I hate random number generators! They appear to inherently know I was born with a low luck attribute score. They relish in the fact that I will likely never see the top end loot which carries only a slight chance of dropping. After playing Hand Of Fate for several hours, it has become clear that this will be the new battleground for my never-ending struggle against the evil random number generators. Hand Of Fate is described by developer Defiant Development as a hybrid of the roguelike, action RPG, and deck building genres; the emphasis being on roguelike.
Hand Of Fate sees you playing a game reminiscent of traditional pen and paper role playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons. Where such traditional RPGs have you seeking adventure under the guidance of a Dungeon Master, Hand Of Fate has you facing off against a dealer in a game where your story is played out with a deck of cards. The overarching aim is to defeat the dealer’s Ace of Skulls; the final of thirteen bosses. Each run through Hand Of Fate begins the same. A selection of Encounter cards are placed face down on the table in front of you, with a golden player piece placed on the first card. In addition to the Encounter cards, Equipment, Curse, Pain, Blessing, Fortune, and Enemy cards are also arranged in various stacks to the sides of the table.
Each turn involves you selecting an Encounter card to move to. The goal of a specific floor is to either find the stairs to the next one or to find the boss Encounter card. While these paths may be linear, the encounters they consist of are varied in content. Depending on the card, frequently reoccurring encounters can be either a blessing or a curse. The Maiden is one of very few cards I often came across which always had a good outcome; awarding more life, food, or gold. Most Encounter cards though will end in combat. Cards such as Deadman’s Gorge or Summoned will pair you off against randomly selected foes, while those such as Ratman Hunting or Golem Hunting Party have you face specific enemies.
A typical combat phase starts with the dealer drawing two Enemy cards. These will usually be selected from the suits used in the game, with the number on the card representing how many of the enemy you will fight. They can however, consist of court cards which represent the various bosses you previously defeated or special foes, such as golems. While the drawing of cards is likely random, by the time I was half-way through the bosses, my fights often consisted of a six of plague and a court card. This meant facing ten or more foes at once. Depending on current equipment, this resulted in a challenging fight that drained most of my health.
Combat is based on a counter system similar to the Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham games. There are a few issues with the timing on counters however. This is most notable when attempting to counter projectiles where the counter indicator is out of sync with the counter action. In my experience counters would often not engage correctly when fighting ratmen. Enemy moves do not need to be countered though and in many cases, such as when many enemies are closing in, dodging is preferable.
When surrounded, an intended attack on one enemy may be incorrectly registered as an attack on a nearby one or even on the scenery. Successfully landing hits on a group of enemies allows you to dance from one foe to another, temporarily knocking enemies out to give you some breathing space. Depending on the arena, opponents are not your only worry. Many also have traps placed within which will harm anyone they snare. These traps are varied in form, ranging from arrows, spikes, flame bursts and even poison clouds from fallen ratmen. These can be difficult to avoid when an arena is small.
Combat will be more enjoyable when the issues with controls are cleared up. Hand Of Fate can be played with either keyboard and mouse or with a controller. But after only a few minutes of trying to play with the keyboard, it was obvious that playing with a controller was preferable. The keyboard controls make the combat phase needlessly cumbersome as they lack the smoothness of movement that controllers provide. However, even when playing with a controller, there are times both during the tabletop and combat phases where button presses are not registering correctly.
Encounters which do not immediately result in combat offer a series of choices instead. Some of these such as Treasure Chest consist of several branching stages. The choices you make during these events may also require a success roll to determine possible outcomes. The good thing about this game mechanic is that you can sometimes accurately track the cards used to determine the result as they are being shuffled. While this doesn’t always end in you finding the card you were hoping for, it does help to reduce the amount of luck required. Success does not necessarily mean you will escape an encounter unharmed, but will help make any likely losses a little less harsh. With some cards, such as Rock Fall, there appears to be a random element unrelated to success rolls in whether a given subsequent stage occurs.
There are also unique Encounter cards, for example a variety of shops from which you can purchase items selected from your Equipment deck, if you have enough gold. These shops also provide the opportunity to buy food, heal, remove curses, or gain blessings and to sell unwanted equipment. I have had several games where I needed to sell items to either heal wounds or buy food to avoid starvation. This balancing act makes for some hard choices. Do I risk starving in order to be equipped enough for an upcoming boss fight, or do I risk selling equipment to be able to eat? One of my favourite unique cards though is the Maze of Traps. This places you in a level where you need to avoid environmental traps while reaching a treasure chest. The change in pace such events bring to the game provide a refreshing break.
Most of the progression you make in Hand Of Fate is limited to your current game. When you die, you lose any food and gold you have managed to collect. You also lose any additional equipment, blessings, and curses you picked up. The only progression you have on death at the moment is any unlocked tokens you have earned from successfully completing an encounter. These tokens unlock new cards for your decks. While this surely provides a challenge for those who enjoy it, I thought it rather harsh. I would like to see options which could allow the carrying over of food and gold to subsequent sessions. There are some encounters, such as Culling the Ratmen, which require large quantities of food or gold in order to win their tokens. But I was never able to gather the amounts required in a single play-through. The only other form of persistent progress is in unlocking artefacts upon defeating every third boss.
Hand Of Fate is completely merciless with the disadvantages it dishes out to the player. From the third boss onwards each has unique rule changes. These can cause you to lose gold or health after every combat, to be cursed on purchasing a new item, or be forced to re-roll a successful chance encounter. By the time I had reached the Jack of Scales, I simply didn’t have enough food, health, or more importantly, luck, to be able to proceed. Hand Of Fate is very much a luck driven game. As cards are randomly selected from decks and then placed in a random order, it is impossible to predict which encounters or equipment you will see. If you have particularly bad luck, you will probably get a string of very difficult encounters while never once seeing a beneficial card.
At the start of every new game, you will need to manage your decks. Here you get to tailor them with any cards you have unlocked. Those with a red marker indicate they will unlock other cards when successfully completed. Thus, it is always a good idea to ensure several such cards are in your Encounter deck. However, some will be forcefully placed in your deck, such as Ratman Hunting. These can only then be removed upon successful completion of a related event which may not be immediately available. Winning encounter tokens is also down to luck. The Treasure Chest card for example, has the chance of being either a normal treasure chest or a mimic, regardless of success rolls. Its token can only be won when the card gives you a normal treasure chest.
Halfway through the bosses, my average game length had gone from thirty minutes to ten. I was often faced with encounters right at the start of the game which would kill me immediately. The recent content patch has made it possible to replay previously defeated bosses but unfortunately, the level of difficulty remains persistent with your current progress. Defiant Development are still fine tuning the difficulty of Hand Of Fate with the aim of ironing out such difficulty spikes.
Hand Of Fate is visually pleasing. The cards are crisp and clear although with some jagged edges. The dealer model is currently a work in progress but already has several idling animations which help bring him to life. Combat phases have a range of lighting and bloom effects. Developed in Unity, screen resolutions and graphic settings are handled by the launcher. There are six preset settings ranging from Fastest to Fantastic, but there is no detailed indication as to how these settings differ. Hand Of Fate supports a range of widescreen resolutions and can be played in a window. In game settings are rather sparse, only allowing you to set volume levels, reset progress, and redefine keys or configure controller vibration.
When I launched Hand Of Fate for the first time I was hit with déjà vu. The music is very reminiscent of that found in Silverfall. The score in Hand Of Fate often had me wondering if I was playing Silverfall. Asides from the initial confusion this caused, the tracks currently in the game are appropriately epic. The soundtrack, like the dealer voice over, though is currently incomplete. A lot of the dealer’s dialogue is encounter or boss specific. But as Defiant Development are aware, many of these are currently playing out of sync with gameplay.
As Hand Of Fate is still being developed, bugs are to be expected. I’ve experienced several graphical glitches where textures have behaved strangely. In one case the counter indicators turned into a string of green dots which persisted until I exited the game. The biggest issue at present is balancing. For example, several of the equipment items you can use are dealing damage to multiple foes when they should only be damaging one. Defiant Development have stated that they are tweaking balancing with every patch.
I’ll be honest, I am not a huge fan of roguelikes. I rarely enjoy permadeath. The thought of losing all your progress on death and having to restart from scratch every time, doesn’t appeal that much to me. Hand Of Fate is often brutally harsh in this aspect and yet I keep coming back. This alone is testament to how compelling Hand Of Fate is. I would really like to see Defiant Development make Hand Of Fate accessible to a wider range of players with the addition of game mechanics that can reduce the harshness of the roguelike genre.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Hand Of Fate is undoubtedly a great game in the making. At present, Hand Of Fate is a difficult game which still requires balancing, especially in the combat sections. Fans of the roguelike genre who enjoy a challenge, will certainly get a lot of fun out of this title. The additional content planned for future updates will ensure continued replayability, such as the addition of the final boss and new game modes. However, those who have trouble making progress in traditional roguelikes, may wish to wait and see how Defiant Development plans to make Hand of Fate more accessible to them in the future.