Release Date: 2001
Whether you consider Arthur's Knights: The Secret Of Merlin to be a second chapter, a sequel or a continuation of the story and events presented by its predecessor, Arthur's Knights: Tales of Chivalry, it is my opinion that the player will benefit greatly by having played these games in sequence. There is a historical trail of events and enough references to past interchanges with characters from the first game that leads me to recommend that those interested in Arthur's Knights start by playing Tales of Chivalry first and then continuing with this sequel later.
If you want to get some background on the first Arthur's Knights game, please refer to my earlier review of Tales of Chivalry, which can be found in the archives here at Just Adventure. Seeing no really useful purpose in repeating what I have already written, this review will not provide any additional information on the gameplay features, because they are essentially the same as I described previously.
As with the first Arthur's Knights game, the chronicler of the Knights of the Round Table, Master Foulque, tells the continuing story of Bradwen, King of the Atrebates, to his pupil, a young boy who is a page in the court of his uncle, the Count of Champagne.
It is later in the 6th century AD in Briton, a period known as the Dark Ages, when Christian and Celtic traditions compete to fill the cultural and religious void left behind by the collapse of Roman rule. In addition, it is the time when the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were at their peak and would leave their mark on literary history for many years to come.
But Arthur's Knights 2 isn't really about the legend of King Arthur so much, in fact, Arthur only appears in this game once and that time as a ghost. Rather, it is about the influence that Merlin had on the life and times of Arthur, as portrayed through events affecting your character, Bradwen, as he attempts to assume the throne as King of the Atrebates.
Medieval legends of Merlin credit him with playing a key role in the birth of Arthur. When King Uther Pendragon was attracted to Lady Igraine, the wife of the Duke of Cornwall, and she rebuffed him, it was Merlin who devised a magical plan of deceit that allowed Uther to appear to Igraine in the image of her husband. The result was the birth of Arthur and legend says that to fulfill the conditions that Merlin had negotiated with Uther the child would be turned over to Merlin, who would become his teacher. Merlin was a multi-faceted figure and his legend as a sorcerer, seer and prophet who embodied the themes of magic and myths forms the environment into which Bradwen must negotiate his way through many trials and tribulations.
Curses…This Crown Turned My Hair White: After winning a duel with his evil half-brother Morganor, Bradwen is determined by King Arthur to be King of the Atrebates and desires to return to his kingdom to claim the throne. However, there are battles to be won first and as a Knight of the Round Table, Bradwen must spend several years fighting to defeat invading hordes of Saxon barbarians, in order to unite Briton under the leadership of the High King Arthur.
When, finally, Bradwen returns to the kingdom of the Atrebates, there are many obstacles that await him and make his desire to claim the throne a difficult one. He will need to find the crown, which isn't just sitting on the throne waiting for him. He will need to deal with someone who was left there to be a "safekeeper" while Bradwen was away at war, and who now seems to have become established as a "legitimate" king in the eyes of the Atrebate citizens.
Eventually, Bradwen discovers that there is a curse on his family that was brought about by a serious transgression perpetrated by one of his ancestors against the fairies, who live in the Other World, but whose magic and powers extend into Man's World. When Bradwen is offered a pact with the Devil that will lift the curse if he renounces his Code of Chivalry, Bradwen refuses and, instead, sets out to seek the advice of Merlin.
A Bumpy Road and Saddle Sores Await: As in the first Arthur's Knights, you will be given the choice of playing the game as Bradwen, the Celtic warrior, who is guided by his druid beliefs or Bradwen, the Paladin, with traditions and Christian faith taken from the Romans. What is offered in Arthur's Knights: The Secret of Merlin is two games in one and both games are long, so you should plan on spending many days, if not weeks, enjoying this fascinating adventure through the real and imaginary worlds of 6th century Briton.
Although each game is similar in nature and purpose, the route that is taken is quite different, so you will feel like you are playing an entirely new game, each time. The common ground is that you travel between "worlds" within the adventure, on horseback, so plan on spending a lot of time getting on and off your horse.
As the Celtic warrior, Bradwen will travel back and forth between the "worlds" of Uffington (his kingdom), Arden Forest, Avalon, Cornwall and the Land of the Shadows.
As the Paladin, you will travel these same worlds, plus Magnovenium (the Christian monastery), but again the story will be completely different.
What each story has in common is that, after dealing with many tests that lead you to find the missing crown and discover its accompanying curse, you accept Merlin's advice to follow the White Stag. This will take you to Avalon, the center of the fairy world, where you hope to learn about the origins of the curse and how to lift it.
Later, in each story, your complex adventure will require you to conquer the Shadow of the Dragon/The Hidden King, whose pact with the Devil poses a chilling prospect that Briton can fall under the rule of the most evil of forces.
An interesting sidelight to the game is that Bradwen has a different wife in each story. As a Celt, his wife is Fydia, a fairy, which is very much in keeping with the strong influence that the story has regarding the relationship of the world of fairies and man's world. As a Paladin, Bradwen's wife is Lady Lutisse, a noblewoman, who has been brought up by the Christian monks.
Like its predecessor, this Arthur's Knights game is a real "tour deforce" that will provide numerous days/weeks of adventuring enjoyment, as you romp through beautifully rendered 3D settings and test your resolve to meet and conquer the trials of reaching your objective…to become the legitimate King of the Atrebates.
A Labyrinth of Time and Historical Characters: The puzzles in Arthur's Knights: The Secret of Merlinconsist mainly of finding objects and using them in the right situation or at the correct place. Often, you are required to perform tests to prove that you are worthy of obtaining needed information. Sometimes these are tests of combat or choices that will allow you to maintain your honor under the Code of Chivalry, but in other instances the tests are in the form of riddles that need to be solved in order to progress in what is a very linear game environment.
Each game does provide, however, a puzzle called the Labyrinth of Time, which is…you guessed right if you said a "matrix/maze" puzzle. But don't despair, because in this case the maze puzzles are quite benign and no one should have any problem finding their way through and discovering their hidden secrets.
Also…yes, this is a historical adventure game, which provides the player with the opportunity to revisit the legendary past and interface with the likes of Merlin, Arthur, Gawain, Lancelot, Guinevere and Mordred. The game also preserves a nice balance by giving the player a chance to meet and deal with many magical beings from the world of the fairies, such as, Morgan (the Mother Goddess) and Rhiannon, who plays such a key role in the story.
For those of you who appreciate the opportunity to refresh your memories with regard to legend and history, there is a "built-in" historical/documentary database that gives access to subjects, such as: Briton in the Dark Ages, End of the Roman Empire, The Chivalric Ideal, The Life of a Knight and Heroic Historical Figures.
Some Final Impressions: All in all, like the first Arthur's Knights game, Arthur's Knights: The Secret of Merlin was very enjoyable (even with the tedium of frequent travels by horseback) and most challenging (even though it took me almost 2 months to complete both stories).
The game had some particularly interesting villains who were presented with some of the best voice acting that I can remember. For instance, the Devil's voice was very smooth and soothing to the point that resistance would seem difficult. Morgan, the Mother Goddess of the fairies, sounded just the way a temptress would sound when she was expressing her desires…only to turn threatening, when rebuked. But, the best is reserved for the voice of the Horned Snake, who gave a sinister performance by incorporating "hissing" sounds into his speech.
The animations and sounds of animals are another of the strong points that continued as carrying over from the first Arthur's Knights. Chirping birds, meowing cats, baying sheep and roaring beasts all contribute to a spectacular visual experience that accompanies the player as he/she travel through the worlds of Bradwen's adventure.
Another feature of both Arthur's Knights games is the Book of Adventures, which is Master Foulque's chronicle of the events that are required in order to progress in the "quests" that make up the stories. As Bradwen discovers objects or uncovers key information, a record of these events is written into a sort of journal that can be accessed at any time and, therefore, serves as a linear measure of where you are in the game.
Although I don't remember this feature from the first Arthur's Knights game, there is a really nice Map feature that can be accessed at any time during the game showing exactly where your horse is located and, therefore, where you left it. Also, while on the horse, you can use the map to select paths that you want to choose in order to reach a desired location in the game.
Since everything is not "perfect" in an adventure game, no matter how much you might wish it to be, I must mention a couple of miscues that appeared. Often, when Bradwen would come across "sayings" that were written or engraved on plaques or stone monuments, he would read them aloud and his words were in Latin. I'm afraid my Latin isn't what it once was, so I missed out on some of the verbal details. Also, some of the writings in the Book of Adventures were in French, indicating that the translation to English had been overlooked. Pardon my French, but I got by anyway.
My Conclusion and Rating: A-
As I have said, you will get your money's worth with Arthur's Knights, whether it is the first or second game, because each game has two stories that are quite lengthy by themselves. But what you really are getting is good value, since these games have plenty of variety in adventuring, interesting stories of historical significance, lots of entertainment, great graphics and animations and fun, story-based puzzles.
The characters are fascinating and the melding of different worlds (fairies and mankind) against a backdrop of the Dark Ages of Briton always provided a terrific story line that will cause you to eagerly look forward to your next challenge and anticipate where the adventure will lead. I would particularly recommend the Arthur's Knights games, especially Arthur's Knights: The Secret of Merlin, which I enjoyed a bit more than Tales of Chivalry, to anyone who enjoys adventure games with a historical base.
Minimum System Requirements:
Pentium II -300 MHz
64 Mb RAM
8 Mb 3D Accelerator Card