Arthur's Knights 2: Secrets of Merlin
I have always enjoyed Arthurian tales, so I was reasonably interested in the Arthur's Knights games. However I do not as a rule enjoy keyboard operated games, finding the camera angles generally annoying and the manipulation of the character anything from irritating to rage inducing. So although I own a copy of the first chapter of this series (Tales of Chivalry/Quest for Excalibur), Gordon's review and impressions put me off playing it for the time being.
I recently however picked up a bargain copy of this second chapter, and a variety of factors induced me to play it. The two major ones were my already stated enjoyment of things Arthurian, and my desire to see whether the game had changed at all from Gordon's descriptions. I must also confess to a slight desire to see whether I in fact agreed with Gordon.
Although I have not played the first game, there is no doubt, based on Gordon's descriptions and other articles I have read, that this second part is very much the same. And I must say that I ended up generally agreeing with Gordon's assessments. So much so that other than giving away the story details, a detailed description would be repeating what was said, so I will simply add some additional comments. Suffice to say that if you enjoyed chapter one, you have plenty more of the same in store with chapter two.
The game pretty much picks up where the first left off. Arthur has named Bradwen King of the Atrebates, and he returns to his lands to claim his throne. As in the first part, there are two paths you can choose to succeed in your quest. Bradwen can set forth as a Celtic warrior, steeped in druidic traditions, with a fairy wife and allies and Merlin to guide him. Or Bradwen can proceed as a Paladin, brought up with Roman traditions and in the Christian faith. Although you play predominantly as Bradwen, there are some short occasions on which you play as Corwyn, Bradwen's squire.
The first time I started playing, the load was enormous. I was prompted to insert all 3 cd's and then the first one again. It was like a mini re-install. Thankfully, subsequent occasions did not require the same load sequence.
Having started playing, I wanted to turn off the subtitles. Games should have subtitles but I find them a distraction. In most games you can turn them off (or on) but here they were there for good. There was simply no option to turn them off, or if there was I couldn't find it. It certainly wasn't in the options menu, and all the normal methods (eg toggle key) did nothing. Unfortunately the manual provided no information whatsoever.
The graphics aren't the smoothest I have seen, but the detail is generally excellent although you can't interact with all that much. This can cause some frustration, exacerbated by the interface. Unless you are standing in the right spot, oriented properly with the object you wish to interact with, Bradwen will ignore it. There is some generosity in the orientation, but not much. I spent a lot of time making slight adjustments to where Bradwen was standing to satisfy myself that he really didn't need the object I was suggesting to him, as opposed to my not having him in the right spot to pick it up. And he does not pick up very much relative to the amount of objects and items that are present, so there is a lot of needless jiggling him about. Entering doors suffers a bit from the same fate.
Conversations also require you to click continuously to advance them. This is normal in a game where you are given options for possible responses, and you need to choose between them, but a running conversation should not need constant mouse clicks to keep it going. It does though enable you to control the speed of the dialogue, and absorb everything that is said, and if you are relying on the subtitles then it ensures that you aren't left behind by going too fast.
Helpfully, an adventure book takes notes for you, and offers playback of your scenes, so you won't likely miss anything important. You can also access an historical data base should you wish to know more about the times surrounding the game.
The camera angles didn't cause too many problems, although on occasion I lost track of exactly where I was as the camera angle shifted. This meant I sometimes took the third path on the right when I wanted the fourth, but maps are available telling you where you are (if you are on your horse), so rectifying a mistake is not too difficult. However, you will be forced to mount your horse first, which means committing to a path and a short scene load. You can then check your map - if you are wrong, you get off your horse, wait for another short scene load, pick another path, wait for the scene load, get back on your horse, and hopefully you now have the path you want.
The above seems like a lot of grizzles. I in fact quite enjoyed the generally quiet nature of the game. It was a more relaxed, and at times almost pastoral (particularly as a Celt) interlude from some of the more intense and cerebral games I was playing at the time. That is not to say there aren't activities and places that are a far cry from being quiet - the World of Shadows springs to mind. Rather, the pace of the game and its overall feel is more downbeat than many other games.
The story is probably its strongest point. Like any good Arthurian tale, your quest will involve chivalry, love, honour and the mystical. Destiny looms large, and redemption gets a look in. It will involve numerous destinations, including Avalon. It may not be as deep as it might have been, but I doubt that too many will play looking for a provocative historical discourse.
Coming back to the game at a later time is easy. You simply indicate you want to resume, and it takes you back to where you were, without having had to save. You can save and load in the normal way anytime you want, but you don't have to load to simply carry on from where you were.
The essential "errand" nature of the game was also ok in itself - completing tasks is fairly fundamental in many adventure games. What made it less enjoyable was the way you move around the game. If traipsing about and going back and forth is a big part of a game, it needs to be done in as user friendly a way as possible. The game mechanics here are not at all suited to the inherent nature of the game. They also tend to bog down the delivery of the story, which undermines one of its stronger points. I thought that this was a game where less would have in fact been more.
There isn't really that much more to say. As indicated, read Gordon's review of the first chapter, and you will easily determine whether this game is for you.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2001.
All rights reserved.
Win 95 or higher, Pentium II 300 MHz (350 recommended), 64 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM (16x recommended), 8Mb 3D accelerator card, DirectX 7