Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Majestic, If Nothing Else.

A friend of mine helped me get my hands on a gameboy color emulator and a dozen or so roms last year. This was possibly the single worst blow to what remained of my work ethic, until now. Now, steam is making a valiant effort to claim that title. Just a couple days ago, I decided to download the demo for Magicka. I'd heard about the game from another friend, and really wanted to try it out. I could go on about how I feel about Magicka, but the point is, steam threw some random gaming news at me automatically when I logged in, and I did just what they wanted. I looked at it. And I saw something. Majesty 2 was apparently 80% off for the next 2 days.

Now, I remember the original Majesty with great fondness. My brothers and I played it for many an hour on our family's old imac desktop back in the day. The campaign missions ranged nicely in difficulty, and had surprising replay value (especially months later). The custom maps had great variety (since you could mix and match starting buildings, baddie lair theme, wandering monsters, etc). By placing arbitrary restrictions on ourselves, like using only warriors and mages, or no 2nd tier priests, we extended the enjoyment even further. Basically, original Majesty was a defining part of my formative gaming years (god I feel old now) and I absolutely loved it.

Enter Majesty 2. My expectations were high, given just how long it'd been since Majesty 1 was released, and although Majesty 2 isn't on the cutting edge, it looked like a fairly recent release. The trailers looked pretty, although some potential scale problems had me worried (more on that in a bit). So I buy and download it, and the kingmaker's expansion, because hey, they're only $6. I've been playing them for a couple days now, and I've gotten through about 7 campaign levels, plus the first in kingmaker's. So here are my thoughts:

*sigh*. Overall, I'm not sure it's actually any better than the original at all. Sure it's enjoyable, but when I'm playing I get an urge to just play the first one again. Let's go with a pro/con list, shall we?

-Buildings look much nicer now. Full 3D is undeniably pretty, and the destruction animations are extremely smooth. Watching an opposing palace fall to pieces is extremely satisfying.
-Fully 3D. I do enjoy spinning my view and zooming to admire my heroes, who now get skin upgrades at levels 5 and 10.
-Height in terrain. There are actually mountains now, not just flat land. The rivers are nicer too (don't think we even had them before, at least not really).
-Level 2 trading posts defend themselves. 'Bout frakking time, guardhouses get expensive fast.
-Magical Bazaar. Cool 2nd tier marketplace, nice for later game improvements. I never really used the training grounds that much before anyway, so this is a nice change.
-Graveyards let you resurrect heroes without any temples. I'm only ok with this because the cost scales proportionally to level. It does take a little too much sting out of losing a really good hero, which used to be a big deal.
-Special attacks for classes other than mage. Definitely nice, and I like that they scale with damage. Sorta ok with upgrading by guild, instead of the previous library system. Haven't decided which I prefer yet, but I don't hate either for sure.

-3D. Ok yeah it's cool, but I don't actually use it in game. It throws off my internal map of what's where, and isn't actually helpful.
-Game pace. Somehow, it feels faster. Can't quite put my finger on it, but I don't feel like I actually have time to admire my pretty heroes and buildings and terrain. Sad face.
-Mountain ranges absolutely kill the camera. It's annoying.
-Scale. If you zoom in enough to actually differentiate your warriors and rouges, or your rangers from theirs, you can barely fit your palace in the screen. If you zoom out enough to see a useful amount of your kingdom, everyone looks like ants. I miss being able to scroll over a battle and get a sense of how many combatants there were on each side without having to think at all.
-User interface. Seriously, what the fuck? It feels cluttered, I get giant menus all over everything, and there's no minimap hero tracker. It's the scale issue, but in reverse: everything is too big, and space isn't conserved at all. Before, we could see plenty of the kingdom, we got selection info, building command card, minimap, hero tracker, and tabs on the info for stats. Now, we've lost the hero tracker, and info tabs like stats or graveyard resurrection take up almost half your useful space in the main view. AND, the right third is lost to the hero/party list, unless you get rid of it, but then it stops making up for losing the hero tracker, so it's a lose-lose.
-Selecting heroes. So I'm trying to heal a high level warrior to save his life. Firstly, I can't heal him directly from the main view, but whatever because he's too small to click on reliably anyway, and I don't want to heal his attackers by accident. He's in a party, so I select that (he's the leader) and try to heal his portrait. No dice. I get to his normal selection page, but lose my healing icon, and also he's still about to die. Now I can heal him by clicking his face, but of course the fireballs have long since caught up to his out of shape ass, and he's dead. Ugh.
-Temples restricted to specific build sites. I'm sorta ok with this, in that the now 3rd tier priests are much more powerful, but it ends up just restricting the heroes you can use. You've got maybe a single temple in most levels, which is 2 powerful heroes, and otherwise you're stuck with 5 classes and 2 races. Original majesty had 4 basic classes, 3 races, 2 or 3 priests (out of 7, thanks to conflicting temples) and possibly an extra special fighter class. So we've gone from an average of around 9 classes, to 6, plus sorta a 7th. And of the 9 you had in original, there were a bunch of different combinations. Now, you've got to choose between elves and dwarves, and which temple you'll use (unless it's just chosen for you, which is often the case).
-Custom maps. No setup versatility, they're just campaign missions without a voiceover or the hall of lords. The replay value that's been lost breaks my scales. Yay, we have survival levels now, but I was never a huge fan of those anyway. And then there's what, maybe 6 other missions? 8? C'mon, you even stepped down from 30 campaign missions to 14. You spent so much time on the game, you couldn't make another dozen decent custom maps? I don't need enemy rangers, a giant ogre, and a plot wizard in each, just let me sandbox some and I'll amuse myself.

Ok, enough ranting on that. So overall, while there are some nice improvements to some things, there were a lot of fundamentals that they got right the first time and then broke. Most of all, selecting heroes and being able to see them. I can't care much about them individually anymore, because I can't tell who or where they are. It's too much city planning and strategy, and not enough living vicariously through your mighty soldiers. I'll keep playing Majesty 2, and we'll see if I warm up to it some more, but I might just go back to the original soon unless there's some significant turnaround. Also, who would've thought mages could feel like they die even faster and dumber than before? Wow.