monsters who will stand in your way, but is also full of all the stereotypical hero types whom you can hire.
Not as indefensible as one might think.
You do not control your heroes directly as you would in a proper RPG or RTS. Instead, you simply build their respective guilds and auxiliary structures like marketplaces and blacksmiths where they can purchase things that may aid them in their quests, and then place markers to where you want them to go or what you want them to destroy rather than have them wander aimlessly, and set a certain amount of gold as a reward to that marker. Each hero type has a different motivation – e.g. rangers like to explore, but rogues believe only in the rule of the gold. They will also buy varying things from your auxiliary structures (e.g. rangers will not bother with purchasing armour upgrades) which will fill your coffers, and will be varyingly "courageous" when facing enemies. They will become stronger as they level up through defeating their enemies as well. Oh, and certain higher-tier guilds have heroes that hate each other (e.g. dwarves and elves) so you can only choose some of them at the same time. Wizard guilds and temples give you spells that you can cast near your wizard guilds or wizard towers for challenges that you cannot overcome using only conventional means. Also, most structures, including your palace (HQ equivalent), can be upgraded to give you some bonuses or a larger range of things you can purchase.
The hands-off approach to heroes as described above may sound even ideal for all the people I’ve heard recently who are completely incapable of following the admittedly moderate pace of a regular RTS, but don’t get too cheerful, Mr. Candy Crush Fan #405762013.7, as this game can get genuinely challenging, particularly if you get too complacent and focus only on offense. As your settlement grows larger, you get more houses (for free) that your overly enthusiastic tax collectors will patrol, but also more indestructible sewer entrances from which giant rats and ratmen can emerge and attack anything they see. Marketplaces cause random trolls to appear right next to them and also attack anything they see, and are harder to get rid of. Guardhouse pikemen can deal with minor threats when defending your settlement, but if all your heroes are too far away to react, you may lose a not-insignificant part of what you have established. Finally, if too many of your heroes die (though you can hire new ones from their guilds), a graveyard will pop up in your settlement, which will at times raise skeletons who will attack you.
Can someone tell me why freshly-recruited wizards are always senile grandpas?
The campaign mode is partly non-linear as within regions on the map, you are able to choose missions you want to play in any order, apart from big ones that require all other missions in that region to be completed first. When you hover your mouse over them, the game will tell you the mission’s difficulty, although not always reliably, since certain ones tagged as "advanced" will have you overrun by blazing-fast evil elves in the early game, which is a challenge I’d put as an “expert” mission if I were a designer in this particular instance.
If that is not enough or even too much for you, there are custom maps that you can generate with different objectives, starting conditions, monster strengths and special events, and can even play with up to 3 of your friends in these randomly generated maps in multiplayer. So even if you find yourself in front of a difficulty wall in the campaign, you will definitely not be bored while looking for a solution for the mission that troubles you.
Sure, sounds stereotypically preposterous, but you won't care after you hear your advisor.
The sprites look really pretty, the music will have you dancing in your chair after a while despite changing abruptly in different game stages, and voiceovers are good, except for the Sean Connery-esque advisor voiced by George Ledoux who is simply amazing (no wonder Ino-Co brought him back for the sequel). I may be the only person in the world to think so, but all these factors give off a veeeery subtle quirky feel to the game, though I can confirm it definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously like today’s fantasy games.
In 2001, Cyberlore released The Northern Expansion, which includes the entire snow-covered northern half of the campaign map, new monsters and new structures for your settlement. The Gold Edition compilation that included both the base game and the expansion was revisited in 2012 with the HD edition that includes high resolution support and both missions that were downloadable on the official Majesty website (that is still running today!), and is now available digitally.
Strategy nuts in need of a break from standard games in that genre and RPG fans looking for something new, take note – Majesty brings bang for the buck, and is unlike any other title out there (except its own sequel, the quality of which is a debate for another time).
PROS: innovative idea, visuals, audio, random map generator
CONS: misjudged difficulty in certain missions
9.0 / 10
Genre: real-time strategy / role-playing game hybrid
Release year: 2000 (Majesty) / 2001 (The Northern Expansion) / 2012 (HD)