Social Games and Licensed Games. Two types of game that when uttered can strike fear into the hearts of most gamers. One is a new type of game that appeals to the mass market and the other usually means the ruining of a much beloved franchise or series in a rush to cash in. So when I heard that there was going to a Facebook game for the BBC’s much loved series ‘Merlin’ I wasn’t exactly expecting much.
Thankfully then the team at Bossa Studios appear to have exceeded my expectations and raised the bar on what makes a good Facebook game.
Merlin: The Game, as you would expect, takes place in the land of Camelot. If you’ve seen the TV show then you’ll know all about it, but if you haven’t don’t worry, just imagine the King Arthur/Merlin legends but in a more ‘Saved by the Bell’ style age.
The game starts with your character being attacked by some Giant Spiders; you beat a few of them off but then are overwhelmed when a new enemy surrounds you. Just when all hope is lost, Merlin appears, HURRAH, and saves you using his own special talents. Merlin then guides you through the forest until you reach the safety of the Camelot Citadel, once there he asks you to keep the whole magic thing a secret and offers to help you make your way in life.
Welcome to the Camelot Citadel, the Citadel will act as your central hub during the game. Here you will be able to obtain quests, buy weapons and armour and collect rations and provisions. Here you’ll also come into contact with the more famous residents of Camelot; Arthur, Gwen and Gaius and of course Merlin, will all make an appearance and offer you quests to complete. As you play through the game you’ll encounter places that have appeared in the TV series and other characters will make appearances, firmly rooting the game in the TV series.
So then, what’s the game like? Well firstly Bossa Studios are part of the same group as the company that makes the TV show so they have been able to draw on that when building the game. As such the game looks amazing. The art style is beautifully drawn and rendered. The slightly comic book caricatures of the cast (try saying that three times when you’ve been down the Tavern!), while probably not doing too much for the actor’s egos are perfectly suited to the environment and the style of the game.
Game play takes place in a 3D isometric view. Your characters is moved using clicks of the mouse and items can be assigned to specific buttons on the keyboard or used by clicking the icon with the mouse. Basically if you’ve ever played a PC RPG Dungeon Crawler game before then you’ll know what you’re doing with Merlin. Don’t worry though if you’ve never even held a mouse before or know what an RPG is, Merlin is all about ease of use.
As Merlin: The Game is a Facebook game there is also the social aspect of the game. You are more than able to play through the game as a solitary explorer, but if you are stuck and need help, or even if you want to get other people involved, all you need to do is click and invite. Over the past few years Facebook has become littered with ‘Game Requests’, ‘So and So wants you to send them a banana, or wants you to visit their café, or wants you to get on their train.’ Etc etc. Merlin isn’t like that.
When you invite someone they will receive the message that you are asking them to join your game to help out, if they agree they will click on the link and immediately appear in YOUR game, not their own, not in a field ‘next’ to you but appear in real time in your game to help you out. Now that’s pretty awesome.
There are a few Facebook game traits that have made it through, there are items that you can use real world money to purchase, which doesn’t seem as bad this time, probably because you know the money will be used for good, and there are a few items that you can ‘wait’ for such as potions and provisions. One of my only gripes with the game is the restriction on having to wait for provisions to increase before being able to take on Quests; it interrupts the flow of the game if you are a more seasoned adventurer.
The only other minor gripe is the slightly repetitive nature of the back ground music. But even commentating on it feels like I’m trying to pick faults with what is otherwise a fantastic game. Forget what you know, or think you know about Facebook games. The team at Bossa set out on a mission to show the world how it should be done. Merlin: The Game straddles both the causal and experience gamer markets. Those expecting a Diablo 3 style experience should adjust their expectations, but know in some ways Merlin excels the more linear RPG’s. The game is open, not only in the way you play, but also for the developers. There is no end, no fixed point, the game will grow with the TV series and expand based on the feedback and comments from the players.
I said at the start of this review that my initial expectations of this game weren’t high. Merlin: The Game is a fun, beautifully crafted game, that not only appeals to casual gamers but offers a real time co-operative experience through Facebook, I’ve gotta say – I wasn’t expecting that!
Merlin: The Game should be launched this month on Facebook within the UK. An American release will be timed to coincide with the airing of Merlin Series 5 in the US.
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Tim Bowers is the ex-Editor of Zero1Gaming, he also occasionally writes when he's able to string sentences together. He can usually be found waiting for Nintendo to remember about Samus Aran.