Fun, Fresh But Flawed – Hand of Fate Review (PS4/PC)
A mish-mash of games and concepts, Hand of Fate is truly intriguing. A combination of card game, Dungeons & Dragons and action RPG, Hand of Fate is a ambitious attempt to create something new. The ambition on display by developer Defiant Development is worthy of applause, the problem is, Hand of Fate is a mixed bag of success and failure.
The heart of the game is a battle of wills, and luck, between the player the masked dealer. Sitting opposite the dealer, in a dark candle lit room., the cards and dealt and the game begins. The cards are split into two sections, items and encounters, the game begins and the player finds themselves a little confused. Hand of Fate doesn’t concern itself with traditional tutorials. The games rules are explained to the player with each move they make, with the masked dealer slipping in banter and trash talk between lessons.
With all the core rules covered within the first 15 minutes, Hands of Fate enters it’s ‘proper’ stages of the game. This is where experience starts to find it’s rhythm, players choose their path, the cards are played, the whole thing starts to take shape. Hand of Fate shows it’s unique personality with each card turn. Much like a classic pen and paper RPG, Hand of Fate lays out a encounter for the player to approach, often with choices to decide upon. Each choice brings with it a chance of failure or success. Instead of rolling a dice based on stats, players select a shuffled card that represents either success, or failure.
It’s a extremely simple concept that results in insane amounts of depth. With each card hosting a encounter, the nature of the card game gives each play through a unpredictable pattern. It’s extremely rare the player ever runs into the same layout of encounters across any given play session. It’s one of the best elements of traditional pen and paper RPGs injected into a video game.
The unpredictability of the cards results in resource management becoming a key factor to the core game. Each player movement consume one piece of food, given the amount of cards on the board at each time, managing the food count is key. There is of course means to gain extra food, mostly through encounters and various items, but this is more a question of chance rather than certainty.
The devil is in the detail, and this is one of Hand of Fate’s finest features can be found. Adapting to the situation, planning how to spend food, choosing what cards to put into each deck, it’s a fine balancing act. The item cards open up new ways to approach the game, with certain items giving the player various perks and enhancements. Examples include helmets which increase food gained by 45%, thus lowering the burden of micromanagement, and armour that boosts players defence.
While the card elements of Hand of Fate are brilliant, another core part of the gameplay falls short. A large number of encounters put the player into a arena in which they must fight enemies dictated by a card. Bandits, Skeletons and Ratmen are just a few of the enemy types players will face off with. The main issue with these encounters is the combat. With no combinations or room for creativity, the combat is nothing more than bashing the same three buttons, with the odd press of a shoulder button. Attack, dodge and counter form the holy trinity of Hand of Fate’s combat system, and it all feels extremely shallow.
Fighting enemies becomes repetitive and tiresome, leaving a yearning to return to the card game side of the game. Countering becomes a nuisance as soon as ranged enemies are introduced, spamming counter quickly takes up a large amount of each fight. This spam leads to the player being locked into a train of countering animations prolonging each battle by unnecessary lengths.
Combat encounters highlight another big issue for Hand of Fate. Unstable frame rate issues and crashes rear their ugly heads when there’s more than seven enemies on screen at the same time. The frame rate becomes such a issue that players will often soak up cheap damage they have no chance of countering/evading. It’s a major issue when fighting the likes of the Ratment, who leave clouds of damaging gas in their wake. The crashing issue isn’t a regular occurrence, but given how a session must be completed in order for it to be saved, it’s a progression halting bug.
The frame rate issues would be a little more forgivable if Hand of Fate look decent during these sections. The visuals and animation feel rather alien on a system like the PS4 or a modern PC. Simple environments, dull colours and clunky animations give make for some rather uninspired viewing. At certain points, it’s easy to think the game was came out in 2005 rather 2015. The visuals at the actual game table are considerably better however. The masked dealer boasts decent detail and smooth animation, the environment is dark and brooding, but with a touch of old school charm to it.
Technical and visual issues aside, Hand of Fate boasts a huge amount of playtime. There may only be two game modes, but both make use of replayability of the core game mechanics. Story mode tasks the player with taking out a boss at the end of each game. Every boss has it’s own trait, skill and attack pattern, allowing them to be more than just a quick re-skin of a familiar enemy. After clearing out each line in story mode, players unlocked relics which buff various stats. As story mode goes on, defeated bosses will make more appearance as encounter cards get more and more challenging.
Endless mode is exactly what the name suggests. If challenge is what a player seeks, Endless mode offers it in abundance. Resource management and luck become even more vital as players move through every encounter the game has to offer. It’s not exactly a mode that will appeal to everyone, but people looking to test themselves will eat up the harshness Endless mode offers.
Hand of Fate is quite a refreshing, even with it’s issues. The card side of the game is where Hand of Fate showcases it’s finer qualities, it’s unfortunate the combat is so shallow. The frame rate issue is hard to look past, the hefty consequences of death results in frustration when the player takes cheap hits due to a significant drop in frame rate. A frequent audio glitch is also worthy of note. Defiant Development have made a fair effort at a ambitious concept, while the game may fail in parts, it’s still a rewarding experience.
With hours upon hours of game time, with any two play sessions rarely being the same, it’s hard not to recommend Hand of Fate. For the price of £14.99, Hate of Fate is solid, but flawed. Enjoyable, interesting, but plagued by technical issues that will annoy many.