TRANSCRIPT:

Hi everyone! Eugene Sax here with another Preview from GameCritics.com.

The Hand of Merlin is a roguelike turn based tactics game that takes Arthurian legend and throws it up against cosmic horror. Mortal heroes must take up the quest where King Arthur failed: take the holy grail to Jerusalem and purge the world of cosmic evil. But these heroes are not alone, as they have the spirit of Merlin to help them in their journey.

Players travel from map to map from Camelot to Jerusalem, and Each point on the map will be some type of event for the player. These can be one off events to gain resources, heroic events that could grant special relics, towns that will allow players to purchase weapon upgrades or heal, or ancient ruins that can make Merlin’s magic more powerful. The final event could be a run in with humans or cosmic horrors that players must fight.

Each character will have two action points that can be used for moving, attacking, or using abilities. Once the player makes all of their moves, the turn passes to the enemy. What sets the game apart is the armor system, which acts like a second life bar for characters. Armor protects enemies from getting to the player’s health, and must be drained before enemies can attack the hero’s health. While armor restores to full between each combat, health can only be restored by visiting a town, or using some of the limited power Merlin has to restore health. Once a hero is gone, they’re removed from the run.

As players defeat enemies and do quests, the heroes will gain Renown which is used to level up. When each character levels up, the player gets to choose from a set of randomized abilities. In one playthrough, the archer character I had earned enough skills to turn into a sniper which utilized buffs to make her basic attack hit for massive damage. in another run, she was more of a skirmish archer, granting smoke screens and the ability to attack in melee. While each character type (rouge, warrior, and wizard) have a small pool of abilities that can be raised, having the skills be randomized during each play gives Hand of Merlin solid replay value.

While the roguelike aspects are a high point, the combat is a bit worrisome. Hand of Merlin has a cover system that makes characters harder to hit if they’re behind a wall, or some other type of cover. I never really found the best way to use the cover though – while there tend to be enough objects in each area to keep things interesting, the battlefields are small enough that enemies can easily move around the cover and still take unobstructed shots. This dovetails into the issue of Hand of Merlin‘s enemies being fairly powerful even from the first move. In one extreme example, my last few runs started out with my starter team fighting cosmic enemies in my first fight, which nearly depleted my characters health before the run even got off the ground.

I’m not quite sold on Hand of Merlin just yet. I think there’s a bit of work that needs to be done with the combat to level things out as far as power and cover are concerned, and I think there is also some balance needed — players shouldn’t have to fight the harder enemies before they’ve even had a chance to level up. On the other hand, I love the world that the game plays in and this twist on the Arthurian legend is great.

The Hand of Merlin is currently feature complete and available on PC now, but the developers expect it to be in Early Access for at least the next few months to gather feedback from the community.

Eugene Sax
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