Hand of Fate Review
Children’s Card Games on Pirate Ships
[Disclosure: The reviewer paid for this copy of the game, and was not provided one for review. You may purchase Hand of Fate for XBox, Playstation, and Steam for $24.99 – Hand of Fate was developed by Defiant Development with art by GladLad]
Hand of Fate is a battle of skill, luck, and wits against the Card Dealer. You go through a randomized dungeon crafted out of cards (literally) that the player unlocks and battle the various denizens hiding within for the sake of more cards, gold, food and equipment. The cards are based upon memories from the player character, who is unnamed within the game and is silent.
The same cannot be said for the dealer, though, who is a perceptive and reactive gentleman. Constantly quipping, his voice becomes your only companion as you play the card game within, facing the dangers of your character’s memories.
It’s Actually About The Randomness in Game Systems
As the player in Hand of Fate, your history is unknown. You are left to gather clues of his life via memories, represented by cards in the game. These cards present a number of choices and create something of a Choose your Own Adventure style of gameplay. There are several decks available, both to you and the dealer themselves, with the dealer being given a deck full of enemy cards.
The enemies you face in your long life of adventure fall under one of four suits: Dust, Scales, Skull, and Plague. Each represent a specific enemy type and as the player’s victories pile on, adversaries you face become more difficult. New abilities and new power-ups for the player character are earned through defeating the Face cards of each suit and are somewhat countered by the minions of each suit gaining new powers themselves over time.
The suit of Dust represents all the bandits the main character has ever faced, and are numerous. They tend to come after you one or two at a time. Once you reach the next tier of the card case, they gain the ability to throw knives — usually at the worst possible time.
The suit of Scales represents vicious sword and shield bearing lizards; bipedal creatures that offer the toughest fights. They are slow moving, hard hitting, and deflect regular weapon strikes off their shields with ease. The ranged lizard units spew fireballs — Which can hurt but are able to be repelled like regular projectiles — who gain the ability to coat themselves in fire.
The suit of Skull represents the endless undead. While they are fragile, they are quick to return from the dead and can present a challenge to the unwary. They are quick to move and attack, sometimes coming in armed with muskets. Once the third tier of the card case is reached, they gain the ability to come back from the recently dead.
The suit of Plague represents a series of giant bipedal rats that are bastardly little things. Often they will gang up quite fiercely and are the first minion units to have unblockable attacks. They are backed up by units that repeatedly throw knives one after the other, making them tricky to deal with. Once they are powered up, the melee rats gain the ability to leap.
Leading each of these suits are the Face cards: Jacks, Queens, and Kings. Each of these cards are boss cards, which upon defeating them, will be added to future randomly created dungeons as mini-boss fights, as their cards are added to the Dealer’s deck. The Jacks are often the first enemies one will face after procuring a card artifact. They are also the most likely to be matched up against in subsequent playthroughs in the dungeon. Queens come in second most often and are vicious, tending to drop in with a tower that provides ranged and other means of support. And finally the Kings. While not always the toughest or last you will fight to gain an artifact card, they do come in with a small army of minions and he will often empower them in some manner.
Combat for the Discreet Gentleman
Hand of Fate’s combat will be familiar to action adventure veterans whom have enjoyed games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, though, it’s not nearly as grim and dark as the eponymous Dark Knight. As for whether it is best with a game-pad or keyboard, this reviewer chose to use a game-pad. For those unfamiliar with Batman: Arkham Asylum, the combat relies on six buttons: dodge, block, bash, & attack, with the bumper and shoulder buttons reserved for magic cards and item abilities.
Hand of Fate is a rather swift and brutal game, requiring one to stay aware of the prompts above an enemies head, as well as knowing when to dodge or press an attack. A built-in combo system rewards you for keeping up the momentum and and executing perfect combos by incrementally making you attack faster & harder (At least it seemed to be when landing combos into the high 30s). Numerous pieces of equipment are found within the card generated dungeon and often makes the combat go far more quickly. This is a good thing to me, as the encounters become more and more difficult as the Face cards and regular encounters are beaten.
Stories Told, But Mostly With-held
The story of Hand of Fate is one that is implied through game mechanics and narration, as the player refuses to speak (as is so very common in games). However, the Dealer often provides educated guesses about what the life of your adventurer was before he took to playing the game. The cards in each deck change with new adventurer. From these cards, one may deduce what the life of the card player was like — as an example. In essence, his past story ends up taking shape from the present actions you make for him as you play Hand of Fate.
But just as Hand of Fate holds back from telling in total the story of the main character, it offers few stories of the Dealer as well. What wisps of stories he will tell of himself are few and far between, tantalizing details are held back by a man that has seen more than any other Dealer has. While holding back info of himself, he is very verbose and willing to talk about the nature of his deck, and how it relates to the very concept of gaming itself.
Game-play & Art
The way the game plays out is you play through a procedurally generated dungeon, using the randomized encounter deck to draw cards from that in turn represent the main character’s memories. In this fashion, it becomes something of a rogue-like adventure. Before setting out into each dungeon you set up both your equipment deck and the encounter deck. When drawn on during game-play, each encounter card has options for the player to choose from, (more often than not just a binary choice) which creates something of a Choose Your Own Adventure style dungeon. The stories of each dungeon change completely depending on the cards drawn. With each boss you seek to defeat, the dealer adds in his own cards, throwing in many curses, monsters, and encounters in order to make your play-through more difficult. However, the game does not punish the player for dying. In order to get meta rewards — in the form of tokens which are exchanged for more cards — one must either finish the current dungeon or die.
There is second mode in the game as well called endless mode. This offers a more pure rogue-like, in that the dungeoneering only ends when your character has died. This is often the easier route for getting more cards and tokens, as it uses all the cards unlocked as opposed to needing a chosen deck the Dealer.
The art on display actually rather impressive, with each card featuring its own artwork. Considering that there are hundreds of cards (this reviewer estimates roughly two hundred) this is by no means a small feat. There is plenty of detail across the many monstrous creatures you are expected to face. While the game features numerous standard fantasy monsters to face, there is enough variation to make the player feel immersed in the rich atmosphere of the game.
Graphics, Sound, & Technical Bits
Hand of Fate‘s graphics are rather middle of the road. Due to it being ported across no less than three systems, the settings to tweak are rather sparse. A few advanced options are accessible in the settings and should be enough for all but the most grognard of power users. It plays smoothly, with no skipping on my system (that includes a Nvidia GTX 750) and the animations remaining crisp for the most part. There is one gripe in those animations, however, in that they seem a touch… off. They are missing frames, and when combat gets especially busy, this issue becomes more apparent. This otherwise troubling issue is overshadowed by the positives of the game in my view, though.
The soundtrack does away with modern instruments, opting for the medieval styled drum, cello and lute. These simple instruments create a surprisingly rich and lush atmosphere that matches the rest of Hand of Fate’s tone well. It rarely becomes repetitive, with the tabletop music relying more on the lute. The drums and cello are more relegated to mark combat.
As for the the other sound design aspects, there is very little in the way of voices from the minions you fight. The player character merely grunts in pain and hit and you will hear shrieks of rage where appropriate. Monstrous roars of large creatures and contemptuous, often shrill, cries fill out the dearth of interaction from many of the characters within the game. All but one.
The dealer’s voice carries the story along and has a rich, experienced quality to it. It’s difficult to describe just how well-chosen the voice actor was without sounding pretentious or even pompous. But his is a wonderful choice, full of experience and character. It is a wonderful thing to listen to, and I look forward to hearing more clips of him as I unlock yet more cards in the game. Indeed, many of the cards have him making comments aloud. With each card, he reveals more of the background to each of them, reminding himself to balance some card later, or remarking that he made one thing far too powerful.
As a rogue-like version of Batman: Arkham Asylum with RPG elements the game really is more than the sum of its parts. Each section of the game is unique, bearing the marks of its indie roots and yet indignantly rising to the level of gaming artistry, luring in the player with intriguing game-play and infinite re-playability. I am glad to have finished it, and am proud to say I have added it to my Steam favorites as well.
Buy this Game at Full Price if: You enjoy well done, moderately difficult brawlers and enjoy a good rogue-like here and there.
Buy this Game at a Discount if: You aren’t interested in multiple playthroughs after finishing the game to discover new card plot-lines and histories.
Buy this Game at a Steep Discount if: You weren’t at all interested in Batman: Arkham Asylum, nor can handle being set-back by death.
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