'Tis good to be king!
At a very basic level, all real-time strategy games are the same. Get Gold/Minerals/Wood/Gas at point A, build structure at point B, create units C through X, and attack enemies at Y to make them wish they were at Z. Majesty, however, takes a different approach to the whole RTS thing: Instead of directly managing your units, you simply influence them. Although at times a bit awkward, this interesting concept changes the game just enough to keep it fun and interesting to the legions of Starcraft fanatics out there.
There isn't much of a storyline in this one. You are the new ruler of Ardania, a land of classic fantasy lore. Your mission is basically to keep your kingdom alive through all sorts of hardships. There are 19 missions to work through with varied goals, like retrieving an ancient relic, defeating some enemies, or just hoarding lots of gold. You can also play randomly created missions.
The basic gameplay involves making buildings that create and aid your units, dubbed Heroes. You acquire money by taxing your populace and other buildings, which you use to build more buildings and units, etc. Although it may sound boring to simply make units and only watch them battle hordes of enemies, the developers actually added quite a bit of complexity to the system.
You do have some control over the outcomes of battles. You can create stores and buildings that sell healing potions, weapons, and armor, so your heroes are well prepared for battle. You can put rewards on certain enemies to tempt your heroes to take them on. Coolest of all, you have spells that you can cast on some enemies to make your heroes lives easier. But mostly, you'll be depending on your heroes to know what to do - act heroically!
The success of Majesty relies heavily on AI. Not only did the developers spend time making intelligent characters, but they also added personality. There are many classes of Heroes, ranging from warriors to rogues to disciples of various temples. If a valorous warrior goes into battle, he'll fight until he has a hair's breadth of life left. A sneaky rogue, on the other hand, will run away at the first smell of danger...unless it's mixed with the smell of gold.
Most of the time, your units will behave intelligently. They'll rush in to attack, use spells and potions as is appropriate, and run when they're hurt. The only problem is that you can't keep your heroes at home to defend your castle at all times. But this is helped with the inclusion of town and palace guards, who defend your base. Pretty well done.
The graphics aren't particularly impressive. Reminiscent of Starcraft, Majesty boasts well-drawn characters, some nice 2D attack effects and smooth animation. While appropriate for the genre and gameplay, it is far from groundbreaking.
Sound is also standard. You have the usual clanging, grunts, groans, whizzing spells, exclamations from your Heroes and so on. The stereo sound is nice, but nothing to write home about.
No game (so far) is perfect, and this one is no exception. Probably the most annoying bit is its length. Sure, the levels are interesting, but there are only 19 of them. While you can play them again to try to beat your previous best time, it's not likely that many gamers will invest the time. The developers tried to help this with an auto level creator, but I'm afraid that it doesn't come very close to the prefabricated levels in complexity, normally opting for a simple "kill everything" sort of game.
Classic RTS gamers may disagree, but I think Majesty is a step in the right direction for RTS/Simulation style games. It easily keeps your interest, and has enough complexity to keep you busy for quite awhile. If you like real-time strategy and don't worship the '-craft' games as the One and Only, you'll probably like this one.