Majesty 2: Kingmaker Review (PC)

When it comes to expansion packs, there are two roads that developers usually go down. The first road is to alter the experience of the original game significantly enough in an attempt to entice players who ignored the game first time around. The second, and considerably more heavily trodden is to tailor the expansion around your core audience by fixing the problems of the original and throwing in a few extras, which in the case of an RTS is usually new units and new strategic opportunities.

Majesty 2: Kingmaker very much goes down the second of these roads. Yet at the same time, it sort of doesn't. Instead, it builds a third road running parallel to the second, which involves providing a virtually identical experience to the original game and then ramping up the difficulty to astronomical levels. I can say without exaggeration that Kingmaker is the hardest game I've played in a very long time. In fact, they should have called it Kingbreaker.

To be fair, Paradox's intention with Kingmaker was always to provide a new challenge to existing players, a goal which they have certainly accomplished. Yet the manner in which they have gone about it seems entirely at odds with the mechanics of the original game.

That's an ice house
Mike Tyson's new boxing gloves were immediately outlawed.

Let me explain. Majesty 2's major feature was that you didn't have direct control of your units. Instead controlling your motley crew of fantasy stereotypes was done indirectly by placing various types of objective markers (known in-game as “flags”) around the map, before offering your heroic minions a monetary incentive to do your bidding. The more gold you placed on a flag, the more units would respond to it. For example, placing an attack flag with a low reward would only result in a response from your warriors. Increase the reward, however, and rangers, wizards, and eventually even rogues (who are averse to direct combat) would dive into the fray.

The quasi-autonomy of your units effectively removes much of the micromanagement that drags many RTS' into the mire of mediocrity, your job in being to ensure that your units are equipped with the best weapons, spells and armour the game's economy has to offer. This system worked well in Majesty 2 mainly due to the gradual learning curve and the fact that the majority of the game concentrated on the expansion of your territories.

Goblins, you will grow to hate them very quickly.
Angering the ranger's guild was a mistake Andy lived to regret.

In Kingmaker, the reverse is true. Your back is pressed against the wall from the start. The new eight mission campaign pitches you against the nefarious Lord Blackviper and his pet goblin horde; “horde” being very much the active word here. Ten minutes into the very first mission Kingmaker begins throwing enemies at you, and from then on the flow is pretty much endless.

It is in fighting such a large number of enemies that cracks in Kingmaker's indirect unit control system begin to appear. The goblins tend to attack in swarms of between five and ten units, yet you can only place attack flags on single enemies. Although unit AI is relatively solid, there are certainly occasions where your mage will attack a single enemy and then wander off, oblivious to the fact that six more goblins are clinging to the hem of his robe.

Additionally, the incentive system quickly becomes problematic when your heroes reach the higher levels, with rewards soon reaching into the thousands before enough of your units will respond to whichever mythical monstrosity is besieging your palace. It isn't so bad that units won't defend themselves unless you throw a fat purse of gold at them, but your coffers become drained very quickly unless you can build a solid economy within the first few minutes of a mission. Moreover, it simply seems counter-intuitive that, even against such desperate odds, with packs of werewolves clawing at the walls of the palace and an army of goblins attempting to introduce considerably more iron into your bloodstream, you, as leader, are still refused direct control of your units.

The local huntsman made his intense dislike of Hallowe'en clear for all to see.
Red sky at night, goblin's delight.

These aren't the only issues Kingmaker has. I also encountered a couple of particularly nasty bugs. If you attempt to save a game under any other name than what appears in the text box, the game will crash. I also cannot tell you anything about the game's included level editor other than it crashed whenever I tried to load it. The biggest problem Kingmaker has, though, is that it simply doesn't offer anything new. There are no new hero units or buildings to speak of, nothing to flesh out or complement the excellent strategy game Paradox created with Majesty 2. It's quite literally more of the same, only far less enjoyable due to the fiendish difficulty level.

Majesty 2: Kingmaker will appeal to two types of people; those who enjoyed the original so much that they cuddle the game box while they sleep, and masochists. If you breezed through the final missions of Majesty 2 and still feel unsatisfied, or you walk around with bulldog clips attached to your nipples, then this expansion is perfect for you. Otherwise, stick with the original.