Hand of Fate Review (PC)
"Be careful, as each choice has lasting consequences; throw a pebble in the pond, and its ripples will spread throughout the rest of the water." The dealer speaks with weighted words— you feel as though you should be careful, but since you've stomped every challenge so far, and wield armaments which would give the gods pause, you find yourself unafraid in the face of potential peril. You flip the next card— it's a bandit ambush!
Those bandits never stood a chance.
Now you, too, can see how good your chances are with Hand of Fate, the ambitious deck-building, action-rpg hybrid.
As Hand of Fate's unnamed protagonist, you're pitted against the enigmatic Dealer in a game of chance and skill, with the stakes being your life and freedom. Each level consists of several pathways made up of cards; with each move you'll encounter whatever lies on the other side of the card, be it a battle, a story choice, or a deadly game of chance, and then move on in the hopes of finding the exit, and ultimately the level-ending boss. One card may have you deciding whether or not to take a fallen hero at his word, another forces you to traverse a deadly maze of traps, and still another has you trying to assuage a starving, angry mob.
These encounters are all pretty interesting, and while you'll eventually start running into the same ones a bit too often, they can play out differently even when you make the same decisions thanks to the "find the queen"-style mini-game which occurs after most choices, upping the replay value considerably. Between levels you can manipulate your deck to change out potential treasure and encounters after you've learned which cards do what, stacking the odds in your favor before each game begins. The card game aspect of Hand of Fate is fairly enjoyable, and definitely easy to get into, but lacks the sort of nuance found in most similar titles, and feels a bit stagnant after a while.
While most cards have you dodging hazards, nabbing treasure, or buying equipment, you'll also frequently end up pitted in real-time combat against skeletons, lizardmen, and other such vagabonds. These sections are simple and clean; you have some abilities like counters and the occasional special attack, but most of the time you'll be using your basic attacks to bash everything to death. Combat flows well enough, yet even after a few new mechanics and enemy types are introduced, it still lacks enough depth to really sink your teeth into. Plus, the battles are generally so easy, you'll wonder why you even have to bother getting your axe out. Taking down crowds of ratmen is fun for a while, and it breaks up the pace of the card game, but ultimately you'll probably grow a bit bored.
It's tough to care much about what happens to Hand of Fate's protagonist, as he's a mute, uncustomizable blank canvas. Giving players a customizable avatar would have gone a long way towards being more inclusive to a wider variety of gamers, while simultaneously making us care more about what actually happens to the player character. On the other hand, Hand of Fate's narrator/reluctant antagonist, The Dealer, is one cool cat. He's well-written, well-acted, and keeps things feeling epic and lively even when you're just moving a little golden token from one card to another.
Like the combat, however, the Dealer gets repetitive after extended play. He generally has lengthy thoughts on the various cards and decisions at play, and while they're insightful, they also repeat sometimes, and given their length it feels all the more silly. Plus, his voice clips, and the rest of Hand of Fate's audio, are prone to the occasional bug. Sometimes he'll immediately repeat what he just said, other times his voice and the music/sound effects will drop out entirely for an encounter or two, leaving only spooky ambience. We also encountered the occasional glitched card which would begin as one encounter, like having you decide whether or not to fight a drunkard in the tavern, only to bug out and switch to another, like encountering a friendly ghost. None of these bugs were game-breaking, but they'll pull you out of the game and damage the experience.
In addition to the main story mode, which unlocks new cards as you play, there's also an endless mode for those obsessed with climbing to the top of the leader boards. Both modes are mechanically the same, with the only difference being endless mode's endlessness.
Hand of Fate mixes deck-building with hack 'n slash dungeon crawling in a way that's fluid enough for casual fans to enjoy, but lacks the complexity for veterans of either genre to really sink their teeth into. This Kickstarter-funded hybrid is an interesting experiment in genre-blending, one that plays it a bit too safe at times and ends up being merely fine instead of spectacular. Hopefully the development team at Defiant can take what was learned from this solid victory and continue crafting Hand of Fate into something truly amazing.
This review was based on a digital copy of Hand of Fate provided by the publisher for PC.