Hand of Fate Review

By Blair Nokes on February 20, 2015

What started out as a funded project on Kickstarter back in 2013 now finally gets its full-fledged release; Hand of Fate was an extremely ambitious title and is perhaps one of the most unique concepts for a game I've played in recent memory. The team over at Defiant Development certainly had their work cut out for them, delivering not only the game, but for those who really helped donate in the higher tiers, a physical card game as well.

Hand of Fate is an amalgamation of various games but at its core is a card based roguelike, where players build of a collection of cards, which are then used to deal out the dungeon floors which they adventure. Cards are laid out on a table with one player piece moving about the face-down cards. Each wave of cards is laid out differently, in an attempt to try and emulate a sense of a journey, with markers that signify a new level to enter, various dungeon to clear or the final champion to take on at the end of each session. Where the game becomes interesting is that whenever you engage in battle, clear a dungeon, or go to a shop, your card game transforms into the world your game is depicting "“ and your character will have all the cards the player has collected fly into the hands of your champion. Battles are carried out in a hack and slash manner, eventually priming players to being alert enough to spot various stage hazards and traps, as you are hacking and countering enemies. It is a great idea to see your drawn hands come to life for you to control, and it serves a great way to break through the fourth wall of being able to play a character that is playing a game.

The game is set in a cabin at the end of the world. You are engaged in a game of life and death with a very ominous dealer. Hand of Fate pits you against 12 champions of the court, ultimately determining your fate based on your succession. The Jack of Skulls, King of Dust and many more await the player at the end of each dungeon. There is an impressive revealing twist at the end of game, and in short, it is excellent in its delivery. It is very engaging from start to finish, and the card game itself becomes very addicting as it has a fairly lenient learning curve that really ends up challenging you the more you progress through the story.

Each suit of cards represents a faction of creatures you will need to face. There are four in total: Scales, Skulls, Dust and Dread. The numbered cards indicate how many players you are pitted against, and face cards are the champions. Each theme of cards also has a certain weakness; for instance creatures with under the Skeleton suit are weakest to holy weapons. With every dungeon and champion cleared, your library increases, allowing you to build a much better deck. Every dungeon gives you new armour and weapons that all reset as you complete it and move on to the next dungeon. This adds a good challenge for players thinking the later enemies will be easier with the better gear you attain early on. Every new dungeon has players starting from scratch with the same resources to manage.

Players have three primary resources to worry about: Health, Food and Gold. Your health can increase or decrease depending on various buffs or debuffs in the dungeon, and if you end up injured in battle. Food is consumed with every turn, and can also help heal as a secondary effect. Gold is used to replenish health, purchase food supplies, and also to buy new items to upgrade your character. Players can also use gold to buy blessings or remove curses. After the introductory champion, players are introduced to the concept of blessing and cursing. New champions will curse your player with various conditions that could have you losing gold based on the damage dealt, or slowing your movement based on how much gold you carry at once. Blessings are buffs that can aide your player offering benefits like greatly increasing their critical strikes, or improving their health regeneration rate. Death occurs in the game if you run out of health, or if you run out of food. Death also brings you back to the very beginning of the current dungeon.

Each dungeon will have various traps set out for the player. Trap cards like Ambush will randomly draw a number card selecting the number of opponents you need to face. Some traps also give you a chance to skip battle or damage by playing a game of chance. Four cards are shown and then shuffled, forcing you to keep track of your desired card as best you can. The card selection dictates your succession or failure. Other traps are fully realized 3D mazes that your player needs to navigate. As you complete a dungeon, there are also instances that will reward the player with tokens. These are medallions that, if a player successfully beats a dungeon, are unlocked to offer players with a selection of cards to boost your library.

Weapons for your player all range from brute force damage dealers, like heavy maces, axes or hammers, to magical devices. Some weapons are also enchanted with elements that also have a secondary effect. Weapons all have special abilities triggered in combat. Armour can range from pure defense, to elemental defense and other magical abilities such as healing. Ideally, every piece of gear ought to be a game changer. In Hand of Fate, there are weapons that can be more powerful the weaker you get, or artefacts that stun or poison enemies. There is a wealth of possibility in the game, and it really opens up with the more cards you obtain.

The battle system is akin to the Batman Arkham games, where players primarily attack with square, and block or counter with triangle. You have a chance to stun shielded enemies with circle, and can dodge roll away from an attack that cannot be blocked with x. R1 is your projectile artefact that can stun enemies in a wide area of effect, or can offer stat changes or bonuses to the player or enemies. L1 is typically your weapons trigger effect. As a whole, the core combat gameplay is very functional, though the animations can be robotic and clunky "“ with notable instances of input latency. The game never really pits you against a group of NPCs large enough where this issue because problematic, but hopefully this can be resolved.

The game itself is built on the Unity Engine, and for the most part looks exceptional. The main dealer and tabletop are all nicely detailed. The dealer will levitate the cards and shuffle them mid air as they all strategically fall into respective decks, but expect a ton of slowdown and stuttering as this visually pleasing scene is happening. It does break from the immersion, and is quite the opposite effect of shuffling a deck with fluidity. Trap mazes, and environments are all fairly basic in design, but they are for the most part very polished level. There's a lot of care in the design of the pieces of each dungeon, despite not spending very much time in them at any given point, so kudos to the Australian based team for their impressive attention to detail. One drawback I noticed was that the maze environments all looked the same, despite sporting more intricate stage hazards. The soundtrack is both haunting and mesmerizing, offering some incredibly relaxing instrumental pieces when in an item shop, or while you are making your next move on the tabletop.

Final Thoughts

Hand of Fate was a great surprise for me. Knowing next to nothing about the game, I very quickly became hooked on the deck building mechanic, and genuinely curious about the shrouding mystery that encompassed the purpose of duelling with the enigmatic dealer. The deck building is very rewarding, and offers a wealth of strategy for players, and the combat is great way to visualize a duel in a card game. Despite its technical shortcomings, Hand of Fate is still highly recommended as its game mechanics are still incredibly solid in structure, and even for its sheer originality.

Great card-based roguelike concept.
Deep deck building.
A very good challenge.
Performance issues.
Most mazes look the same.
Combat animations were pretty stiff.
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