Stubbazubba and I recorded episode 2 of the Critical Insignificance podcast today. One thing that came up is that there is currently a Steam sale for Paradox Studios, which includes among its many, many illustrious titles those set in the mythical land of Ardania. Since I played Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, the first game set in Ardania, as a kid, I bought all of them. Six games plus all expansions and DLC for $50.
Of course, since the completed podcast won’t be going up for another week and the sale ends on October 6th, we decided to tell our followers about the sale using a blogpost. So here’s what’s in the Majesty bundle for a little under $18:
Majesty: the Fantasy Kingdom Sim is in a sub-genre all its own. It’s a realtime strategy game in that it is in realtime and also strategy, but you do not have any direct control over your units. Instead, you hire heroes to defend your realm and they have different personalities based on their class. Rangers like to explore, Warriors like to fight monsters, Rogues love money and will chase after even very low reward flags. Which brings us to your second main mechanism for managing your realm: Reward flags, which come in two varieties, attack and explore. Explore flags are used to encourage heroes to venture out and reveal the map, and heroes get the bounty just by reaching them. For Attack flags, the hero must kill the unit or destroy the building the flag is placed on to get the reward. So since Rogues are both very cheap and also willing to take absurd risks in pursuit of gold, they are basically your Zerglings. Warriors like to fight monsters and their guild has a special ability to summon all Warriors in the guild home immediately, so they’re your first line of defense when your town is under attack. Rangers love to explore unknown areas of the map, so they’re your scouts. These three are just a sampling of the classes in the game, of which there are over a dozen. Each of these classes gains XP and levels up like they were characters from an RPG.
The opposition, meanwhile, is usually not a rival kingdom (in singleplayer, anyway) but the wandering monsters and the lairs that spawn them spread out across the map. Just like heroes, monsters have their own personalities based on type. Goblins are spawned in massive swarms and make a beeline to attack the nearest building to overwhelm the kingdom, ratmen are greedy and will attack your tax collectors and rob your markets, spiders and bears will not wander too far from their lairs but will attack anyone who gets close, and so on. Though not organized, the monsters’ numbers and power can quickly overwhelm a kingdom that is slow to establish a powerful corps of heroes, and many scenarios have specific requirements beyond just clearing the map of monster lairs, like making a certain amount of gold in a certain amount of time, or recovering an artifact before a rival kingdom, while others have you clearing the map but with certain, sometimes draconian restrictions, like not being able to recruit certain types of heroes or not being able to build any new hero guilds, forcing you to zealously defend those you start with.
In addition to managing your heroes, you must also manage your kingdom’s economy. Marketplaces and trading posts are targets for greedy monsters like trolls or the aforementioned ratmen, but also generate large amounts of gold which can be collected by tax collectors. They can also sell healing potions and, in the case of marketplaces, valuable magic items to heroes, while blacksmiths, while generally less profitable, will equip them with improved weapons and armor. Tax collectors, like heroes, act autonomously, but you can set the minimum amount of taxable gold a building must have before the tax collector will visit and the minimum amount of gold they must have before they can return (though they’ll ignore the latter if no buildings on the map the minimum amount of taxable gold). Fiddling with these options can have a major impact on the kingdom’s economy.
Finally, for a (usually quite hefty) price, a sovereign can cast a spell to aid his heroes. Some buff heroes, others debuff enemies (best reserved for bosses), some heal, some damage, some can bring back recently dead heroes (helpful if a level 9 Paladin gets knocked off and you’d rather not train a new one up from scratch).
What its mechanics can’t quite convey, however, is its charm. This is something that’s hard to sum up. Majesty is a fairly generic fantasy realm for the most part, it’s got goblins and dwarves, and when it does break the mold it’s usually not in big ways. The elves, for example, are blue-skinned hedonists rather than pale treehuggers or recluses with superiority complexes. But the game, while not a parody, is willing not to take itself too seriously, to be lighthearted without being outright comedic. This is a much wiser route to go than most fantasy settings, which try to be as dreadfully serious as Tolkien but lack the depth of setting to pull it off. The advisor, who speaks up to let you know when, for example, a building has been completed or a new upgrade has been researched, is a guy doing a pretty good Sean Connery impression. And here’s an easter egg: Press the ” key (so shift+’ key, really) and the character or building you currently have selected will say something. It’s difficult to put the game’s charm into words, so really, buy it and see for yourself.
The game has a lot going on and is generally loads of fun and both I and Stubbazubba heartily recommend it. It’s on sale for ridiculously cheap right now, so if you have any interest in strategy games, go and buy it. Right now. No matter how poor you are, surely you have the $1.99 (yes, two dollars) that this game is currently going for on Steam.
Now, Majesty 2 I have not played. Instead, I watched TotalBiscuit play it, so you may as well go and do that now. Majesty 2 is a different game with different heroes and different monsters (though some do return), and the tech tree is different (you upgrade guilds instead of unlocking new ones), but it’s in the same sub-genre of an RTS where you influence units without commanding them directly and the charm of the game seems to be mostly preserved. With that sub-genre so starved for titles, I’m reasonably confident this is one purchase I won’t regret, but that said I’m not actually recommending this game, just trying to give you a summary of what I’ve learned about it while researching my own purchase.
Defenders of Ardania is a tower defense game. Now, according to reviews it’s a pretty good tower defense game, but come that isn’t a very popular genre and I agree that tower defense is generally a good timekiller and won’t ever stand up to fully realized strategy games. But it comes packaged with the others, so it feels more like “order now and we’ll throw in Defenders of Ardania free or charge!” rather than actually being bought separately.
Finally, Warlock: Master of the Arcane is a 4X game which is in the same sub-genre of hex-based 4X games as Civilization V. TotalBiscuit has a video for this one too and you should probably check that out. The charm of Ardania’s setting is very much preserved and the game has a few interesting touches like having other worlds that you can planehop into. TotalBiscuit assures us that it is not as similar to Civ V as it first appears, but having not played Civ V yet I can’t really say for myself if that’s true. It’s certainly an interesting looking game and TotalBiscuit seems to like it, so I’m on board.
Two games are not included in the pack but are also on sale for very cheap. Impire is basically Dungeon Keeper in Ardania, you play as a vaguely villainous fellow carving out an empire in the underworld and your main opposition is heroes from the surface venturing below, and Warlock 2: the Exiled is the sequel to Warlock and also a fairly new release. I got both of them because, like the rest of Paradox’s entire catalogue, they are currently on sale, but they don’t come with the Majesty pack.
Speaking of Paradox’s entire catalogue, you know how people won’t shut up about Crusader Kings II? While I spent all my spare cash for the weekend on Ardanian products, that, along with Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis and all the other strategy games in Paradox’s incredible catalogue are similarly heavily discounted. I have not looked into them personally but they are incredibly well-liked and if you’ve been waiting to buy them, most of them are on sale for $3 or less right now.