Aces! | Hand of Fate Review
Random number generators, card games and roguelikes are all aspects of games I don’t generally enjoy, but Hand of Fate crafts such a fun and exciting game that freshens up the stagnant aura surrounding genre mash-ups. The game perfectly pairs an enticing, albeit not spectacularly grand story with solid combat all on the back of a unique and interesting tabletop RPG setting.
You are sitting opposite a very mysterious card-dealer in a cabin at the end of the woods; the game is life or death. To free yourself from the car dealers death sentences, you must defeat his court. Totaling 12, a court member resides at the end of each dungeon, and each one becomes progressively harder than the last. By defeating the 12 court members, you’ll earn your humanity, but winning is often more than being skillful. You must build your deck and hope that the RNG gods are on your side as the game can become quite difficult in its later parts if you don’t have luck on your side. While providing unique play throughout each dungeon, the RNG can be brutal at times, but that is subjugated some by the games ability to throw you a bone here and there.
You’re hungry, to the point that the next move you make your life deteriorates making each and every battle that much harder. You land on the marketplace card, but your gold was spent foolishly on equipment rather than sustenance. You are presented with a couple choices: 1) sell half your food 2) steal some food. With only having one food, it seems obvious to steal some food. Your success at the market lies in the cards, two grant you success and the other two failure. The cards are shuffled, and you select the first card…Succes! You are successful in stealing food and gain 3 Food, thus allowing you that many steps until your health begins to deteriorate due to starvation. Hand of Fate’s consequences play out in this fashion, whether simply drawing a success card to open a chest or gaining the ability to remove an enemy card from play. The fresh gameplay hook provides a lot of risk/reward opportunities. As you know, the house always wins, and the dealer will punish you with curses, pain cards and/or enemies to the foray if you pull a failure or a huge failure card. It is a typical tabletop board game fashion, and the game does it incredibly well.
Throughout each run you will have to manage three main resources; gold, food and health. While it appears simple enough on the surface, deciding between food and better weapons at a shop can prove to be costly and the addition of curse and blessing cards drastically change each run. Pro-tip, food is the defacto item since every move requires one food and once your food is out, your health begins to dwindle.
The buzz-word in gaming during 2014 was the word “roguelike,” and it’s the best way to describe Hand of Fate. When working your way to the Court at the end of the dungeon, you’ll come across various cards that can become a part of your deck with a successful card choice. By building a nice deck of varying equipment and events, you can cater to what you feel will best compliment your playstyle. As you defeat each court, or when you die, the game starts from the beginning of the current court, and you have the opportunity to shuffle cards in and out of your deck in hopes of gaining an advantage.
As the game is a large part combat oriented, it’s nice to know that the combat is exhilaratingly stressful, in the best way possible. If you’ve played an action game in the past couple of years, you’ll be familiar with the often used “arkham-style” of combat. A button to dodge/deflect and one to attack, and it’s clear that the developers of Hand of Fate drew inspiration from those solid mechanics. The combat is smooth and satisfying, although the character animations could be more dynamic. Aiding you in battle are Weapon abilities (mapped to L1) and Artefacts (mapped to R1). The entire battling system presents you with varying quandaries as you delve deeper into the card-based game, and the number and difficulty of enemies increases. Since your Artefacts usually come with a set number of uses, you have to really figure out when you can escape battle without using them to save them for a harder opponent down the road.
Enemies in Hand of Fate take on various forms including Lizerdmen, goblins and mages; each with unique skills and weaknesses. The game, using a heavily influenced version of the Arkham combat mechanic, allows for a ton of enemy AI to be on screen, without feeling too overwhelming in most encounters.
Endless mode in Hand of Fate is similar to most games, you are tasked with completing endless levels until you eventually die. For you score chasers this is a great mode to play after conquering Story mode. The mode is also useful to pick up those last remaining card tokens that you didn’t earn in Story mode.
Hand of Fate offers a unique experience in all facets, but the presentation could use a slight tune-up. The art style is quite enjoyable with clear connections to the Fable series. It utilizes a nice palette of colors to bring the world to life, while still making sense for its environment. But while the art style is great, the game takes hits to its performance from time to time. My only wish is that the art style was complemented with a strong quality image. The game is clear, not crisp, but at times, especially during final kill animations, the game becomes jarringly blurry. Generally, the game stays at a consistent frame rate and performs as you would expect, but once you get deeper into it and more enemies populate the screen, the framerate drops suddenly, albeit only for a quick second or two. Screen tearing is present, although it doesn’t rear its ugly head as often as any other graphical issue and generally is only present during menu screens. Since the game is an action game, an integral part of the experience is the camera. Hand of Fate uses a fixed camera that performs quite well during most big combat areas, but during the maze sections it can become a pain and give you an awful view leading you right into a trap. The presentation usually suites the gameplay, but the odds aren’t always in your favor with the graphical imperfections.
Reviewed on PS4 (also available on PC and Xbox One).
Note: game will not be available on PSN or Xbox Live until 4 pm PST on Feb. 17