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Pacing the RTS Campaign in Majesty 2

September 15th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 3 Comments · Design, RTS

I’m putting my final touches on my Majesty 2 review now that the review embargo has been lifted. I’ll have more to say on the final evaluation of it once that review goes live.

I am struck by how Majesty 2 paces the campaign. This is a real time strategy game that is all about the campaign. The multiplayer experience is OK, but the single player game away from the campaign is all scripted missions, so they might as well be campaign extensions.

An RTS story based campaign follows a pretty predictable pattern. There will be 10 to 20 missions, the first 5 of 6 of which disable buildings or units or powers. These early missions involve a few small, scripted challenges – fend off a small raid, scout the map, kill the minor boss, etc. – and then eventually you get to longer range planning. Storming a citadel, for example, which will often mean building a second base. Or staying alive through regular, sustained assaults on your main production area.

Majesty 2 has a very short campaign mission wise – about a dozen missions – and every mission has the underlying theme of a city under siege. Your city produces its own enemies, for example. A big city will spawn rats, the first dead hero means a cemetery that spawns undead. Clearing out enemy spawning areas outside your city will not stop roving creatures from eventually showing up in town. So you have to always defend your home city from unscripted raids as well as progressing through the larger, more difficult missions.

The effect of this is to instill a sense of panic and anxiety in every mission. As you get better and stronger within a mission, so do the enemies (though they don’t return home to heal.) Where most RTS campaign missions can only really emphasize haste through a timer, Majesty 2‘s home spawned monsters remind you that if you take too long building a big city with unstoppable heroes, the sewers will fill with giant ratmen and zombies will emerge from your graveyard. Since clearing out lairs does little to really stop the advancing hordes of evil, you are kept focused on the larger goal while still having to deal with small nuisances.

Perhaps because the campaign is so short, Majesty 2 also gives you access to a lot of the higher level content relatively early in the game. Temples are reserved for the halfway point, but mages and beastmasters and alchemy tents and the like can be found much earlier than that.

It’s kind of a circle. If you take too long to do your job, then you will face more enemies. But you have access to some pretty powerful resources. Which means that the missions themselves are quite difficult to match the power you can muster. Which means that it will take you forty to sixty minutes to solve a mission. Which means you are taking too long. So you need more powerful units.

There also isn’t a smooth transition up the difficulty ladder here. It’s not like the missions gradually increase in challenge, which makes sense given you often have two or more missions to choose from. This, in many ways, interferes with whatever flimsy story Majesty 2 is trying to tell you. Since the story isn’t about your hero moving from spot to spot, there’s no need for the missions to be structured in a “This happened and then this happened” sort of way. Rise of Legends did this sort of thing in its campaign game, with a conquer the world map you could move through in pretty much any way you wished with story sensitive missions scattered across the board.

But where Rise of Legends stuck a lame story to a great campaign mechanic, Majesty 2 pretty much throws the whole idea of story and campaign structure overboard in what is little more than a bunch of single player missions strung together haphazardly. In some ways, this is reminiscent of the old Age of Empires campaigns, where you would pretend to be Greece or Persia in a series of missions that had zero relationship to each other.

Now I am an avowed non-fan of the RTS story based campaign. Not that there haven’t been good ones (Age of Mythology is still my favorite). But I wonder how much of my disappointment is rooted not in the poor story telling, but in the repetitiveness of the pacing. Majesty 2 avoids the puzzle-map problem that plagues so many games in this genre, but it does have “tricks” and things you have to do in the proper order.

More on Majesty 2 – what it does right and what it does wrong – once my review goes up at Crispy Gamer.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Ginger Yellow

    I never played the original Majesty when it was released, and it refuses to work on Windows 7, so I’m discovering all its quirks for the first time with the demo. I’m having a lot of fun and a lot of frustration (with the second, 75 minute challenge, mission, obviously) but I keep coming back to it. I’m still trying to get my head around the way the heroes respond to flags and such, but I love the basic idea of setting incentives and the levelling up mechanic. As you say, there’s a real sense of urgency from the advancing hordes, but this is balanced by a fear of the unkown at the start. You need to crush the lairs before the waves get too much, but if you try for them too early, your weak heroes will get destroyed by the beasts that spawn when the lair is destroyed. Or if you send too many, your city will be undefended from the other lairs.

    So there’s this tremendous tension in getting the timing right, which is unlike almost any other RTS. About the closest thing I can compare it to is those moments in Company of Heroes when you’re not sure if you should push into their base and try to finish it early or use your current advantage to secure your map advantage for the long haul.

    My only real worry is longevity. 16 missions (which is what I’ve read for the campaign) plus a handful of scenarios seems awfully short for a game like this. I hope there’s a map editor and/or mod functionality.

  • Thomas

    Ginger — nope, there is no map editor out of the box. I’ve heard rumblings that there may be something coming in the way of a patch, but nothing credible yet.

  • sean

    There is a map editor. On your shortcut properties add the parameter ” -editor ” without the quotes. Then when you launch the game it will open the editor. Remove the parameter to play the game.