The tales of the round table have always been a source of ideas from which to draw for books, films and video games. The adventures of King Arthur, Merlin and the knights of the round table have been the background to numerous media, and have been repeatedly rethought, adapted and revised according to the needs and dictates of the time. The young Croatian team of Room-C Games, in collaboration with the most famous guys from Croteam (Serious Sam does it say anything to you?), has entered precisely in this vein, giving life to The Hand of Merlin, a roguelite title that takes us back into the mists of Avalon with an attention to detail and to the story that positively surprised us, on a long journey that, as you will read in our preview, has led us in intense battles from Camelot to Jerusalem.
A difficult and demanding RPG
The narrative plot of the creature from Room-C Games, as announced at the beginning, re-reads the narration of Arthurian legends. On the death of the mythological ruler, the knights of the round table remain bewildered and helpless in the face of a new calamity called “the cataclysm”, or an invasion of alien creatures from corrupt worlds, the abominations, which refer to the imaginary of HP Lovecraft. Merlin, betrayed by the evil Morgana, cannot help but appear in a dream to the young warriors, revealing to them the only way to save Arthur and free the kingdom of Camelot: to find the legendary Holy Grail. Thus will begin an unusual epic that will lead our protagonists to travel in historical and other fantastic contexts, meeting real characters and other literaries, such as the Orlando furioso.
The title published by Versus Evil (formerly known for the various chapters of The Banner Saga) can be identified as a Isometric turn-based RPG, which makes trial and error its leitmotiv. Knowing your resources and your party, consisting of up to three heroes, will be essential to overcome the most difficult clashes, with a great variety of human and alien opponents. In all likelihood, the first fights we are going to face will be resolved in fights that are not too successful, but slowly as you learn about the strengths and, above all, the weaknesses of each opponent, you will be able to improve your style and your approach. to the clashes, obtaining the perfect victory. And so on, up to the next type of enemy.
The Hand of Merlin’s challenge level is quite high, especially in the early stages of the game, and users less accustomed to the dynamics of turn-based strategy may initially encounter many difficulties. At the beginning of the game you can choose between nine different types of hero, three available immediately (mystic, ranger and warrior), while the others will be unlocked as the story progresses. With each death of a party member, they will be lost forever, but you can make up for the loss by recruiting new heroes you meet randomly on your pilgrimage.
The importance of management
In our preview we want to underline how the heart of The Hand of Merlin gameplay is, without a doubt, skirmishes. The fights, to be faced both hand-to-hand and from a distance, are the most important challenge for the player and an excellent gym for their party which, as happens in all the classics of the genre, will be able to level up and improve their skills after each turn-based battle. The three party heroes will be able to obtain up to five skills divided by categories: offensive, defensive and auxiliary.
Within a classic virtual chessboard, we will have to wisely move our heroes by cleverly exploiting their skills to create a team that works in synergy to defeat any opponent, taking advantage of the layout of the surrounding environment and sheltering behind trees and rocks waiting to be able to unleash our skills. The title offers a decent variety of enemies and battlegrounds that will keep us busy for a good part of the adventure, which finds its culmination in the clashes near the corrupted milestones, which house the most difficult enemies of the game.
Not only skills and terrain, to get out of a skirmish alive we will need to learn to use our equipment soon, but also supporting objects such as essences and relics, unlockable items after certain bosses or stages of the adventure, or randomly generated with each new run. Given their limited use, and the important bonus they give in terms of attack and defense of our characters, using them at the right time will be essential to get to the end of the adventure, which will have a different ending each time based on the choices made.
Merlin’s hand is seen and not seen
On the technical side, The Hand of Merlin thrives on ups and downs. An immersive narrative style and a truly atmospheric and apt soundtrack are counterbalanced by a graphics engine not exactly in step with the times, which suffers from some drops in frame rate and graphic models that are not properly inspired and very often repetitive. The story of the game unfolds almost like a game book: each of our choices will lead us to move on the map between different narrative junctions, which all lead to the same final stage: defeated the boss, we will move on to the next map.
We will be able to meet merchants, explore new cities, but also meet bandits or the much more dangerous abominations on our path. Each time they appear, the map nodes will be infected, and if we do not proceed quickly, they will envelop all of Albion, bringing it to ruin. In short, The Hand of Merlin is certainly a good title, which after a few test runs can be fully enjoyed, as long as you meet a – albeit disguised – basic repetitiveness and a technical sector inspired but not in step with the best exponents of the genre.