Deck Building Brought to Life
I’ve been itching to get my hands on this game since I heard about it months ago. Defiant Development was generous enough to make it happen by providing a press code to preview their latest version, so I dug in without delay!
A Genre-Smashing Game Enters The Ring
Hand of Fate is an action RPG collectible card game produced by Defiant Development. They are also toting it as a roguelike, in the sense that almost all board and card-games are roguelikes. An Early Access version was released to Steam on July 7th, 2014. While Defiant has not announced a release date for this intriguing title, posts to their Steam Community Hub indicate that it will be out of beta soon and that only a few more tweaks and balance issues need to be addressed.
A new player will be met with little fanfare when starting the game and will be thrust into the role of a nameless protagonist. A mysterious old sorcerer will greet them with ominous warnings and challenges. Players will come to know him as the narrator to their story and their opponent. I find his frequent commentary mildly amusing and sharp. He’s the only person with spoken dialogue in this game, so it’s easy to grow a liking towards him — however, I did notice some Community Hub members complain that he talked too much.
Play is Familiar Yet Unique
Gameplay consists of moving your token around a game board constructed from cards you and your opponent have added to a deck. Cards are placed face-down on the table and are revealed as you move over them. When a card is revealed, an effect plays out. Many different outcomes may occur at this point. You may, for example, find yourself caught in an approaching sandstorm and offered the choice to hold your ground and find cover, or charge ahead. Some choices have immediate effects, but many others will be solved by randomly selecting one of four cards that depict various levels of success or failure. These will appear face-up, but are then shuffled face-down. At first, it’s pretty easy to keep track of the fortunate outcomes, but it becomes increasingly difficult as you work your way through the game. Hand Of Fate teases you with many tempting gambles. Once the difficulty begins to spike, you will learn when it is a good time to take chances on finding rewards such as money, gear, or rations, and when it’s better to avoid such games of chance. You may simply choose to walk away from many outcomes, receiving no rewards but also no penalties. However, unlocking new cards for your deck will often require great risk.
Players may find additional cards to add to their collections by earning tokens, which basically serve as booster-packs. These tokens may usually be earned by completing the riskier options of an event. Once unlocked, the tokens from an event card need not be unlocked again. A player builds half their deck with these events. What events should players choose to add to their decks? Answering this question is at the core of deck building strategy — if you add only the events that you are familiar with and offer the most favorable outcomes, your deck may be stronger for a time, but continue in this manner and you will miss out on many important tokens. A player must risk using unknown or difficult events so that newer and better cards may be unlocked from their tokens. The other half of a player’s deck consists of abilities and equipment. Choosing these cards is a much more straightforward process because it’s relatively apparent which abilities and equipment are best for one’s deck. There are also shops and merchants speckled throughout the game boards and players may purchase gear and provisions at these locations.
Now I’ve talked about deck building, but I haven’t mentioned a key feature: combat. Occasionally a player will activate events to enter combat with a random assortment of enemies. If you’ve played the recent Batman games, or Shadow of Mordor, then you will know what to expect. Combat dynamics are very similar to these games, if not quite as detailed. The difference is that many blessings, curses, equipment, and abilities you’ve collected will enhance and change how you fight. I found the combat aspect of Hand of Fate to be pretty mediocre, not counting for or against the title. As a palette to showcase various combinations of cards you’ve earned, it is a pretty cool and unique idea, but it ends up feeling a little… light.
Hand of Fate’s Difficulty Needs Balancing
I could have simply beaten the first half by jamming on the A-button. But the second half hit me like a brick wall, and I found myself dying rather frequently. I definitely prefer the higher difficulty as it forces me to think on my feet and makes deck strategy important. However, the transition is quite jarring and the first half of the game can benefit from a little more challenge.
At the moment the game features two modes of play: Story Mode and Endless Mode. In Story Mode you proceed through game boards, defeating bosses along the way — your progress is saved after every turn. If you die, you may start again at the beginning of your current boss’s realm, or any previously beaten realms. In Endless Mode, a player starts at the very beginning and tries to make it through the entire game until death. The goal of this mode is to achieve a high score. It is not clear to me if this mode is actually endless, or just nearly impossible. Some form of multiplayer would be a great feature for Hand of Fate, and I can imagine many cool ways it might be implemented. Unfortunately, no multiplayer features will be included at launch. However, the developers state that after launch, anything is possible.
A Worthy Addition to Your Collection… for the Right Price
I’ve been stuck on one of the final four bosses for the whole day. Still, I think I’ve played enough to have formed a solid opinion. Hand of Fate seems like a unique and worthwhile game. I definitely plan to keep smashing my character against these last bosses for a few more days. It’s currently being sold at 10% off, for a total of $22.49. I see this as more of a $10 to $20 game, but that may be splitting hairs. The Early Access version displays a considerable amount of polish, but there’s still the occasional graphical bug and a handful of errors with how certain cards work. I believe I crashed the game twice over the past 48 hours, but aggressive auto-saving features have made that a forgettable experience, and I imagine the few issues I had will be hammered out by launch. In my eyes, this is definitely a game worth playing, though maybe when the price comes down a bit.