The Hand of Merlin – Review
Follow Genre: Turn-based strategy
Developer: Room-C Games, Croteam
Publisher: Versus Evil
Platform: PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Tested on: Switch

The Hand of Merlin – Review

Site Score
Good: Addictive and tense combat
Bad: Awkward console control scheme
User Score
(2 votes)
Click to vote
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.5/10 (2 votes cast)

The Arthurian legend is something that has continued to inspire people for centuries, whether through literature, the silver screen, or video games. As a central character and the embodiment of the wizard archetype, Merlin himself is often a key component of anything based on the stories about King Arthur. As you probably guessed already from the title, Room-C Games and Croteam’s latest game The Hand of Merlin places Merlin in a prominent role, although perhaps not the one you’d expect. Read on to find out how Merlin becomes involved with the game and whether or not you should too.


Although The Hand of Merlin certainly feels like a narrative-driven experience, it’s almost impossible to explain the story without experiencing it for yourself. Not because of spoilers, but mostly because the story branches in different directions every time you play the game again. There is an overarching plot, which involves a Cataclysm slowly but surely engulfing several worlds, and only Merlin himself is capable of doing anything about it, with the aid of the Holy Grail. Unfortunately for the legendary wizard, he has become stuck between worlds at the hand of Morgana Le Fay. Merlin’s champion, the legendary King Arthur himself, has failed, not just in a single world but in several different ones. Now, Merlin has no choice but to turn to groups of random adventurers that populate this medieval multiverse. Should the group that Merlin has picked fail on their quest and die, then Merlin has to find a new group to continue the quest.

It’s on these bands of adventurers that The Hand of Merlin focuses, allowing the story to be told from their perspective. The Hand of Merlin is a very choice-driven game, and part of the fun lies in how you want your given band of adventurers to perceive the world around them. On one run, you could play as noble heroes whereas on another you could choose to be less morally correct. There is no right or wrong way, as every decision you make gets you closer to the ultimate goal: stopping the Cataclysm. While we loved the sense of freedom that came with this way of storytelling, it did mean that there wasn’t a connection between the player and the characters in the same way as you’d get with other titles in the strategy genre that are more character-driven, like Triangle Strategy or Dark Deity.


From a visual perspective, The Hand of Merlin is fine, if a little unremarkable. The visuals felt like a higher resolution version of something you’d see in a PC adventure game from the ‘90s, with lots of cute little touches such as narrative information presented in the form of an ancient book. Visual performance was more than adequate, even on the Switch. The only real gripe we had with The Hand of Merlin from an aesthetic point of view was that the character designs lacked personality. This makes sense given the randomized nature of the game, as it would be impossible to flesh out each possible adventurer visually, so it’s a minor gripe overall. On the other hand, from what we’ve seen, the initial band of adventurers comprises the same three characters, so perhaps more effort could have been put into fleshing these out or at least making them more interesting looking.


There is a certain cheesiness to The Hand of Merlin’s OST, which sounds like it could have come directly from a low-budget fantasy film. The music clearly is computer-generated rather than fully orchestrated -which we understand given how expensive that would have been- but this imbues the game with a specific charm and we wouldn’t be surprised if the OST makes it to many a D&D player’s playlists in the near future. The opening cutscene also features some voice acting in the form of Merlin narrating, and the voice actor does an adequate job here. The sound effects could’ve used some more variety, as it sounds odd to hear an opponent making the exact same grunt when getting hit multiple times in a row.


There are plenty of turn-based strategy titles out there, so if a developer wants their game to make any sort of impact, it has to stand out. The Hand of Merlin mainly does this by focusing its story on the adventurers themselves, and not on the world-ending Cataclysm, which acts more like something in the background than anything else. From a pure gameplay perspective, The Hand of Merlin relies on solid but familiar strategy gameplay, which takes elements we’ve seen plenty of times in other titles in the genre, such as Fort Triumph and even King Arthur: Knight’s Tale, and implements them in a logical and satisfying manner. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but what’s present here is challenging enough to keep genre veterans hooked without overstaying its welcome. Admittedly, the game doesn’t feel very accessible to newcomers, although we’re not sure whether this is due to the frustrating console controls -more on those later- or simply because of the sheer difficulty level.

Upon starting a run of The Hand of Merlin, you’ll be presented with a series of sprawling maps, which are covered in branching roads and key points, known as nodes here. Each of these leads to an event, whether it’s a battle, an encounter with an NPC, or simply a location that you can visit. These nodes offer various threat levels, which corresponds to how difficult it is to resolve them. They also have corresponding rewards attached to them so you can make a run easier or more difficult depending on which rewards you are after, as you get to see the potential rewards before engaging a particular node. No matter which route you decide to take though, at the end of each map a boss encounter awaits you. If you succeed in beating the boss, your party moves on to the next map. Fail, however, and you’ll have to resort to a new party of adventurers to try again.

Battles are of course the main reason why most people tend to play strategy games like this, so we’re happy to say that The Hand of Merlin absolutely nails this aspect, albeit in an unconventional manner. You’ll be taking control of your party in isometric grid-based combat, which feels very similar to XCOM. These battles are typically small affairs, with only a handful of enemies attacking you but you also only have limited actions at your disposal. This makes for battles that feel very intense because of how much the action has been scaled down as every move matters. There is a lot of strategy involved here, as well as some luck: you’ll often see the odds of success and it’s always a gamble whether you should perform an attack that only has a 45% chance of landing or if you should use your actions to take a support action to buff an ally instead. Add to this that there is an interesting recovery system -armor is restored after a battle but hit points require a rest in a town- and you’ve got a game that keeps you on the edge of your seat even if the stakes are comparatively low.

Unfortunately, the excellent strategy gameplay doesn’t translate to a smooth control scheme, at least on the Switch version -although we imagine that other console versions suffer the same fate. Navigating the UI feels needlessly frustrating, with several button presses required for even the simplest actions. It’s clear that the game was designed with a mouse and keyboard setup in mind. It’s certainly playable but if you have the choice to pick this one up for PC, we highly recommend going for this option. On the Switch version specifically, a lot of frustration could be alleviated if a future update were to add touch screen controls instead, although that’s unlikely to happen as it isn’t an option for the other console ports of course.


With an interesting narrative hook and intense small battles, The Hand of Merlin certainly accomplishes what it sets out to do, and fans of the strategy genre will find a lot to love here. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t feel very accessible to newcomers and the frustrating UI leads us to believe that this is a game best played on PC but not on console. Despite those issues, The Hand of Merlin cements itself as one of the better strategy titles out there, and we highly recommend picking this one up (on PC) if you’re a genre aficionado looking for a challenge.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.5/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
The Hand of Merlin - Review, 8.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

No Comments

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.