Lovecraftian Horror is not often associated with medieval, and I don’t think I remember a time where it’s been associated with Arthurian legend. But Hand of Merlin introduces a multiverse of many Camelots, Many Grails, and Arthurian knights and their struggle against a cosmic being that spans the length of the multiverse. Merlin, who had nudged Arthur to be the champion to defeat this evil, failed—and so failed Arthur. Now, years later, Merlin is again taking the fight against this evil corruption—powers diminished. This story, and its lore, instantly hooked me.
Hand of Merlin is a turn-based strategy role-playing game with roguelike elements. In it, you play as Merlin as he exerts his influence over a new band of Arthurian knights on the most important quest: to take the Grail from Camelot, and return it to Jerusalem in an attempt to stop the otherworldly, tentacled horrors that have infested Albion. The odds are stacked against your band of heroes, however—and if played on the intended difficulty, health and resources might be scarce. If you fail in this world, however, there is an entire multiverse of worlds, each with their own Camelot, and each with their own interdimensional horror stopping Grail—it’s just a matter of finding the right world with the right heroes to defeat evil.
The quest from Camelot to Jerusalem will take your party across the lands of Arthurian Britain and beyond, hitting many landmarks of Arthurian legend along the way. At each stop along the overworld map, you can decide to intervene in any random events—make choices, and suffer the consequences with outcomes often being decided by a percentage-based Three-card Monte-style game with a hidden shuffle. For example: if your outcome has a 25 percent success rate, you’ll be able to choose one of four cards, with three of the cards resulting in success, and one card that will result in failure. But what’s more interesting in how events are determined are the types of events you’ll encounter, all of them interesting, with some requiring a potentially hard decision. These encounters and events are some of the best written I’ve encountered. I absolutely love the lore and storytelling in Hand of Merlin.
These random encounters can have consequences on your playthrough in good and bad ways. You can, for instance, choose to spend mana using the Grail to heal a blighted area—but that mana won’t be available for Merlin to aid in the turn-based combat. You can pick up party members and powerful items by getting lucky in these encounters, too. As much as I love exploring this Lovecraft-meets-Arthurian Legend, I wish the turn-based combat was a little more interesting.
Combat in Hand of Merlin is best described as basic. There are only a few character archetypes available, each of these with a few available spells. The spells can be changed and specialized as the character progresses in levels, but even these choices are limited. In combat, most spells and abilities require you to be pretty close to your enemy, even on ranged characters. It feels like combat is a constant balance of move and attack, with your options severely limited with each character only being allowed two action points per turn. Spells, attacks, and abilities are rarely very interesting, either—either mechanically, or visually. Hand of Merlin doesn’t have a very exciting art style inside of its combat encounters, either—which is too bad, because it’s great looking everywhere else.
Hand of Merlin is in Early Access, so it’s not quite finished development. According to the developer’s Early Access information box on the Steam store page, Hand of Merlin will be in development for the next four to six months. The developers plan to add more content to the 9 available heroes, dozens of enemies, and hundreds of excellently written encounters—there’s a ton of stuff already do in Hand of Merlin.
Hand of Merlin has some serious potential—and it’s already showing with excellent writing. I just wish the combat encounters were a little bit more interesting, but that has potential to change through its development period. It’s already a pretty polished game, however, and if you’re interested in a mash-up of Lovecraft and the Knights of the Round Table, Hand of Merlin has some great writing and fantastic world building.
Hand of Merlin is available now in Early Access on Steam.
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