Arthur and his knights of the round table are some of the most recognizable medieval figures but they’re small potatoes compared to Merlin. This grand old wizard has appearances across the board in books, movies, games, shows, and more. The problem is that because of this, it’s more difficult to depict Merlin in an original or unique way. With this in mind, it looks like the folks behind the new game The Hand of Merlin may have done it. This strategy game with rogue-lite elements puts players in the driver’s seat with Merlin riding shotgun holding a randomly generated map.
What’s on the Scroll?
When it comes to Merlin and Arthur, the story is usually pretty standard: Evil is threatening Camelot and some valiant knight or knights must rise up to defeat it. While Hand of Merlin isn’t too far off from that, it’s got a cool twist on it. In this version, Merlin is something of an omnipresent being who is able to peer into multiple dimensions. He identifies an evil force that threatens to destroy every prospective universe and so makes it his job to find Arthur in each one to fight against. Unfortunately, Arthur is doomed to die so Merlin must use his powers to find other warriors to continue his quest to thwart the evil. This creates a playing field of epic proportions and plenty of motivation to explore it all.
When playing a game you hope to encounter as much good as possible and The Hand of Merlin makes quite the effort. One of the highlights is simply the story’s creativity. Picturing Merlin as a singular entity who exists across all dimensions is pretty intriguing. On top of that, aside from the usual batch of bandits and thugs, you face an onslaught of cosmic horrors. The idea of medieval warriors fighting monsters usually reserved for sci-fi is interesting, to say the least. It all seems to blend together quite well.
The gameplay structure is also a cause for applause. By combining real-time strategy with RNG, The Hand of Merlin provides a different kind of challenge. It plays a big part in navigation as you try to get from one end of the map to the other. You choose which route to take and which encounters to risk. Each point acts as an event that plays out on a page of text. If you plan well, you can go quite far without needing to fight at all. However, when you do fight, it plays out in a way similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Each character gets a certain number of actions to move, attack or use items. Fights are fun while posing a risk which adds another level of strategic thinking and challenge.
Nothing is perfect and even good things stumble now and then. The Hand of Merlin runs pretty smoothly but hits a few speed bumps. A big bump is the clarity of the text. It has that problem where you’re not really sure what’s going to happen until it does. While this could work in a fast-paced rogue-lite game, in something this slow it’s just confusing. Another bump is the ramp in difficulty between battles. You may find yourself breezing through most fights only to be stonewalled by a face-ripping dimensional shambler. It’s definitely a game built for multiple runs, but it’d be nice if it considered the strategy element some more.
What the Hand of Merlin holds…
The Hand of Merlin is an RTS-RPG rogue-lite where you control heroes that act as Merlin’s pawns in his chess game against Lovecraftian horrors. Having a faster strategy game with RNG to keep you on your toes is pretty engaging. It plays well and is supported by an interesting twist on Camelot lore. It has a few problems in terms of balance and clarity that we as players need to conquer. All in all, if you need some comfort during the end times it makes sense to take hold of the hand of Merlin.
TechRaptor previewed The Hand of Merlin with a copy provided by the game's developers. It is currently available on Steam Early Access.