In a game industry where innovation seems to be getting less and less common, games that break the genre mold are attention-grabbing, and Hand of Fate is one such game. It achieves a unique blend of game mechanics from a plethora of other genres, including beat-em-ups and tabletop gaming. Unfortunately, the rage-inducing difficulty spikes are a huge turn-off and may make the game difficult to finish for less patient players.
Hand of Fate really is like nothing you’ve ever played before. It takes the concept of dungeon crawling – something seen in thousands of games already – and presents it in an entirely new way. Sitting across from a snarky game master, both he and the player are dealt cards. These cards are separated into different categories such as pain, gain, equipment, encounters, monsters, etc. Gain cards give the player more food, gold, or health, and pain cards take them away. You draw equipment cards to get new armor, weapons, or trinkets after defeating monsters in encounters.
If you step on the ambush encounter, the game master draws monster cards, who you then must battle. These battles take place in environmental arenas, separate from the main level interface. The combat is controlled in the style of the Batman Arkham games; it relies on free-flowing combos between enemies.
It all sounds great, and I was really into it for the first couple hours. The combat is really fun, although the animation is very stiff. As the game progresses, the game takes a turn for the ridiculously difficult. Suddenly I found myself making no progress after two hours of playing; I was still stuck on the same section.
This was primarily due to the encounters that didn’t involve monsters involving a choice between four different upside-down cards. I found I was failing these encounters more and more often, and the punishments were getting harsher. I would lose all my food, or a large chunk of health, or end up with very little gold. This is where the game’s design falls apart for me. I have no objections to hard difficulty in games, but in Hand of Fate, it was rarely my fault I lost. It was because I had a 75% chance of failure in an encounter earlier in the game, causing me to lose most of my food and starve to death soon after.
Though I realize that traditional card games usually have some kind luck involved, it’s way too much in Hand of Fate, and it makes the game incredibly frustrating. It feels cheap, and once these failures become more and more likely the fun of the earlier sections get sucked out very quickly.
Aside from those gameplay issues, Hand of Fate is very polished, especially for an indie game. Some of the combat animations feel a little stiff, but everything else is great. The art style feels perfect for the gameplay, especially the card designs. The music is good too; in particular I enjoyed the exciting theme that plays when you start a session. The game master is well voice-acted, with lots of fun quips, usually mocking you and your gameplay choices.
There’s also some replayability in the endless mode, where you start a session that only ends when you die, instead of with a boss. It’s a challenge to see how far you get and how many points you can rack up. If you enjoy the main game, the endless mode is a great way to keep players coming back.
But unfortunately those just can’t fully redeem the game for me. It makes me really sad, because it’s such a unique concept, and those are so hard to find. Hand of Fate needs to be appreciated for having the guts to try something new and interesting. Even though I often felt frustrated by it, I commend the developers for attempting something different. It’s worth playing at least for that much, and I hope to see a more refined sequel in the future.
3 out of 5 Stars
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with a minor in creative writing. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver. Follow him on Twitter @SuperNerdJoel
Buy Hand of Fate on Steam here.