Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Majesty - The Fantasy Kingdom

Majesty breezed a fresh new wind through the RTS genre ten years ago. Here's a game where you do not control your heroes! Instead you can convince them to help your cause by giving out rewards for killing monsters or raiding lairs. While fighting for your heroes slowly gain levels and power. Loosing a high level wizzard will cause you to care! The original majesty was a great game. It's one of the very few games that I replay once a year. Even now it remains fresh which is helped by the randomized mission generation. So I looked forward to its sequel. Having finished Majesty 2 and nearing the finish of its expansion, Kingmaker I can say that it's still a good game but not great.

What is this game missing that the original had? Charm for the most part. The original characters all had their own personalities. You'd have rogues who were the first to go after any bounty... and the first to flee at the first sight of danger. Muscled barbarians ran around the realm in a great homage to Arnolds Schwarzeneggers Conan. Paladins would raid any evil lair in their quests to clear the map of evil and wizards were bearded old men which fit the glass canon archetype perfectly. There was some strategy involved in your choice of your classes. You had to choose between the defense oriented dwarfs or the economy base elves. And taking the powerful priests of krypta meant that you had to do without the all powerful paladins. And even though those paladins were very good all-rounders having a few priests around sure helped when a a dragon decided to pay a visit to your castle.

Both the charm and the strategical choices seem to have vanished in the sequel. There are more classes to choose from but these classes just feel like copies. There's little difference between an elf, a ranger, a beastmaster or an archer of Helia. In the original game the AI would be different. Elves would hang around in taverns and be eager to go for gold rewards while rangers would scout. Here I'd just add any one of them to my party and call them ranged dps. It doesn't really seem to matter which class you add to your party.

Majesty 2 does add a few nice, new extras. The biggest improvement is the inn. You can now gather up to four heroes and create a new group. This group will from then on fight as one. Adding a warrior tank, a cleric healer, a melee rogue dps and a ranger goes a long way towards clearing whatever is in your way. It's a lot of fun to see your group take off to distant lands, kill a great monster and return to your city with their purses full of gold to spend on new equipment in your shops. The new spells each basic class have are also fun. Levelling your guilds means that your heroes can learn powerful new spells. Sadly these spells are not available for the higher tier classes. And most of these spells don't look very spectacular. In the original game getting a wizard with meteor storm was a great achievement. Here anyone seems to be able to pick up the spells and combined with their blandness it's a missed opportunity to add a great new feature.

All in all the sequel does not live up to the original game. For anyone who wants to try out something new I'd advise them to give the original, brilliant Majesty a try. That game still holds up very well after ten years and can be bought for only €5 on steam or impulse. The sequel still offers a nice game and it's well worth giving the demo a try if you enjoy the original. And maybe the DLC can add those special ingredients to make it a great game too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Civilization 4

Five years ago I gave the Civilization 4 demo a try. An hour later I gave up on it. Seeing the game with all its expansions packs on Steam for €11 made me give it another try. And 40 hours of playing later I'm glad I did!

These days most strategy games seem to be only about one thing: killing as many enemies as brutal as you can. The trend has been to lower the "strategy" part in favour of more action. Base building? Games like Dawn of War 2 remove it to leave only the fighting.  Dawn of War 2 is a fun on its own but you can hardly call it a strategy game. Dawn of War 2 is more an action/RPG game than a strategy game. So amongst these so called strategy games it's great to see that companies still create more serious games. Civilization V is on the horizon and in the meantime we can still enjoy its predecessor and its many mods.

Civilizations main selling point isn't the fighting. It's even an optional thing to do. Indeed, I won a "culture game" without killing a single enemy unit. Well, fighting is mostly optional... In that game my neighbour suddenly invaded me with an army ten times the size of mine. The only reason I survived is by a Deus Ex Machina in the form of my second, friendly neighbours papal order to stop the war between us. Anyone who wants to survive in this game should keep Sun Tzu's "In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace" at the back of his head. In fact, fighting can get you to *loose* a game. I lost one space victory by a single turn. Afterwards I was contemplating just what I did wrong. And I came to the conclusion that I wasted my resources a century before the space race to conquer my neighbour. His rich cities were great targets for my technologically superior troops. Conquering them I did but if I had spent all those resources into research I would have won the game!

So if it's not about the fighting what is it about? You start with a single settler and you build or conquer until you span a continent. Your researchers take your civilization from the invention of the wheel and bow and arrow through the discovery of the art of printing to fusion power. Building the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids make sure that your cities are the cultural crosspoints of the world. You found Christianity and spread it across the world. In the mean time you send spies out to your neighbours to poison their waters and are being generous to your neighbour who works as a buffer to your arch enemy. And of course your berserkers pillage and conquer a city from time to time...

You can do all that which makes it a complex game. But as so often specializing is the key. Early on you should decide if you want to enter the path of the fist, go for a cultural victory or be the first to send astronauts to Alpha Centauri. The AI is doing a good job of giving you some competition. They might be very friendly towards you but if you neglect your military they will act. The power of religion also becomes clear through diplomacy. Having the same religion as your neighbours gives a huge boost to your relations.

Civilization 4 is a great game which makes me look forward to the next instalment. I'll definitely be putting more time in the series. And there still seem to be a few interesting mods to try out. I'd love to give Fall from Heaven a try one of these days. It's great to see that in these days of dumbing down everything there is still place for complex games which require more than two braincells.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


So my WoW warrior finally dinged 80 yesterday. I started preparing for this great event two weeks ago by buying good blue and epic tanking gear whenever I found some for a reasonable price. If there were none available I gathered the mats and paid someone 30g to craft it. Mind you, this character is on a new server so I didn't have a 50K honeypot to lick out. But I managed to make about 5000 gold on this new server while levelling from level 51 to 80 just by shifting some items. Plenty enough gold to get a nice starting set so I can get started. Before I put on the gear I had 19.311 hp and 508 defense. After I put it all on, gemmed it and gave it some basic enchanments I had 24.000 hp and 540 defense. Just enough to start heroics! And an hour after I dinged I finished my first heroic, The Violet Hold. There's still a lot of improvements to be made to my warriors gear but if there wasn't there wouldn't be any fun in doing heroics!

The last five levels were fun. I started to enjoy the random dungeon finder more and more. I ended up doing nothing but instances to get the last five levels. As a tank the queue times are near instant and with the added XP bonus it's a decent way to level. One random instance a day would ensure I always had full rested XP and the first day extra bonus. The quality of the pugs themselves vary greatly and that does cause a major difference in levelling speed. One moment you'll have a group which clears the instance as smooth as a knife cuts through butter. And the next one you might wipe after two minutes. If that happens there's usually only a very small chance to successfully complete an instance. Leaving the instance gives you a thirty minutes debuff which disables you to join a new instance during that period of time.

Instead of leaving the instance you can try to remove the bad apples. You do need the majority of the votes to do this and sadly it seemed that some players just don't want to kick anyone at all. Trying to kick a DPS who does a fifth of the tanks damage and is too low for this instance? Kick failed. Trying to kick that druid healer who is healing in feral gear with a feral talent spec with less mana than his hunter friend? Failed as his hunter guildie would never kick him after which I just left them and too the penalty. Trying to kick that AFK lock? Fail, "you cannot kick this player for another fifteen minutes. That last message makes no sense at all to me. If someone is kicked there's a very good reason that he is kicked. So why can we not kick him again? It just ends with the player being kicked after fifteen minutes anyway, two minutes before the end boss.

What's up next? I'll spend some time tanking heroics and improving my gear. The new epics I gather will get a nice new enchantment. And after that? I'm not sure yet. Once I have everything I need from the heroics there's little use to continue playing. So I assume that I'll just go and do something else. In the meantime though, I've got a cutesy little warrior who's screaming for new gear.