There are games out there that love to break the industry standards of what people say won’t work in a game. Hand of Fate is a dungeon-crawling strategy card game at its core, but it also uses the very best from action-RPGs to bring one hell of a combination that, on paper, sounds ridiculous.
An action RPG using cards as the dungeon generation and exploration mechanic? Count me in! We are seeing a lot more card games turn to 3D in order to bring their games to life, but not many of them have you, the player, attack the enemies head-on like this.
Will the genre mash-up be too much for Hand of Fate to handle, or is it actually a good game? Read on to find out…
So here I am, sitting at a table facing the most mysterious looking man I’ve come across in quite some time. He has stacks of cards with which to conjure an ancient game for me to take part in. Out of curiosity, I decide to take part and see where this dungeon master wishes to take me. Hand of Fate is very much a “choose your own adventure”-stylized game. Your choices impact the path you can take and how long you’ll survive. Dare I try and compete against the will of this esoteric stranger?
What I find fascinating about Hand of Fate is that the developers have managed to build two amazing separate worlds that join together in harmony. Combat encounters force you to be transported to a 3rd person hack-and-slash style action game (best played with a wired game controller, I feel), whilst maintaining a perfectly decent collectible card game when you’re not busy smashing skeletons to pieces. Both pieces of this grander puzzle are amazing to interact with and behold.
The main portion of gameplay focuses on the cards. During this half of the game, a gold statuette on the table symbolizing you is moved one card at a time across a “dungeon” of cards spread out onto the table as rooms and pathways. You can only move up, down, left, or right, never diagonally. Each time you land on a new card you must turn it over to encounter it.
There are a huge variety of encounters that feature magical art (tarot-style line drawings), some flavor text, and then a decision which must be made by you in order to see what happens next. In some instances your choice then leads to a hand of Success and Failure cards being dealt. These are then shuffled and you pick one to see your fate. There is a heavy element of luck in these sections, and I often felt that lady luck would abandon me the further I progressed — but that’s all a part of the dance of fate and destiny at play here.
In some instances the mysterious dealer will wager a token on the outcome. If you pass the encounter, then you gain that token. These are used to attain new cards that can be used to customize your dungeon runs, constantly increasing the diversity and variety in encounters.
I love the aesthetic of the card portion of this game. The heavily-worn cards and black-inked pictures give the game a traditional dungeon crawling RPG feeling. The only thing missing is having a paper character sheet sitting in front of me as I play, but that would make it feel too game-like; the mood here is as though your very soul will live or die by the game you’re playing with this frightful fellow.
There isn’t a leveling up feature, but we do have access to a number of cards from the armory and gain decks. These give you access to permanent life increases in addition to the usual array of weapons, armor, shields, rings, and other artifacts that serve to make your life a little easier in the dungeons — if you can find them. Not every card is worth holding on to though, and there are plenty of dud cards that you’ll want to hastily sell for gold when those all-important shop cards get turned over.
The dealer has his own ways of stopping you, and between his philosophical musings, it is clear that he isn’t entirely our friend. His only goal is to kill us within his randomly generated dungeons. He is armed with a variety of cards that can inflict wounds, reduce maximum life, or even curse us, and because we use food as our resource system, which is consumed at “one food per move”, he often goes after that, too. Shops often sell food for gold, but shops can be far and few between. It’s never a case of ‘if’ you’ll die in Hand of Fate, but ‘when’…
To aid you in dying, the game throws at you the most thrilling part of an action-RPG – hack-and-slash combat in real-time. When you stumble upon an encounter than has a monster, you are dealt cards with numbers and a suit name. These depict the monsters you’ll fight, how many, or their toughness.
The picture cards (Jack, Queen, and King) are the boss monsters of that suit and these pose a serious threat. There are some non-suited monsters that are a lot tougher than those in suit, too. Lava Golems and Minotaurs are among the threats that feel more like boss battles than random encounters.
The gameplay during the hack-and-slash section is so much fun. Dealing blows with the pointy end of my sword to the skulls of bandits, rat-men, and lizard people feels as though you’re playing a dedicated action-RPG. The battle is smooth with options to parry and counter-attack the melee attackers and deflect incoming projectile attacks. There are some attacks that are unblockable, but you are visually alerted to these before an enemy performs one. You also can have special attacks and spells to trigger depending on what items you have, which makes it even more fun.
If playing on the PC you can use a controller as your input device for the entirety of the gameplay. I recommend that you use one, as everything becomes so much easier, faster, and more intuitive when using a controller. The keyboard controls are good and can be customized, but nothing beats the engagement you feel when using a controller. It feels like playing a console game and that’s impressive.
Graphically the action-RPG section looks similar to Dragon Age: Origins – highly polished with some excellent animations and rag-doll physics. Hand of Fate is perhaps one of the very few games where the music is actually pleasant to keep switched on. The medieval-style music is very soothing whilst card turning, and the battle music for those excellent combat sequences really gets your pulse racing and adrenaline pumping. Everything about Hand of Fate is just an absolute delight to experience, even after the 100th run through.
MODES AND FEATURES
There are only two modes to choose from in Hand of Fate. Story mode lets you select – from your collection – your own cards for the equipment and encounter decks. If you’ve unlocked cards from previous runs, then you can include those within these decks. Some cards will even let you exclude them from further runs, making dungeon runs a lot less perilous.
The Endless mode is perhaps the purest dungeon crawling experience you’re likely to find in a card game. In this mode, everything is randomized — the equipment, encounters, curses, blessings, and gains can be anything. They can even be cards you’ve never encountered before. The only thing that connects these two modes is a third deck that lets you choose to alter some of the parameters of the dungeon by – what is in essence – choosing a class for your character. It’s best to stick to the easy mode for the first few runs.
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
In Hand of Fate you only ever need to access the deckbuilder when playing through the story mode. You can build your deck of 32 cards using any of the weapons, armor, gloves, shields, artifacts, and other trinkets you’ve collected. This is the collectible aspect within the game and it is exceedingly easy to use, and more than just a bit addictive trying to collect everything. Using the controller input speeds up the process even further.
You get to do the same with the encounter deck and this is where previous runs have an influence. A lot of the cards will be locked in and unchangeable. However, clearing some of the cards on a number of occasions will allow you to omit that card from the deck for something a little more favorable. Instantly eliminating the Lava Golems or Minotaur engagements will prolong your fragile life, for example!
Therefore, because the game relies so much on random events and encounters, it is hard to employ any real strategy. The only thing I can suggest is when you know where the exit to each level is, make a bee-line for it, ASAP! Every step you take decreases the amount of food you have, and I’d much rather die fighting a monster than from famine (boring!).
One final thing: know when to back away from an encounter or proposition. Just because something sounds good, it doesn’t mean it is — it will often come with a price that will leave your resources very low. In the world of Hand of Fate, all apples are laced with hidden poisons…
I have to give enormous praise to the developers of Hand of Fate. So much love and attention to detail have been put into this game that you can actually feel how much a labor of love this game was to create. Not only have they managed to make one the most addictive collectible card games that I’ve played for a while, they have also managed to deliver one hell of a hack-and-slash experience. These two genres feel like they were made to be coupled together, instead of the weird mix that I thought it would be.
This level of detail and high standards of gameplay remind me a little of Gwent from The Witcher 3 (even though Hand of Fate came out first) as an amazing card game that was built into an RPG where the team had no experience of making a card game before, yet managed to make one that was instantly better than over 85% of the titles available in the CCG genre. The same applies here. Publishers that rush out a game for a quick buck and fill them with micro-purchases should feel embarrassed. They simply cannot offer as rich or rewarding an experience as I’ve had with Hand of Fate.
Embrace the chaos and the despair. Don’t play to win — play to survive. And most of all, play to unlock more cards and keep playing. Don’t stop moving. The light is fading…
For more screenshots, click here.
Did you enjoy this review? Like!