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Hand of Fate | Review

PC

Hand of Fate | Review

Is it decked out, or stacked in favor of the house?

Hand of Fate on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

Come take a seat, friend. Rest your back, oh weary traveler. Do your red cheeks tell a tale of drunken mischief or bone-chilling winds? An empty knapsack is never a good sign now, is it? Well how about we play a game of cards? No need to dip into your pockets to lay down a wager. This game is one where a much more precious commodity is won or lost. Not mind, not body, not servitude or imprisonment. We play Hand of Fate for the most savored of all treats in these lands. We play for your life.

You do not know of what we speak? Then order a flagon of ale and open your ears to the stories we tell.

Hand of Fate isn’t free to play, just by the way. You’re going to be paying for it. This is also a review, no singing here. You’re welcome to try and put this Hand of Fate review to something like Park Life or Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds played backwards. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

hand of fate

The idea of different strokes for different folks, or its rarely heard sister each to their own, is something of a basis that seems to hold Hand of Fate up on a pedestal for players to enjoy. In its most rudimentary form, Hand of Fate is a rogue-like card game. Fans of fantasy roleplaying games take note as various cards and opponents you might expect to face in your standard game of Dungeons and Dragons (along with its many contemporaries). Everything from pesky bandits to vicious lizardmen find their way into Hand of Fate.

Hand of Fate‘s premise is that of a simple game of life or death, actually it is literally called a Game of Life and Death so that’s something. You play against a card dealer who has apparently spent many years making the decks with which you and he are going to fight. He takes up the role of storyteller, opponent, and tutor throughout the game, making him into something of a friendly enemy who’s out to kill you yet wants to help in equal measure. He starts off just being a helpful guide, but actually turns into an endearing companion, helped in part by the solid voice acting used to bring him to life.

His cards come in a collection of flavors which isn’t exactly huge but helps to pull the game into more of a tactical title than relying solely upon the luck of the draw. Usually in a rogue-like where you’re playing against the computer, any decision of what actually happens is taken totally out of your control. Not in the case of Hand of Fate. You create your own deck (after a short introductory session) which allows your experience to be somewhat tailored to what you want. Of course the game’s dealer can throw a spanner in the works, but the ability to finely craft your own deck to steer your experience is inspired.

hand of fate

Your deck can be filled up with everything from equipment on your character to the encounters laid out on the field. How the deck is built is totally up to you. Feel like having a load of powerful weapons flying around to try to get? Well then go ahead, just make sure to have enough encounters in your possession to make it a viable strategy. Hand of Fate‘s automated deck builder is special in its own right, though breaking away from it is the only way to sip from the golden goblet to taste a little of this flavor.

There are so many possible configurations available that there will likely never be exactly the same game. Your own card choices change the game, but as said before the dealer has his own hand in things. The amount of enemies you might face or the layout of a play area is decided by this hooded, wrinkly launcher of passive-aggressive behavior. This process of logistical organization before flinging yourself into a semi-unknown arena every time you play keeps the game fresh for many hours.

This illusion of control cast by the dealer should instill fear. His control of the table should make your very heart tremble in anticipation of whatever is up his sleeve. What looms in the pile of cards on the table should present the greatest threat you’ve ever come across even if it never comes.

hand of fate

That however is the problem, very rarely is the deck actually stacked in the dealer’s favor.

No matter what you do though, the game does seem to be somewhat tailored towards favoring the player’s success than the title’s own capability to bite. A key component of any rogue-like is that the game tries its best to pummel you beneath your own pride at its highest point. Hand of Fate never tries to do that. It’s a game that wants you to come away with a sense of accomplishment against all odds, without ever stacking those odds against you.

A constant threat throughout the table-based gameplay is that of food. Every step you take between the cards requires food. Run out of food and you are finished, apparently. I say apparently because in over 15 hours of play, not once did the game actually manage to deplete food stocks far enough to illicit a scream of frustration. Instead, around every corner was an all-too-simple opportunity to replenish the pantry and let my quest continue. If you’re going to make a rogue-like that promises a life or death struggle, you’ve got to bring the death.

hand of fate

Hand of Fate‘s difficulty is impotent. There’s no pills out there being advertised in a billion spam folders across the land to give Hand of Fate the power to annoy you at a card level. So what about a little deeper in the deck? Are the cards going to rally against humanity there?

No, but they do rally against our preconceptions of what a card game is.

Where Hand of Fate steps away from its peers is in the way it animates actions like combat, trap avoidance, and even shopping. If you’ve sat around playing a game of any tabletop or card based RPG, the visualization of events is done with the imagination. Hand of Fate however turns these activities into fully animated and three dimensional escapades with full control being afforded to you. The notion is unique and its execution novel. Trap rooms are a challenge for any who aren’t familiar with the obstacles laid before them. Arenas of combat nurture significant threats to your future. Shopping… Well okay shopping doesn’t but this isn’t some Black Friday Simulator now is it.

hand of fate

When engaging in combat one might expect something along the lines of a Diablo-esque trip through cavernous caves to achieve victory, or a win-or-lose battle that even Shovel Knight could be proud of. That really isn’t the case here, with the melee of combat resembling nothing more than a fairly wet example of the combat in Ryse or Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. You wander around small environments with whatever weapons you had, taking down your opponents until there are none left. Counters, stuns, and special abilities all rear their heads in what is promised as a glorious display of warfare.

What you’re actually treated to is something along the lines of Bop-It. Press this button when there’s a green icon. Press that button when there’s a red icon. Flail wildly when there are no icons. That’s it for the most part. Admittedly, the boss fights against cards like the Jack of Scales or King of Dust do bring interesting mechanics into the arena. It is, however, a crying shame that these were not used more. It’s not bad, per-say. Hand of Fate‘s live action combat just struggles to live up to the implied tension born of the card game element.

hand of fate

Credit does have to go to developers Defiant Development in their execution though. Visually, Hand of Fate is so beautiful at times you’ll be biting the back of your hand. Spell effects and motion blurring add color to what could have easily become a game of staring at beige pieces of card and text. The wealth of cards on offer and the limitless amount of possibilities brings something to the gaming world that’s rarely been seen in an already interesting mixture of two game systems that could themselves have made for gratifying rides.

There are two places where shame comes in Hand of Fate. Its almost complete lack of desire to actually challenge the player is a little concerning. An illusion of fear can only last so long. You need to throw a cat among the pigeons every so often to keep them on their toes. Hand of Fate‘s difficulty feels like it was only made to simulate a battle of wits rather than create one. That isn’t to say gameplay isn’t compelling. It just starts to lose its shine after 10 or 15 hours. For the price though, that’s actually a pretty damn good package when you think about it.

hand of fate

The second is in that packaging. You know when you open up a big box of those random chocolates? Everyone goes for the tasty strawberry creams and the white chocolate truffle things with what tastes like angelic fluff inside them, only to ignore those toffees that could rip teeth from the gums of any person with the efficiency of a dentist’s drill. Well Hand of Fate is just like that. The card game and most of its other elements make up those great bits that everyone goes for first, while its combat leaves you feeling like you got the bad end of a bargain.

Hand of Fate has been made to appeal to many players quickly, and that it does. The only concern that sticks between your teeth is one that this desire to make people feel like their being forced to work hard without actually pulling any work out of them will hamper Hand of Fate‘s scale for replayability.

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