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Hand of Fate

About This Game:

Systems: PC, MAC, XO, PS4
Release Date: 2/17/15
Developer: Defiant Developement
Publisher: Defiant Developement
ESRB Rating: T
Length: 10 - 20 hours, not including "Endless mode"

Disclaimer: I have not beaten the final boss in Hand of Fate, due to reasons stated below. Even so, I have spent a large amount of time with Hand of Fate and I consider this review to be my final, overall opinion. When (or if) I am able to beat the final boss and my opinion changes in any way, I will update this review accordingly.

 

Hand of Fate is a game that flew completely under my radar upon its release. Starting as a Kickstarter and Early Access darling, Hand of Fate gained a lot of attention after its release when people quickly realized that it was one of the most unique games in recent memory. I thought I’d check it out, and after spending a lot of time with it, I am happy to report that that assumption is definitely true, even though the game overall is still very flawed.

Story

Hand of Fate doesn’t do much to build up its own story. As far as you know, you are just a wary traveler/warrior challenging the Dealer to a game of fate. Defeating him is your main goal, but in order to reach him you must first fight through high generals of different monster races. The game tells you its lore in a very similar way to Destiny with its grimoire cards in that it tells you about the world through the cards you draw. The main difference here is that Hand of Fate shows you lore in game as opposed to making you go to a website outside of the game, but I digress. This means that the story is never really at the forefront of the game, and while the lore is there and it is interesting, the real meat of the story for your character comes from the journey you take through each dungeon. How each round unfolds is completely different, therefore the interactions, experiences, and fights you face will always be tailored to that specific round. It creates an interesting Dungeons and Dragons feeling where it feels natural and alive, as though the world is actually responding and changing to what you do. This is supported by the fact that the Dealer constantly comments on things that are happening, like whether you are running low on food or are facing a fight that might just be too hard to handle. The Dealer wants you to lose, he wants you to die, so something about the main villain in the game watching every move you make and commenting on them makes the game feel very grim, as if the odds are against you. That is why Hand of Fate’s story is the hardest part of it to judge, is because it is completely subjective to every person and every round.

Presentationj

Now for the most unfortunate aspect of Hand of Fate: it looks and runs terribly. Keep in mind that I play on an Xbox One, so your experience may vary. But while I played I experienced massive frame drops, as well as a few crashes. In a game like this, problems like that can ruin the experience. Especially considering that the fighting relies so heavily on precise timing and button presses, having to deal with near constant performance issues makes it feel like you are fighting the game to succeed, and not in a good way. It really hurts some of the cooler moments in the game that would be very impressive if they worked properly, like at the start of every combat section (your equipment cards fall onto your character as he equips his gear) and at the end of every round (when all of the cards on the table combine into one deck in the middle). Both of these moments would have been impressible if they worked, but as of now they stutter and get caught up on themselves, making it look confusing and almost causing the game to crash. This combined with the games stop-and-start animations make the combat feel clunky and unrealistic. The controls are responsive, but there is no fluidity in the animations (compared to a game like Arkham City), and so this hinders the experience. The game is built with the Unity engine, so the graphics overall could be summed up with a “meh”.

The game stutters and chugs through combat, which makes big fights an even greater challenge, for all the wrong reasons.

The main saving grace for Hand of Fate is its card art. The cards in the game are beautifully designed, especially later in the game where you start to get the more unique and hard-to-get cards. Each card perfectly sums up its own meaning and hints at its own possible gains (or pains). If only the game could’ve taken a similar approach to the art direction in the 3D combat sections, because then even though the engine isn’t very capable, we could at least praise the game for its artistic value. Alas, what we get is a game that is only half impressive visually, and ends up falling on its face because of the bugs.

Gameplay

As I said above, the game is centered around different enemy types: bandits (Dust), rats (Plague), undead (Skulls), and lizards (Scales). Each of these four enemy types play like suits in a regular card deck, and when a card a drawn, whatever number and suit it is is the amount of enemies you fight in the suit. Confused yet? That’s because this is the part where I would normally compare Hand of Fate to a similar game to help you grasp what it is like. But I can’t. The closest I can get is by saying that it is like a cross between Magic, Hearthstone, and D&D. You are able to build a deck with the cards that you find throughout the game. Each of these cards can either help you greatly or hurt you, and everything in between. At the beginning of the game, your deck is small and has very little in terms of variety. But as you complete more challenges that the cards throw at you, and defeat more bosses, you start to gain more and more cards. Cards are split into two categories: encounters and equipment. Encounters are events that happen and can either help or hinder you. These range from simply crossing a river to fighting a roving band of fire golems. Defiant would’ve been able to get away with having very little variety in the encounters, but they didn’t settle for less here. There are some truly unique encounters in the game, and the outcomes of those games vary depending on your luck and memory skills. Herein lies my main problem with Hand of Fate’s card play, it is more often than not base purely on luck and chance. For example, you are given a choice to cross a river or turn back. You decide to cross the river. The game then gives you four chance cards, which can either be success, huge success, failure, or huge failure. The game first shows you where the success cards are, and then shuffles them in front of your eyes so that you can try and tell where the cards you want went.

F*ck.

At first, these games of chance aren’t too complex and are pretty easy to follow. But later in the game, the odds are stacked against you with less success cards and faster shuffling, making choosing a good card essentially a crap-shoot. This is what frustrated me the most about the later portions of the game, because for the first time it felt like I was completely out of control of the outcome of each encounter. It got to the point where I tried my best to avoid encounters entirely just so that I could hopefully make it to the final boss with a weapon in hand and some health left over. Thankfully, the game almost makes up with it with the huge variety of equipment cards. Equipment consists of weapons, armor, artifacts, and trinkets. Weapons and armor are self-explanatory, but have a nice amount of variety among them to keep them interesting. Each weapon and piece of armor has it’s own advantage or ability that can help you in combat. This can range from cursing every enemy around you, to causing a massive AOE (Area of Effect) explosion. Artifacts and trinkets are essentially abilities and rings that you can use to your advantage in combat, but rings can also affect the game on the board. This is where you will spend most of your time, the Dealer constructs mini dungeons on the board and you have to traverse your way through each card and encounter until you make it to the next stage. What results is a game that feels as though it was created uniquely from scratch. This means that each and every round you play will be different from the last. The biggest thing Hand of Fate has going for it is its replay value, because every time you play it will be different, and the more cards you succeed with, the more cards you will be able to play with. This variety grows exponentially in the “Endless mode” which has you go through increasingly difficult dungeons until you eventually keel over and die. This huge amount of variety makes each game a mystery and makes me excited to come back and see if my odds would be better if the order of the cards were different. The table-top portion of the game is easily its best, and it shines as one of the most unique game mechanics available today.

The animation quality is so low that at times it seems as though your character teleports around the map to his next victim.

Unfortunately, this is contrasted by the combat section. The combat is tedious and way too familiar compared to other games like Shadow of Mordor and the Arkham games. It relies heavily on the block, counter, stun type of combat that succeeded in these games. Unfortunately, due to the games low animation quality, this type of combat doesn’t feel good and becomes frustrating very quickly. Combat is hardly ever satisfying, where enemies abruptly die without any warning. The combat also lacks weight in that every move or attack you make feels like it is making very little impact. I guess you could say that the combat sections get the job done, but it would’ve been nice if Defiant added in other 3D sections (not including shops) to balance out the combat sections. Instead of just telling me that my character went to a marketplace, show me my character actually walking through a marketplace. Show me my character crossing a river, or better yet have me control them and make a mini-game out of it, rather than just the “success” or “failure” cards that completely lack substance. The fact that the game has little to offer in terms of 3D sections shows the indie side of Hand of Fate, and that isn’t a good thing. The reason we don’t see non-combat encounters isn’t because of the developers artistic integrity, it’s because it would’ve cost too much money to develop those encounters. It’s understandable, then, why Defiant made the choice they did. But it is still disappointing knowing what the game could’ve been if they had risked a little more. Hopefully with the hype that Hand of Fate is getting now, they will be able to make a sequel that improves upon everything and adds those 3D encounters that would really put the game over the top.

Overall

When I first started playing Hand of Fate, its random nature is what lured me in and kept me interested. I didn’t mind the problems and glitches that it had because the game was constantly showing me something new and keeping itself fresh. As time went on, though, I realized how tedious the combat is, and how annoying the games of chance were. Eventually I lost interest. On top of that, the game has a significant difficulty spike towards the last two bosses, to the point where you have to rely solely on luck to succeed. All of that eventually turned me away from the game, dreading playing it rather than making me excited again. With the game’s asking price of $25, the value is definitely here. The “Endless mode” alone will keep you entertained for hours on end. Just don’t spend too much time with the game, or else you’ll end up resenting it.

Pros:
  • Most unique concept in recent memory
  • Good value
  • Unlimited replayability/variety
  • Table-top portion is really fun
Cons:
  • Ugly and sluggish
  • Tedious, poorly done combat
  • Disappointing in some areas
  • Relies too heavily on luck/chance
Hand of Fate
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About the Reviewer: Cooper

I'm a college student who's passionate about video games.


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