Despite both noble and ignoble efforts, the real time strategy genre has never managed to find much traction outside of PC/Mac gaming. The micromanagement required to succeed in these games just screams for the speed and precision of a mouse. This hasn’t stopped developers from trying to awkwardly force RTS gameplay into console controller or touch inputs, however. While they struggle bravely on, it may ironically be a game that never attempted to tackle the problem at all that actually provides a vital clue to answering the riddle.

When Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim [$2.99] first released back in 2000 for PC and Mac, the game was praised for its unique take on the genre. The game featured all the base building, resource gathering, and upgrade grinding that a fan of RTSs at the time could hope for, while streamlining unit management by making all heroes and henchmen autonomous. As it turns out, the iOS port of Majesty demonstrates that it may make far more sense to tailor RTS gameplay to fit the unique inputs of a platform than the other way around.

So, you’re the heir to a monarch who went insane and let the kingdom go to hell in an archaic handbasket. As the new king, it’s up to you to set things right; the realm is overrun with goblins and undead and, of course, rats. While they never say it to your face, the gameplay implies that the heroes and citizens of your demesne are less than confident in your leadership qualities due to your shaky genetic background. Instead of taking direct orders from you regarding specific objectives, they act independently and must be bribed and persuaded to take action on your behalf.

What’s a king without obedient vassals to do? Spend money, of course. Each level begins with your castle and a set amount of gold coin to pay for buildings. Pay for a warrior or mage guild, and you’ll be able to recruit heroes. Blacksmiths, libraries, and the like provide access to upgrades that your heroes will take advantage of as they wander by. Marketplaces speed up your gold intake while opening up magic items like healing potions and rings of protection to be bought by units. A respectable variety of different building types, upgrade trees, and prerequisites gives a great deal of room for experimentation and tweaking for optimal performance.

You may have control over the type and placement of buildings, but when it comes to the heroes, they have their own set of priorities. If their guild or a nearby building in the town is attacked by enemies, they will reluctantly emerge to do battle. Barring an attack, their next course of action is to make the rounds and pick up any items or upgrades from buildings that weren’t available the last time they donned their slippers and swords. These lazy bastards simply don’t get out of bed unless they are under siege or they hear the clinks of a brimming gold pouch.

While heroes will occasionally get a wild hair up their breeches and decide to explore or attack enemies on their own, the fastest way to get things done is to dangle the cash carrot. You can place a waypoint over an enemy structure or unexplored area of the map and attach a bounty to it. The larger the reward, the more likely it is that heroes will wander away from the comforts of home to get rich or die trying. For those who have never played the original, this lack of direct control will drive some gamers crazy. As for myself, I occasionally muttered about how it was hard to find good help these days, but for the most part I found it extremely liberating.

While the game’s core conceit survives the transition to iPhone/iPad famously, that’s not to say that this port handles all things touchscreen with equal grace. Positioning of buildings and waypoints is occasionally troublesome, as is the targeting of your spells. The user interface is also unfriendly. Spells are denoted by icon only, so determining the function and efficacy of your arcane arsenal is problematic. The fact that the game is universal is nice, but ye olde ugly font that is readable on my iPad is much trickier to decipher on an iPhone screen. Playing with the larger device is recommended for those with the option.

Majesty’s focus on building and bounties as primary game mechanics eliminates the clicks-per-minute pressure of most RTS titles that simply doesn’t translate to a touch screen. The result is more fun and less frustration. If this had been a new title built specifically for iOS, I would have called it a stroke of genius. As it is, I’ll have to call it a pleasant serendipity. Not too frantic and not too dumbed down, the port just seems to fit. I’d love to see other developers look at this game and make the mechanic a deliberate iOS design choice.

  • Noah

    The original was one of my favorite games when it came out.  Not that
    it would be playable on modern Macs anyway, but I was shocked to find
    that the CD had actually cracked while in the case over the years.  

    $2.99 being spent!

  • Jeremy Zimmerman

    Is this like Final Fantasy My Life as a King?

  • http://twitter.com/nrathaus Noam Rathaus

    Looks very nice, though the game play is not clear from the trailer, it is hard to judge how much control you have and how linear the game is.

    Is there something beside levels to this game? Can some sort of free-play or PvP/Multiplayer be possible?
    Are there quests?
    A more in-depth review would be really helpful.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dean.kohler Dean Kohler

      The review was based on the premise you've played the original PC version.  If you played that version you'd catch that this is pretty much a straight port to the mobile platform.  A fairly good port too, I'm enjoying it quite a bit and really loved the original.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for that, I have not played the original, so I am using this review to base my purchasing decision

    • Sean Carey

      Think of it mostly as you would the single-player campaign from any RTS. It's a series of maps with different objectives, most of which fall into the "defend these structures" or "kill all enemies" categories. The variation comes mostly from build restrictions in each level and your individual play style.

    • shamyou

      Thats what I was thinking, I read the review and watched the video but still no knowledge of how you play it, how the gameplay works.

  • Adams Immersive

    It does look pretty awesome!

    Although I’d disagree about lumping a gamepad and touch together, vs. a mouse for RTS. Touch and mouse are more similar to each other, while a gamepad is very different (great for driving, not for RTS or even FPS—without auto-aim, that is). RTS can certainly be done better than it has been on iOS, because developers have a new scheme to learn and explore. But I already find RTS on a touchscreen to be a terrific experience, even vs. a mouse.

  • Lolwut

    was a huge huge fan of the original PC game back then

    instabuy for me

  • Anonymous

    I got this as soon as it appeared on the new game page about a week ago and was over the moon.  Majesty was one of my all time favourite games.  I even liked the sequel, but to a lesser extent.  I thought however that this game was not really a good comparison.  It was fun alright, but was very dumbed down.  Mostly I dislike the menu system.  The PC version is actually easier to use with a simple two-click method to get anywhere, where you will be pulling up and down menus in frustration as you try to build a new ranger while trying to find the resurrection spell to raise your wizard before he fades away.  Even clicking the attack flag on a monster can be hard.

    Efficiencies such as build queuing was removed, which means you are constantly reopening the menu four times each between ranger, fighter and wizard in order to build your basic 12-set.

    The effects of bounties are far too weighted.  You plant an attack flag for a few hundred and all ignore it.  Double it and you have your entire army attack the target while simple trolls and skeletons wreak havoc at your town.

    There are also three type of games for each level. Like pacifist, but no indication as to if they are different style of games, or just difficulty levels.

    Overall, the game is fun and a little bit easy.  You'll probably stop using the ranger early on due to poor balance meaning that you'll constantly be re-spawning them.  The artwork is wonderful while the sounds are very familiar from other games and a bit generic.  I miss the Scottish accent from the advisor and it would be great to add him, however the story line is lame in comparison, so it would be out of place.  Most levels contexts are based around a joke, so you feel like your not really archiving anything as you progress through the game.  But anyway, certainly worth the small price for a shadow of the original game.

  • Scott

    I bought this yesterday.  It's been a lot of fun and an absolute steal at $2.99.  I only hope they add more levels at some point via in-app-purchase or something like that.  Also, a generic mode would have been fun as well that didn't involve a particular campaign scenario.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4JB2QIEYV7QBN7HC4WOGFOOHUI Jamie Oliver Aspinall

    the controlls are really a little bit tricky to use on the iPhone, and lots of the textes couldnt be read because they are so small. but the game is good fun and you get a real Game for your money instead of all the casual games around. i really like it...but i wished i would be more userfriendly...

Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim Reviewed by Sean Carey on . Rating: 4