Ever since it was released in 2000, I’ve played and replayed Majesty the Fantasy Kingdom Sim fully through about once a year. It’s one of the quirkier gaming traditions in my life, although I’m sure many of us have a game or two like that.
In short, and without overstating it, Majesty (the original) is my favorite RTS game of all time. It’s certainly one of the most unique RTS games ever made, taking away direct control over units from the player in favor of gradually shaping a fantasy kingdom and nudging the free-spirited citizens to do your will.
When I came back to play it this year, I did it with one big question in my mind: Does it still hold up in 2019? Is it still fun to play? I mean, it’s not a perfect game. The actual terrain and landscape is kind of dull and without any mountains, valleys, islands, lakes, or other distinguishing features. Building placement is far more spread out than I’d like. And since we’re dealing with an era of sprites, the animation isn’t as fluid as we’ve grown accustomed to.
Despite all these factors, when I played through it this past month, I had an absolute blast all over again. I’m convinced that Majesty was a brilliantly designed game that’s vastly underrated for what it offers. It’s basically like an MMO world where you are the quest-giver and designer, watching all of those computer players mill about, go on adventures, buy armor, level up, grab treasure, and act according to class roles. The sprites are large and colorful, the sound design is flat-out amazing (the music and the charming sound bites never get old to my ears), the option to follow up to two different characters around on their journeys is fascinating, and the strategy in what buildings you make and upgrade offers a lot of meaningful choice.
Every race and building in this game often has an interesting backstory if you care to read it, and I love how there are racial conflicts that force you to choose between hosting Gnomes, Dwarves, or the lazy, lazy Elves in your kingdom. Enough heroes die, and a monster-spawning graveyard appears. Various missions can offer surprisingly flexible win conditions and events, from bedazzled heroes to other kingdoms helping you out.
Have I mentioned the mission narrator, who sounds like Sean Connery? Or the adorably cute Gnome voices? Or how nail-biting it can be to watch your tax collector with a full pouch get stalked by a minotaur? Or be under attack but have no gold to tempt heroes into helping out?
The only real downside is that Majesty only ever released one expansion pack (the Northern Kingdoms), which means that there is a limited number of quests to play through, not counting the custom mission generator. I never liked any of the sequels or spin-offs, as they lacked the tight design and charm of the original. But at least GOG.com offers a fully playable Majesty for me to still enjoy today, and enjoy it I do.