The Hand of Merlin Review (Switch)
Release Date: July 14, 2022
File Size: 3.2GB
Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Room-C Games, Croteam
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
If Merlin were to appear in your dreams, telling you of a grand tale where you must save the world from a great evil by bringing the Holy Grail to Jerusalem, would you take up the mantle? Hand of Merlin is a blend of Arthurian legend and sci-fi horror, where grotesque creatures are plaguing the lands of Camelot with their corruption. But is it worth becoming a hero? Or are you better off skipping this challenge for other tactical roguelites? Let’s find out!
The Hand of Merlin opens up telling of the downfall of King Arthur and Merlin. Morgana lost faith in Merlin and betrayed him, trapping him in a realm where he is weak and unable to return to his former glory. Arthur soon after died and people came in droves to try and fight against the Cataclysm. However, they soon found that they were powerless to battle against the creatures. That is where you, the player, comes in.
In The Hand of Merlin, there are many worlds where different outcomes can occur. In one world, the heroes can end up perishing due to a camp of bandits while in another world, the heroes are able to bring the Grail to Jerusalem. Each playthrough is meant to emulate these different worlds, with the general motivation being the same: take the Grail to Jerusalem. The Cataclysm is slowly corrupting the land and it is up to you to put a stop to it.
The general story beats are light in The Hand of Merlin. As you move to different nodes on the map, you generate a random event. Based on the choices you make, you can earn or lose supplies, renown (your reputation), and/or money. There are a fair amount of events that you can come across, although after a few playthroughs, you’ll start to see the same events pop up. And as you navigate to pivotal locations, the events will also play out the same should you win or lose.
There are a few side quests that you can fulfill as you travel, which are marked by blue exclamation points. There are also a few nodes where you can unlock new heroes to bring along with you on your journey, although those characters will only join if you have a spot open on your team.
The Hand of Merlin is primarily a tactics game where you control up to three characters. You can start the game off from one of multiple difficulties, which can affect enemy health, your characters’ health, armor, as well as other things depending on how easy (or difficult) you wish for the game to be. No matter your difficulty, though, there will come a time where you’ll need to keep an eye on the skills you’re using, the enemies you’re facing, and what status ailments you’re being afflicted with, as it can be easy to suddenly lose due to multiple status ailments stacking.
You start off the game with three characters: one melee, one ranged, and one magic user. There are up to 12 characters to select from, nine of which need to be unlocked. Each hero has their own stats, passive effects, and starting skills. And if you beat the game, you can unlock an upgraded class to use in future runs. The steps that you’ll need to complete to unlock characters are available to see, if you’re looking to focus on that at any point.
Once you are set free in The Hand of Merlin, you are able to choose which nodes to navigate to. You can only travel forward and once you choose to “leave” a node, especially when it comes to larger cities where you’re able to shop and explore, you aren’t able to interact with that node any longer. Each node will tell you what you can potentially earn, as well as the type of node it is. They will also tell you the danger level based on the types of enemies you’ll face in battle. Most nodes are normal, although there are some where you can pick up new heroes, relics, mana, and cores.
As you travel, you will use up your supplies, which is basically your food supply. If you end up running out of supplies, your armor and health is reduced. Keeping your supplies up will keep your health and armor increased. This means that you’ll want to keep an eye out for supplies, both while out on random nodes, as well as while in markets in cities.
Major cities are far and few between, so you’ll want to make full use of them. They are the only places that you can purchase weapon and armor upgrades, as well as reliably purchase healing services and supplies. However, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your money – due to the limited number of nodes that you can travel to, money will end up being tight.
As you travel across the map, you’ll see certain spots that are corrupted. Corrupted nodes are points where the Cataclysm has taken over the land and where you’ll need to face fearsome monsters in order to move past. These monsters are much stronger than the bandits you normally face. Some spots, particularly major story nodes, will always be corrupted while other nodes have a countdown timer letting you know how many turns you have until that spot also becomes corrupted.
Once you’ve reached your destination for a particular section, you’ll be moved onto the next region. There is no option to revisit or explore other parts of the map, so make sure you plan out your route carefully.
When you land on certain nodes, there will be times where you’ll be taken into battle. From this point, all battles are turn-based, with turns starting based on the speed stat of all units. Each unit has up to four different skills that they can use, each with its own cooldown. All units have two action points that they can use. The points can be put all towards movement, all towards attacking, or mixing the two different action types together. There are no healing items to manage your health or your armor outside of spells and skills.
Along with your character’s skills, you have spells that you can use to give off different effects, such as healing. However, these skills cost mana, which you can pick up through exploring the map. Spells can be unlocked by using cores that you pick up during exploration as well. You can also choose to use any relics that you have equipped, and those don’t cost any action points or mana to use.
As you move your units across the map, you’ll notice some areas will show a shield next to your character. This means that any attacks coming from that direction will have a lower chance of hitting your character. Of course, though, the enemy can just as easily move to a spot where that environmental shield doesn’t amount to anything. But when facing ranged units, this can be very helpful as protection. But keep in mind that the enemy can make use of such spots as well.
Whenever you or the enemy take damage, the armor is hit first. Once armor is completely depleted, health will be subtracted at that point. Once all health is depleted, the unit is dead and removed from the field. If you lose a unit, they are removed from your team for the rest of the run. And if you end up losing all units, you will end up with a game over and have to start over from the beginning again. Your armor stat is replenished after each battle, but any health lost will need to be restored by a healer.
After winning a battle, you’ll be rewarded renown and money. After collecting 50 renown, you can rank up your units. Ranking up allows for you to unlock or upgrade your skills, as well as increase either your health, armor, or sometimes a third miscellaneous skill. It’s important to build up renown, since this is the only way to basically level up your characters and increase their stats, as well as build out their skill pool.
The aesthetics are definitely a weak point for The Hand of Merlin, both in terms of graphics as well as UI. On the Switch, the UI feels clunky and squished. Multiple buttons are used to open different menus, but those buttons can change while you’re open in another menu. If you’re the type to get easily confused with button controls and menus, this will be a point of frustration. In terms of the UI, there’s a lot of information being shown on a small screen if you keep everything open by default.
The load times are another issue with The Hand of Merlin, particularly the initial load time. Since the load screens are just a black screen, it’s even more obvious just how long it takes for the game to fully boot up.
When it comes to both the art and the music, there are obvious inspirations from other medieval pieces. Truthfully, neither the art nor the music stand out in any particular way. The units are too far away in battle to really take in any major detail and there isn’t really much to appreciate when it comes to the map design. The maps during combat are a bit interesting when it comes to making use of the environment to hide, but locations do tend to blend together after a while. The 2D art that appears on the book during the exploration phase is interesting to look at though.
The Hand of Merlin kind of feels like a middle-of-the-road addition to the tactical roguelite circle of games. But for those looking for more of a challenge with tactics games, look no further. The gameplay is enjoyable at its core and with the wide variety of difficulties, you’re sure to find one that fits your playstyle best. The random events, while short, are fun to play through and it’s interesting to see how the world of Camelot is built out.
However, the story is a bit light compared to other RPGs on the Switch. Along with that, the UI and loading times don’t do the game any favors. It’s a fairly quick experience to playthrough completely at about 5 or so hours, but additional game time can be achieved if you’re looking to unlock all of the characters and experience as many of the random events as possible.
Overall, The Hand of Merlin is a decent tactics game, but definitely one where you’ll want to be aware of exactly what you’re getting into before purchasing it.