Hand of Fate
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Platform: Steam, Xbox One, PS4
Genre: RPG, Card Game, Adventure
A great deal of my childhood was spent reading Choose Your Own Adventure novels, playing fantasy board games like Hero Quest, and playing beat-em-up video games like Golden Axe. While fantasy video games have evolved past simplistic brawlers and into open-world masterpieces such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I always appreciate modern games with nods to simpler times.
‘Hand of Fate’ from Defiant Development is a clever little game that mixes hack-and-slash combat in the vein of the Batman: Arkham games, engrossing storytelling, randomized quest progression and card collecting. On paper, it sounds like it could go very wrong due to its ambitious mix of gameplay styles and design elements. The end result, however, is an addictive title that’s well worth its asking price.
At the start of each game players are greeted by The Dealer, who challenges the player to attempt to defeat the various leaders of his card deck’s suits. There are four suits – Dust, Skulls, Plague and Scales – each of which represents a different enemy type. Each suit has a Jack, Queen and King, which act as a boss at the end of each quest. Only by defeating them will you be able to face the game’s ultimate challenge.
Before entering each quest, players are given a chance to edit their two decks – the equipment deck and the encounter deck. The equipment deck determines what weapons, armour, blessings, items and other usable and equippable cards can be obtained throughout a quest. The encounter card determines what unique events will occur with each quest. Perhaps you’ll meet a friendly priest who has spare food or equipment, perhaps you’ll encounter a treasure chest, or maybe you will discover a deadly maze made of deathtraps.
At the beginning of each quest, cards are drawn and placed face down on the game board. The player then moves one space at a time, drawing a card with each move. They can move in any direction they wish, though each move costs them one food card. Moving too much without acquiring more food will lead to starvation, which costs the player significant health. During the first few quests, having ample food will be quite easy. A few quests in however, players will find they may have to make difficult decisions about which branching path to take, or how to best find the exit (and hopefully some food along the way).
As I mentioned earlier, the player draws an encounter card with each move they make. A great deal of the time, the events on these cards will be a simple read-and-face-the-consequences affair, other times they will require a simple decision that will have an immediate reward or penalty, and other times, the decisions made will be rather more complex, with greater risk or even secondary and tertiary cards that involve a sub-quest of sorts.
Of course, no quest would be complete without enemies, and there are a number of ways the player will encounter them. One way is through a decision made on an encounter card (do you enter the dangerous bandit lair, or do you attempt to run away?) and another way is by drawing a monster card itself, or because The Dealer wills it so. A quest never plays the same way twice, and there is a great deal of fun in revisiting previously-defeated cards and adding new Equipment and Encounter cards to the deck. Defeating monsters will often reward the player with gold, food or equipment.
When you enter a combat situation you won’t be asked to roll a die or to draw another card, instead you’ll be able to control your character yourself. The controls during a fight are strikingly similar to the Batman: Arkham and Fable games, so players experienced with those titles should be able to hit the ground running in regards to combat. You’ll begin each quest with a hand-axe and the ability to dodge-roll, though depending on what Equipment cards you’ve acquired you may have access to other moves as well. Some equipment have special moves to execute, and others (like the shield) are able to deflect enemy blows and ranged weapons. Heavier equipment will swing slower than your standard hand-axe, but deal greater damage. Much like the rest of the game, difficult decisions will have to be made in regard to what equipment you use.
Should you defeat a Jack, Queen or King and therefore complete a quest, you will be rewarded with the ability to challenge the next boss, as well as a number of reward cards. Fulfilling certain requirements will also grant you treasure tokens, which will reward the player further. For example, I managed to defeat every group of Ratmen I encountered on one playthrough after agreeing to at the request of a noble, he thanked me and at the end of the quest I received a special cleaver that deals extra damage to Ratmen.
You also unlock additional perks after defeating certain boss cards, such as the ability to begin with extra food or armour, which allows you to tackle more difficult quests in the future, but also revisit previously-completed quests and leave no card unturned.
It would be a disservice at this point, to not mention the fantastic work done by British actor Anthony Skordi as The Dealer. He is the only voiced character in Hand of Fate, and the Dealer serves as your opponent and the game’s narrator. Skordi’s work is fantastic, and he truly breathes life into The Dealer – quite an achievement considering you don’t even see The Dealer’s face from the eyes down!
Now while I thoroughly enjoy Hand of Fate, it is of course, not without its faults. For one thing, you aren’t able to freely zoom in and inspect any card on the board. While undiscovered cards are still face down, you should still be able to zoom in on previously-encountered cards so that you can backtrack to a shop or priest if needed. Another gripe I have is that the camera during combat can be quite annoying. These are multiple times where the camera is locked on my character on some inconvenient angle and my enemies are able to land a hit on me, or I am unable to see a trap and I stumble into it through no fault of my own.
There are also a few unfortunate incidents of texture pop-up and frame rate stalls, which are by no means game-breakers but still manage to annoy as they are quite frequent and manage to break any immersion.
Ultimately, Hand of Fate is a fantastic game that delivers near-endless replay value and genuinely engrossing gameplay for gamers. If you grew up playing fantasy board or card games and old school dungeon crawlers you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s easily the best digital title in ages!