In English literature, the first mention of a character named Robin Hood dates back to the 14th century and occurs in William Langland’s allegorical poem “Piers Plowman”, in which Priest Sloth says: ”I kan [know] rymes of Robin Hood.” Who Robin Hood really was is a subject that inflames fierce debates amongst the scholars even today: the dispossessed Earl of Huntingdon who became an outlaw to some historians, a mythological numen of the forests for some anthropologists, and nothing more than a scoundrel womanizer to his detractors. Whatever the reality, over the ages Robin Hood has proved to be an endless resource for poets and artists, who drew on his legend to shape this figure into the modern hero we know today, the noble outlaw who steals from the rich to give to the poor and who fights against the injustice of the feudal system.
Such a fascinating character lends itself perfectly to being the charismatic lead for an adventure game, and that’s why Christy Marx chose him for the second installment in her Conquests series. Her first attempt, Conquests of Camelot, didn’t sell very well despite some very good reviews and a couple of prestigious awards, at least not compared to the main Sierra “Quests” series. So, to the revamp the saga, in 1992 Marx and Ken Williams decided to let King Arthur go and focus on another English legendary hero, better suited for popular appeal at the time thanks the blockbuster film Prince of Thieves. As in the first game, Marx took great care in the preparation: the bibliography in the manual cites a wide range of sources, from the medieval chivalry poems to Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe”, from popular children’s ballads about Robin Hood to encyclopedias about heraldry, archery and feminine symbols. Whilst she could have borrowed heavily from the successful film, instead she worked hard to create an original plot and round off a non-stereotypical character, close to its legendary roots but also vivid and real.
Rather than throwing players right into the midst of the action, the game takes its time to set the proper mood and introduce the characters and the most important places around Sherwood Forest. The adventure spans two weeks, and the early days will be mostly spent talking to the Merry Men – the faithful Little John, the gruff Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck and the minstrel Alan-a-dale – and learning about the fate of King Richard the Lionheart, around whom the main plot is weaved. In fact, while the King was returning from Jerusalem after the Third Crusade, disguised as a Knight Templar, Richard was captured and imprisoned by Leopold V of Austria, who claimed that the King had offended him by tearing apart his vessels after the conquest of Acre. Richard’s brother, John Lackland, saw the opportunity to seize the throne of England and, with the aid of Nottingham’s Sheriff and an order of corrupted clergymen, conspired so that the high ransom asked by Leopold would never be raised. Slowly, as the days pass, Robin Hood finds himself more and more involved in a desperate race against time to expose Prince John’s intrigues and thus save King Richard. To do so, he not only has to confront John’s henchmen but also help Queen Eleanor raise the money necessary to pay the ransom.
Christy Marx’s writing is, as always, top-notch. The story is intriguing, the plot unfolds slowly but consistently, and both locations and characters are lavishly depicted. All of Robin’s Merry Men have well-rounded, distinct personalities and their salacious mocks of each other are a pleasure to read. The ferocious portrayal of the corrupt clergy is not only historically accurate, but also a sharp example of Marx’s satirical wit. Robin himself is one of the most appealing characters to ever appear in an adventure game. Bold and noble, from time to time he shows an incisive sarcasm toward his foes as well as a courtly romanticism to his beloved Marian; he doesn’t forego the occasional sleazy wisecrack despite always being chivalrous and polite, even with his fiercest enemy, the greedy Sheriff of Nottingham. Maid Marian, who serves as Robin’s love interest, is equally distant from the stereotype of the harmless lady in distress. Whilst a departure from the main Robin Hood canon, she is depicted like a green priestess of the Forest and this choice proves to be an excellent characterization. In Conquest of Camelot, Marx had already shown her tendency towards strong female characters who draw on paganism to enhance their femininity, and this trait adds an unusual depth to Maid Marian.
Great care was also put into both the historical aspects of the game and its mythological flavour: Prince John’s schemes to obtain the throne are as accurate as Druidic beliefs about hollow trees and magical gemstones, and Marx’s thorough research is evident through the myriad of little details she interspersed in the main plot. For example, at one moment Robin find himself in a prior’s library and the player can read almost every scroll on the bookshelf. Although not vital to complete the game, the information gathered from the parchments – about the Crusades, the Knights Templar and Charlemagne, to name just a few – greatly increase the player’s feeling of immersion.Continued on the next page...