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In Hand of Fate, every step of your epic quest is determined by the flip of a card. Cleverly mixing deck-building with a number of other genres, the team at Defiant Development have dealt players a unique and entertaining adventure that will keep you firmly rooted to your spot at the table, eager to find out where the deck will take you next.
One of my favorite things about video games is being caught by surprise. Dying Light comes to mind as a recent example of this, mixing standard zombie survival with a brilliant traversal mechanic that truly lets you feel like the world is your playground. It took something familiar and bolted on something new, the results of which were an extremely rewarding dash across a city filled with the undead.
Hand of Fate takes that principal and makes it soar, borrowing from many familiar gaming tropes and genres and cobbling them together into something wholly original.
As the game begins, you find yourself drawn to a mysterious card table at the end of the world. At the table sits the Dealer, a man who must deal out fate to all challengers. His is a game of life and death and, in the past, the latter has always been the victor.
The Dealer’s deck is unlike any game mechanic I’ve ever seen. Made up of the Dealer’s own cards and those you earn by playing the game, every aspect of your adventure is determined by these powerful pieces of paper. From the dungeon you explore to the rewards you earn, the damage you take, the enemies you face, the people you meet and more, it’s all in the cards.
Flip over a card and you may find yourself whisked into a trap-filled dungeon, guiding your character around obstacles in search of treasure. Flip another card and you may meet a tricky goblin who either wants to offer you a shield or perhaps eat your food. A fallen hero may lead you to a gang of bandits or he may attack you for an artifact you wear. Your character piece will move from card to card, revealing the next leg of your journey as you attempt to best the Dealer’s bosses and eventually challenge him outright.
While an endless mode is eventually unlocked to let you play to your heart’s content, your first order of business is to challenge the Dealer’s 12 main decks. The decks are divided into suites of Dust, Plague, Scales and Skulls, each helmed by a Jack, Queen and King of the appropriate suit. The suits give you an idea of the type of enemies you’ll be facing, be they ratmen, lizard people, skeletons or good old fashioned bandits. You’ll also come across special enemies along your way, including mages, minotaur and the like.
Once you’ve chosen a deck, the appropriate Dealer cards will be mixed in with your own deck, comprised of the locations, items and encounters you’ve unlocked along the way. You have the ability to fine-tune your deck as you see fit, or you can hit a handy auto button to have the computer make some adjustments for you. Deck manipulation is important because it gives you a chance to load your adventure with encounters you would prefer to come across, as well as determine which gear should be included. Certain enemies are especially weak against ice, for instance, so you’ll want to make sure all of your cards with a matching effect go into the deck.
Speaking of which, the game boasts a boatload of gear to be discovered, including full sets of armor, weapons, artifacts that grant special abilities and even blessings to offer up additional bonuses. But here’s the clever roguelike hook: You always start off with base gear, and anything you earn in a dungeon run will be determined by the luck of the draw or by purchasing it from vendors that may pop up along the road. This creates an interesting system of risk and reward, with the player needing to determine the best route to their objective, all while hoping to achieve enough success to draw some great gear, or at least earn enough gold to purchase something useful. Since it’s all based on random card draws, though, it’s hugely rewarding when the Dealer is forced to grant you a piece of gear and the card flips over to reveal that giant hammer you were hoping for.
Exploring the card dungeon and receiving rewards and penalties is only half of the game, though. When you flip a location that represents an encounter, you’ll enter into a choose your own adventure style piece of story that lets you determine how you will handle, say, a priest asking for money or a drunkard rummaging through your gear in the middle of the night. Sometimes your actions will have immediate consequences and, other times, you’ll be faced with yet another game of chance; your success or failure based on picking the proper card from a shuffled set of four.
If an encounter or a location features a fight, though, you’ll be dropped into a third-person view where you must face the enemies drawn by the Dealer. Combat is pulled straight out of the Arkham/Mordor games, with a button assigned to attack, reflect/block, dodge and smash. The bumpers are used to trigger gear abilities or artifacts, which can range from a frenzied series of attacks, to a lunge that freezes your enemies or daggers that shoot out in all directions. It’s a surprisingly robust system, even if it doesn’t move quite as smoothly as the games it draws inspiration from. There’s also a bit of long loading to wait through when these encounters are triggered and occasional visual or audio hiccups. All things considered, though, these are relatively small gripes that are easily overshadowed by Hand of Fates many positives.
Finally, special recognition has to be given to Hand of Fate’s script and voice acting. The Dealer is absolutely phenomenal and, while he occasionally dishes out the same bit of dialogue or clever taunt, his banter is never-ending, seemingly bottomless, and matches the atmosphere perfectly. As for the writing, every card offers a bit of flavor text or details on the story, with a mysterious subplot occasionally weaving through the background and paying off by the time the credits roll. Its meaty fantasy fare that any fan of games like Dungeons & Dragons will want to gobble up.
Put simply, Hand of Fate is a rare treat, one that keeps on delivering new surprises throughout its campaign and beyond. Even encounters you’ve already seen may play out differently the next time around and, as you unlock four special upgrades throughout the game, the challenge will be heightened with enemies gaining new gear, stats and abilities. There’s also a food and health system that determines how far into a dungeon you can go, so you always have to pay attention to your character and choose your path carefully. That mysterious card off to the right might lead to great treasure, but do you have enough food to make it back alive? And even though you feel like assisting a frantic traveler is the right thing to do, what if your health is low and the luck of the draw might turn a small skirmish into an epic battle?
There’s a lot to be considered in Hand of Fate, and that’s nicely balanced with a fair amount of chance that can throw a hitch into your carefully crafted plan or reward blind leaps to action. With a simple set of components, Hand of Fate gives players the type of adventure you’d expect out of a great tabletop game, all presented in an attractive package that effortlessly blends in more traditional video game mechanics and a large amount of replayability.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development