Hand of Fate – What We Think:
If I may state my conclusion first; Hand of Fate is the closest to playing a video game that feels like matching your wits against a dungeon master at your regular D&D sessions than any other game I can recall from memory. Yes, this includes actual D&D inspired games like Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age.
Hand of Fate is a Rogue-lite with a unique twist to the formula; your randomized adventure is drawn from a deck of cards. This deck gets customized by you from card unlocks earned while playing, but also becomes more challenging by cards added by the game master as you progress.
Every time you add more goodies to the deck, so does the game master add more perils. In this manner, the DECK is your character, and not the hero you actively control in the combat sequences.
A Master Most Masterful
Now the game master is not just a brick wall to throw your daggers at. He’s a real character. He has friendly banter, taunts, descriptive remarks. I love him. So much effort was put into making him feel like a real person. He has so much recorded dialog, more than just a single quip per each and every card.
Even my 3rd time drawing a certain card with which I kept making the same choice, he would remark, “I swear, you keep that card in the deck just so you can get a free shield, don’t you?”
Your deck tells a story much better than any other Rogue-like, if simply so (but certainly better than FTL). You could almost argue that its options for choice and storytelling rival that of The YAWHG.
The actual mechanics of how it does so is simple; as you explore a dungeon that is being represented by cards laid out on the table, each card represents anywhere from a few hours to a day of travel. They are all face-down and upon moving your character token on it they are revealed, encountered, and dealt with. Every time you move, you consume one unit of food, and heal a small amount of your HP. Run out of food, and you take damage from starvation instead.
Combat in the early game feels overly simple. This is a trick. At higher levels when you are dealing with bands of mixed troops, combat becomes much more complex. The base mechanics for it however, are as simple as Assassin’s Creed 1: Press X to attack, Press Y to counter when you see an icon.
Again, this is incredibly deceptive, for as you progress, you unlock magic artifacts, blessings and enchantments that enhance your abilities, equipment that tweak passive effects, and curses that hamper you. Monsters get faster, hit harder, resurrect their allies, form defensive walls, cast spells, and more the longer to survive.
But it’s not just about combat. A very large portion of the deck is made up of multiple choice encounters, roll-of-the-dice chances to get loot or losses, or tempting opportunities that might cripple you should you fail. These encounters with the plot, and commentary that accompany them, give the game the rest of the soul needed to go from good to amazing.
Yes, it is tempting to take that late hero’s equipment back to his town and get a free Blessing, but, what if his town is too far away and you run out of food? What if the town is so far away you get penalized for having it so long and lose half your HP? Is it then worth it to just bugger off and keep it? This is just one encounter with many mechanical and situation choices to consider. Greed will be your biggest foe, with curiosity playing a close second.
Adventure A La Mode
All of the above could be just me talking about the ‘Endless’ mode, which is your basic Rogue-like ‘get as far as you can’ mode. There is no end, only a High Score. In the Story mode you are given a Boss encounter to look forward to, you can customize a set of items and encounters to be seen on this leg of your adventure, and so the deck becomes a bit more personalized, like your own build of a character this way than it does in Endless Mode. Being NOT Endless means that – after beating the boss – you are given the card unlocks you triggered, and your character is reset. The deck is shuffled, and you are then invited to play again.
It’s addicting; it wiggles into that Just One More Game territory as well as Gotta Unlock Them All, as many cards have a gold seal on them that – during regular play – should you conquer the challenge they present, or just get that one good die roll needed to pass it, you will unlock another set of cards to add to future decks.
Playing Our Cards Close To Our Chests
I could go on about specific cards, but I’d rather not spoil some of the more interesting surprises. It’s incredibly tempting to do so though, and that speaks about how engaging Hand of Fate really is.
Watch the launch trailer for Hand of Fate below: