We usually ensure that a game is played to completion prior to be reviewed on BRB. This is not the case with this review, but I do feel that I have seen enough of the game to discuss it in full at this point. However, I will make any required amendments or additions to this review should anything significant change my opinion upon completion.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a well-received stint on Steam Greenlight, Hand of Fate is today launching on PC and consoles. It is a deck-building collectible card game with an occult fantasy setting and rogue-like qualities. I did not think that Hand of Fate created a good first impression but quickly grew to like the blend of genres and game-play…I am just not sure it likes me!
• Developer: Defiant Development
• Publisher: Defiant Development
• Reviewed on: Xbox One
• Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC
• Release Date: Out Today (16:00 for consoles in the UK)
As a mysterious dealer hands you your fate, turn by turn you advance through levels of a dungeon where the layout and order of cards are always different and where each card is revealed as you land on it. These cards may present; enemies to fight, trap rooms to navigate, riddles to solve, games of chance to risk, opportunities to buy supplies or a variety of pleasant or unpleasant surprises.
Each movement onto a new card costs food. Running out of food will result in this movement consuming a chunk of your health. Running out of health, via combat or starvation, results in you losing and returning to the start of the game. Progress is made by reaching the final card in the last level of a dungeon and defeating the boss character of that level. Defeat the last boss in a set of three and you unlock better base starting equipment.
Along the way, individual cards will also have challenges that, if conquered, give up their card token. These tokens unlock more cards for subsequent play-throughs. The final boss of each dungeon will unlock a set of new cards that include the next boss you will face and commonly include some better equipment to help you battle your way to them. The tokens are a welcome addition as it means that in run-throughs where you do not defeat a boss character (i.e. a lot of the time) you still feel a sense of accomplishment and progression. Many of the card’s tokens will reveal an enhanced version of that card, with a greater benefit or a greater risk with a potentially greater reward.
Combat and “Maze of Traps” traversal are from a 3rd-person perspective. Mazes see a selection of traps blocking your path which need to be negotiated without impaling yourself on spikes or being shot by arrows. Combat situations need to be fought via 3rd-person melee-combat. This, especially at first, basically feels like a bit of a budget-Batman, as the combat feels very Arkham-esque. However, if you are going to take inspiration from elsewhere, you may as well take from a well-liked and well-established approach. While lacking in polish compared to its big Bat-brother, the implementation of the variety of equipment, enemies and enemy attack patterns is enough to keep combat entertaining. Enemies also level-up as you advance through the game maintaining the degree of challenge. Any boss characters defeated are also shuffled back into the pack, meaning they could crop up in any combat encounter…and usually do so at the absolute worst time.
From top to bottom, Hand of Fate oozes presentational atmosphere. The mysterious dealer, who is master of your fate, taunts and teases you while not being entirely convincing that he is not taking some delight in your continued sufferings and shortcomings. While some of the dealer’s stock phrases are overused and can become annoyingly repetitive, he does a good job of creating an overarching narrative for the game that drives your desire to seek out answers.
The dealer is seated on the opposite side of a table to you, in a similar manner to a tarot reading and the general occult theme continues throughout the presentation of the game. Enemy types are denoted by one of the four suits; skulls for skeletons, dust for bandits, scales for lizards and plagues for ratmen. For example, a six of skulls being drawn will see you fight six skeletons, a two of plagues will see you fight two ratmen and a Jack of dust will see you fight a complete git and his gang of bandit minions.
The dealer has a deck to draw from, containing enemies and cards that can see you gain or lose; health, gold, food or equipment. Your deck is divided into two distinct halves; Equipment and Encounters. Equipment cards give you better gear to unlock or purchase and Encounters are the events that you land on. You can choose the majority of your deck, but some “locked” cards are forced upon you. Throughout most of the game you will be fine to just play with the recommended deck, but you can adjust to suit your play style or to better counteract the starting curse of each level. “Bad luck” can curse you to make the games of chance more difficult or other curses could see you take increased damage from a certain type of attack. Other minor curses can befall you during progression, although these are much cheaper to have removed by a traveling healer. You can also receive a variety of blessings from the old Gods that give you range of benefits from the likes of a chance to redraw cards or enhancing your combat abilities.
You will eventually unlock some very powerful weapons, armour, powers and blessings. Any one of which could turn the tide in your favour, but Hand of Fate never becomes easy and it feels as though you never quite have enough of everything at your disposal. You are therefore encouraged to think of other compromising ways of tackling the problems you are faced with and having to sell a piece of treasured equipment just so you can eat or heal becomes commonplace. As nothing is handed to you on a silver platter, every small victory becomes cherished. Successfully picking a “Huge Success” card from a game of chance has seen me punching the air more than once, as has barely scraping through a difficult round of combat on my last morsel of health.
The Story mode consists of four sets of three boss characters to be defeated. The only other mode in the game is Endless mode, which sees you attempt to progress as far as you can, giving you a greater score for each Encounter or floor of cards you clear. However, you will also draw an injury card at the end of each floor, seeing you lose a chunk of health or permanently lose a bit of maximum health and the dealer will draw increasingly enhanced enemy cards for you to face. It is worth popping in to the Endless mode as you progress through the Story mode as this can make it easier to clear some locked cards from your deck or unlock some of the trickier card’s tokens.
Hand of Fate is not without fault. There are a few, mainly minor, technical issues that I hope are patched out on a day one patch and not be a problem at launch – especially as the main one, and the one that lost me some progress, is the reshuffling of cards after completing a level being as glitchy as hell. Mostly this just looked bad but on one occasion it did cause the game to freeze and resetting it lost my progress. There are also a few minor bugs with equipment, particular rings being mis-remembered by the inventory system, which would mistakenly think that I had two Merchant’s Rings in my possession (which is not possible) instead of one of those rings being something different. A few technical issues occur in combat too, with slowdown being the main culprit. However, even if none of these are fixed for release, I do not think it will majorly hamper your enjoyment of the game. That said you are dealing with such fine margins here that if one of those factors does raise its head at the wrong moment it could be a source of annoyance beyond that which you should have to be dealing with. It is quite likely you will feel frustrated enough by the difficulty of the game and not able to escape thinking that the deck is unfairly stacked against you when, time after time, you get no luck on a bad run.
Hand of Fate is a really enjoyable challenge. Melding multiple gameplay styles together and ending with a cohesive whole is no easy feat but done so to great effect and in a more craftsman like manner than many AAA games achieve. It will not be to everyone’s tastes and is by no means perfect, but fans of a grand variety of games from Batman: Arkham series to Fable, from XCOM to Magic: The Gathering could all find elements they enjoy and find familiar – a fan of all of those could find something to love. It just might be a bit of a love-hate relationship.