Every so often a game comes out that is totally different than anything you might have seen before. Majesty: the Fantasy Kingdom Sim (Majesty FKS) was one of those games. It allowed you to build a base, accumulate gold, and train military units (like a real-time strategy game). It allowed your units, called heroes, to gain experience, improve their statistics, and buy equipment (like a role-playing game). However, it didn't allow you to control your heroes directly; instead you had to influence their actions by setting explore flags and attack flags (like a god game). And, unlike many other attempts at hybrid games, Majesty FKS actually worked very well and was fun and challenging to play.
Now, over a year after the release of Majesty FKS, Cyberlore Studios is back with Majesty: the Northern Expansion (Majesty NE), an expansion pack for the original game. It focuses on events north of the Hellfire Mountains, which made up the northern boundary in Majesty FKS. It includes new creatures to fight, new buildings to use in your kingdom, a tweaking of some of the heroes and the hero AI, improved multiplayer options, and 12 new quests for you to embark on. And, as with most expansion packs, it requires the original game in order to play.
Majesty NE has two main additions over Majesty FKS -- new buildings and new quests. Let's consider the buildings first. There are six of them:
The mausoleum, which allows you to “store” dead heroes and resurrect them later for a price.
The hall of champions, where heroes can go to heal more quickly and which you can use to set hero preferences for the creatures they attack.
The embassy, which can recruit random heroes and which allows shared vision between allies in multiplayer games.
The sorcerer's abode, which allows up to six more “sovereign spells” for you to cast.
The magic bazaar, which gives your heroes up to six more things to buy.
The outpost, which functions as a scaled down version of a palace but which also makes it easier to have buildings separated by large distances.
These buildings are the only real change to gameplay. There aren't any new hero types, and while there is a new snow terrain and some new creatures to fight, those changes seem mostly cosmetic. For example, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between fighting a new creature like a yeti rather than an old creature like a rock golem, except that presumably the yeti is a northern creature and the rock golem isn't.
So, given that the new buildings are one of only two major changes in the game and that they are the only one affecting gameplay, they seem a little weak. I played the 12 new quests without using a mausoleum or a hall of champions at all (except in the quests that start you out with a hall of champions). The mausoleum seems redundant since there are other, cheaper ways to resurrect heroes, and I never saw a need to set an attack preference for my heroes. It's always better to set specific targets using attack flags rather than allowing your heroes to pick and choose what they want to fight. And two of the buildings, the embassy and the outpost, have their uses, but they seem to be fairly narrow uses. For example, an outpost can make it easier to start up a remote base and have things like a trading post (for extra gold) and an inn (so your heroes don't have to go all the way back to your kingdom to rest), but you can do the same thing almost as well without an outpost. Lastly, only the sorcerer's abode and the magic bazaar are buildings you're likely to use in every quest, but they only give you more spells to cast and more objects for your heroes to buy, and I don't think they really change the dynamic of the game. The spells are generally too expensive for what they do (especially the new earthquake spell), and there is a forced delay between spells. That means even if you can afford to use the spells you won't be able to as much as you 'd like. Meanwhile, some of the new objects are useful, but they only really help the weak heroes who need to flee a lot (like rogues and wizards) and not the ones who do the bulk of the fighting (like paladins).
The other major change with the expansion pack is the addition of 12 new quests. As with Majesty FKS, the quests do not form any sort of story (unfortunately) but instead are independent and unrelated. They are also noticeably harder than the quests in Majesty FKS. While Majesty FKS had 18 quests evenly divided between beginner, advanced, and expert difficulty levels, Majesty NE only has one beginner quest, five advanced quests, four expert quests, and two “master” quests. So not only is the emphasis on higher difficulty quests, but quests in one difficulty level in Majesty NE are more difficult than their counterparts in Majesty FKS. For example, a typical beginner quest in Majesty FKS might have you destroy a simple monster lair with no strings attached. The lone Majesty NE beginner quest, however, tasks you with killing three level 35 heroes. That's not as difficult as an advanced quest, but it's at least a half step up from the beginner quests in Majesty FKS.
Fortunately, while the quests are difficult, they are also varied and interesting, and they force you to try out different strategies and get the absolute most out of your buildings and heroes. The Majesty engine is a little bit simplistic in that the terrain makes absolutely no tactical difference in the quests and there aren't a variety of interesting triggers, but Cyberlore does a good job of using what they have to make the quests worthwhile to play. Plus, it will be possible to download quests for Majesty NE (much like it's possible to download “The Wrath of Krolm” for Majesty FKS) so you'll eventually get even more quests to play and get even more for you money's worth. However, there is one caveat: a few of the quests seem a little bit unbalanced, and so an expert quest like “Legendary Heroes” is more difficult than the master quests, but another expert quest, “Darkness Falls”, is easier than most of the advanced quests.
So those are the additions. Did Cyberlore do much to change any of the existing aspects of the game? Not really. A few heroes got tweaked, and the hero AI seems to have been improved (or at least it certainly seems like heroes buy things like rings of protection more often now), and there are some new multiplayer options, but those are all things that should have been or could have been done in a patch. Majesty FKS had a few interface issues that needed improvement -- like training queues or a way to more easily set values for tax collectors -- but nothing happened. For some reason Cyberlore decided to leave the interface as is, and that's too bad.
Majesty NE also has some technical issues. There are some minor bugs, like the function keys not working as they should and a problem with the sorcerer's abode, but those are things Cyberlore will no doubt fix in their first patch. More troubling is the fact that the game engine really bogs down if there are lots of units on the map (and especially if they're hasted). Just the slowness is bad by itself, but the engine will also stop recognizing mouse clicks, making it difficult to select units or cast spells or (especially) set attack flag rewards. This is more of a problem with Majesty NE than Majesty FKS because of quests like "Spires of Death", which can unleash 50 hasted units at once. Also problematic with Majesty NE is the installation process. For some reason Cyberlore decided that Majesty NE should not install to the same directory as Majesty FKS and should use a different start menu group than Majesty FKS. (Why? What's the benefit of that?) Also, when you start up Majesty NE, you'll find that you can still play all of the quests from Majesty FKS (not counting the downloadable quest for some reason) but that all of your high scores and playing times will be gone. There's a way to correct this by manually copying and pasting a couple of files, and it seems like it would have been an easy thing to add to the installation process, or even added to a readme file, but it wasn't.
So, overall, Majesty NE isn't the greatest expansion pack around. However, it only costs $20, and although it only has 12 quests, those quests should give you 50 hours or more of gameplay. If you liked Majesty FKS, then you'll probably like Majesty NE. But if you didn't understand why all those reviewers kept giving high marks to Majesty FKS, or if you thought Majesty FKS was too hard, then there are probably better ways for you to spend your time.