I came across Hand Of Fate, while I was lazily scrolling through the PlayStation Store one lazy afternoon. My first impression was that it was a card game (circa Magic The Gathering). But then I saw the trailer, which involved a guy fighting undead and lizards. I was intrigued, and dived a little deeper. I was glad that I did.
Turns out, Hand Of Fate is a hybrid of the afore mentioned Card game, action RPG, with a hint of D&D thrown in. The game started off as a Kickstarter campaign and is developed by a Australian studio called Defiant Development. It was released early March last month on the PS4, the Xbox One and PC. Either they depended on word of mouth, or they were busy sending out care packages to their backers, but there wasn’t a huge hype surrounding the game. Even the Wikipedia page for Hand Of Fate is incorrectly linked to the general Video game section. Hope they fix that soon.
(+) Character building meets Deck building
The premises for Hand Of Fate is pretty interesting. You sit down to play a game of cards with a hooded figure. The game involves you hopping through a sequence of cards, until you reach the boss of that particular game (12 games in total) with the number of cards you need to hop through increasing each game.
Each card is an encounter of some kind which might involve you to make a choice or take part in combat or both. Here is the twist though. Every time you go into combat, you don’t roll a dice or loose hit points based on a simulation. Your character is actually transported to an area, where you will have to fight the enemies yourself. This particular design decision, puts a whole new twist into the game. You may be armed with a meager axe and shield when you encounter the boss of a particular round, but if you have enough skill, you can beat him for sure. Its tough but its not impossible.
Almost each encounter is played out like a text based old-school RPG. The D&D influence is clear here, with the dealer acting as your dungeon master. With penalties and rewards tailored to your responses to the questions asked in the encounters. Success results in better armor, weapons, gold and food while failures results in the opposite. Some encounters may even unlock further encounters, which are tougher to beat, but offer higher rewards.
As you unlock encounters and weapons, you also build your deck. And after each game, you can rebuild your deck from the available cards. The number of cards that you have, and the number of cards you can choose keeps increasing as you move up the ladder. Choosing the right mix of favorable and mystery encounters form the strategical part of the game. Another element borrowed from deck building game is the concept of hard reset. After each new game, irrespective of whatever legendary armor you had, you begin your new game with the same way you started the last one: with basic armor and weapons.
(+) Fate meets skill
This is where the fate part of the game comes into play. Like in any card building game, the fall of the cards plays an important role in the game. Its completely possible for you to find the boss battle card without ever gaining any better weapons. While its completely feasible for you to acquire legendary weapon on your first encounter itself. You might be randomly cursed, or blessed, or run into 3 consequent ambushes. And because each time you pay a different permutation of the game, it is practically impossible to plan a set.
Then there is the shuffle cards. Some encounters may require you to select a card out of 4 which may range from Huge success to Huge Failures. While the shuffle is easy to spot during early games, its basically becomes a lucky draw in the later half. With some encounters involving multiple shuffles, and successive Huge success for them to be successfully be completed; it becomes increasingly irritating when the rub is not going your way.
(+) Food meets Health meets Gold
Your primary currency in the game is food. The secondary is health. And the tertiary is Gold. You use 1 food for each card you move forward on. You also gain some health each time you move, as long as you have food. As soon as you run out of food however, you start losing health for each move, and if you run out of health in combat or during movement. Its game over.
Which brings us to the gold. Its primary use is to buy more food, heal yourself, buy yourself better armor, and in some cases to be sacrificed in an encounter. But gold is much harder to come buy, and just like every thing else in the game, you don’t carry it forward to the next game.
(+) Risk Managment meets Resource Management
These three resources add a tight dynamic to the game. The normal tendency of gamers to hoard gold yields poor results in this game. On the other hand, when you are low on health, you can skip between already completed encounters and gain health, but loose precious food in the process. You can always take it on the chin, and keep losing health as you move, confident that you will best any ecnounter in combat when it comes to it.
Encounters too, play a big part of your planning. Do you pick the encounters which you have passed before and are easier to complete. Or do you pick the new unlocked card, which may yield better rewards or may be catastrophic to your campaign. To make life worse, the dealer himself adds some cards to the deck, making the risks even greater.
(-) Less meets more
The graphics, the sound and the design is where the small studio feel of the game really shines through. The graphics during the battle are okayish, the camera angle is stationary which makes for uncomfortable lcoations during battles, and there are some deflection glitches from time to time.
Your own character is mute, and usually responds in grunts or not at all. Even his text response to encounters are mostly ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. When not in battle you are always sitting across the dealer in the middle of a large room. There are vague references to where the hall actually is, but exploring the hall itself is not possible.
Its also impossible to customize your character, even his sex is predetermined. For a game with such a small scale, it minor. But considering the wide array of customization that most other games offer, the missing feature can sometimes be held against it.
All these indie restrictions are however covered up to a large extent by the amazing voice over done for the dealer. He taunts him when the hero fails. Eggs the hero to start a new game when the hero has just beaten the dealer. Gets frustrated when one of his boss is defeated. And gloats boastfully on how he has perfected this game. The best commentary though comes when the dealer questions the game, the player and even himself, almost breaking the fourth wall and asking questions some gamers may have asked themselves before.
(-) Tough meets Tougher
The one genuine beef I have with Hand Of Fate is the difficulty curve which jumps up exponentially for no apparent reason. I was on my merry way through the game, when suddenly at the half way mark, the game became way more punishing. Suddenly the curses become crippling, and the encounters become more risky, sometimes whisking away half or more of your health, gold or food (and in some cases all 3). You rarely get equipment cards, and it actually feels as if the dealer is playing out a grudge against you.
Most of the crowdfunded games which have been released in the past few months have been widely popular (Pillars Of Eternity, Darkest Dungeon). Hand Of Fate promises to join that list. It doesn’t distract itself from what it promised and delivers on them comprehensively. I did not know about this game before, but if it had I would have backed this game myself. Its a game I have been wanting to play and would be willing to play for some time.
Hand Of Fate is priced at Rs. 1499 for the PS4; Rs. 1,120 for the Xbox One; USD $24.99 on Steam.
We highly recommended anyone who has a thing for D&D table top games or for Deck building game. Its highly recommended for anyone who has felt D&D games or Deck building games have always missed something.
SHOULD YOU PLAY IT?
|(+) Mixes Card Games with Action
||(-) Mute Main Character
|(+) Perfect balance between Tactics and Luck
||(-) Sudden increase in Difficulty
|(+) D&D feel
||(-) Rewards don’t carry over