Game: Hand of Fate
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Release Date: January 19th, 2015
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Mac, PC
Reviewed on: PS4
Cost: $19.99 (PSN/Xbox Store)/$24.99 (Steam-PC/Mac)
A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
The shade cast from the looming trees of the forest hides all sorts of danger, though an adventurer such as yourself doesn’t shy away from such things, right? There are things to consider though, as the trek through these shadowlands continues. You’ve got maybe another day’s worth of rations, a ragged cough rattling your lungs, and there have been far too many encounters with bandits so far. The die has already been cast it seems, so the journey rolls on. What is this? Good fortune finally finds you! A cove just off the beaten path holds a veritable treasure trove full of coin, food, a heavy chainmail breastplate, and an ax. It appears to be imbued with some sort of elemental force, glowing wildly as your fingers curl about its hilt. The trees to your left shudder as a cacophony of shrill shrieks shatter the silence: skeletal abominations and what appears to be a demon crash the party. Steel yourself, warrior, for death comes for you!
That sort of encounter is but one of a myriad of options available to the player through the course of Hand of Fate. The concept is simple enough. A battle-hardened warrior sits down at a table with a being known as The Dealer. The hooded figure is an immensely powerful sort, clearly humoring the mortal’s attempts at trying to beat him. He questions decisions, speaks of the world that the Warrior adventures through, and offers choices to the player. He is a Dungeon Master in a way, but also a patient foe. He will bide his time as necessary to ensure his victory. It all lies at the heart of the cards.
Once the deck is shuffled then a series of cards are laid out much like the tiles in a dungeon. The player’s character is represented by a small gold statue that makes the journey through various wings of an encounter card-by-card. It is akin to dungeon-crawling in a rouge-like fashion with steady tile-by-tile movement, but in reality, it feels more like working through the disjointed memories of a seasoned warrior. There are staircases, dead king’s tombs, twisting canyons, and the like. Each card represents an encounter of some kind be it friendly or not. The player will also come across friendly priests offering blessings; Elven maidens who can offer buffs, food, or even gold; and NPCs in desperate need of assistance. A choose-your-own-adventure element creeps into the game at this point, various cards offering branching choices and potential pitfalls and benefits depending on just how lucky the player might be. The Devil’s Fair, for example, has the player coming upon a festival complete with brightly colored tents, jesters, and so on. Questions are posed and depending on those questions, the player might end up with some extra gold lining their pockets or they might lose far more than a few coins.
Certain cards allow the player to gain tokens which, in turn, can be won and used to unlock even more cards. The newly gained cards can be put to use in future decks and introduces a deck building aspect that isn’t exactly deep, but provides another nuance to a game that already exists in multiple genres.
The card game itself isn’t akin to Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone as there are no attack cards, no means of countering or the like. Combat happens in third-person perspective in dungeon-like areas where a variety of foes will need to be put down. The cards are shown on screen, flipped over onto the battlefield and the warrior phases in along with his potential enemies. The closest analog to Hand of Fate‘s combat is the Arkham series with flashing counter indicators, easily built combo counts, and button-mapped strikes, counters, and commands. Equipment, items and weapons found in the course of an adventure come to play here in the combat sequences which, to be honest, never become too vexing until much later in the game when there are so many enemies in a single area. The difficulty level actually steeply increases near the very end with a brutal final encounter that can leave even the most seasoned of players feeling frustrated. Once the first two levels of the Dealer’s encounters are cleared, in fact, the kid gloves come off and far more enemies, curses, and cards enter the mix. There are about 8 hours of time to be spent in the game’s Story Mode and no two players’ experience will be the same.
Once the initial encounters are done in Story Mode then Endless becomes available. Players can then embark on a journey down as far as possible towards their inevitable doom, but just how long can they last? It makes use of every card unlocked up to that point so it’s worth revisiting as more of the story gets cleared and more tokens are acquired. Normal “hands” in the game take anywhere from five minutes to an hour so Endless Mode offers yet another avenue of replayability for those seeking more battles with the Dealer. It is a common sentiment assuredly, as one to two hands are never enough with Hand of Fate.
Defiant Development, for all their good intentions, released Hand of Fate with some technical issues that are tough to ignore. A big one that numerous players have found a glitch following an encounter. The cards are shuffled back into the deck and then the Dealer simply sits, waiting for an action to be done — of course the player can’t do anything but simply restart the application and hop back in again. It isn’t game breaking but when the problem persists after six to seven sessions, then a patch is sorely needed. There are also numerous issues with the third-person combat ranging from camera problems (pulling in too tight) to janky animation clipping and long loading times between the table and the battlefield. However, they are ultimately small in comparison to the triumph of the game’s overall replayability and means of telling a story that is interesting and dynamic.
“A game within a game” accurately describes Hand of Fate. It is a dungeon-crawling, deck-building, classic RPG that feels reminiscent of the sort of world crafting that can happen with a group of friends during a Thursday night session of D&D. The Dealer’s narration, constant jabs at decisions, and explanation of events and lore all add a surprising amount of depth to the atmosphere. It is a Kickstarter-funded game that has some rough edges to it though they tend to disappear in the light of just how well-crafted the storytelling mechanisms in the game are. The third-person combat is a bit repetitive, has some issues with camera angles, and some animation clipping throughout. Character customization beyond cosmetic equipment changes would have been nice. These are but small complaints in light of just how truly unique a title Hand of Fate is. One would be hard pressed to find another game like it really. Do yourself a favor and play it. The adventures that await within simply need to be experienced.