The past few years have been an explosion of content in the game industry. Loads of new developers have come out of the woodwork to try to bring something new to the table. Given the modern standard industry philosophy, “there are no new ideas – only new ways to use old ones,” this normally results in developers either failing miserably or pulling out something unique but ultimately unable to stand on its own. Very rarely does a game come along that pulls the old ideas together and creates something that feels like a refreshing experience. That game I speak of is the debut title of an Australian indie studio named Defiant Development – a title simply called Hand of Fate.
Hand of Fate is very simple in story – players find themselves as a nameless adventurer who has journeyed to the far reaches of the world, all to play a literal game of life and death with a mysterious man known only as the Dealer, and his equally mysterious deck of cards. We are never given full insight as to why the adventurer has come to the Dealer, and for all intents and purposes it doesn’t matter that much. What matters is that the game he plays has surprising depth and infinite possibilities drawn from his experiences, and to reach the end he must defeat the Dealer’s 12 finest members of his court. Alternately, he can just play in an infinite mode until his luck runs out.
The game is essentially broken up in three aspects: card game, roguelike, and hack-and-slash. The card game portion serves as the core mechanic of making the other two work, as you are given a deck of various cards (events, loot drops, enemies, and such) to organize before choosing to take on whatever challenges lie in store for you via the Dealer adding his own conditions to each run. To counter this you are allowed to stack the decks to your favor, using cards that you unlock either by completing challenges associated with them or by completing a full dungeon run.
The roguelike portion is where the majority of the game plays out, with the player moving their game piece on a map randomly generated using the cards from within the deck for each dungeon floor. The goal for each dungeon is to make it all the way to the end, making sure not to starve or bleed to death along the way. Cards are flipped when the player moves onto them, mainly consisting of enemy encounters, shops of many different types, and events designed to test the player’s luck and skill (but mostly luck). The rewards vary greatly, from the standard dungeon-crawling loot (gold, food, and equipment), to curses and blessings that can greatly affect how the player’s experience plays out, to gaining tokens used to unlock new cards that the player can use to stack the deck for future runs.
The hack-and-slash portion of gameplay is where the remaining gaps are filled in. Depending on the card the player lands on, this can manifest either in a twisting and turning hallway littered with various traps or a fierce battle. Each segment starts with the associated cards (both enemies and the player’s inventory) materializing into a 3D space before giving way to the action. The trap-dodging segment relies on running and rolling through the tightest of spaces, while simultaneously having a keen eye to spot what lies ahead. The combat sections are fairly simple, taking cues from the Batman: Arkham series to combine shield bashes, shield counters, dodge rolls, projectile deflections, equipment abilities, and magic into a fast-paced and highly engaging short-term experience.
The only issue that seems to be present is that of the controls. Defiant Development highly suggests using a controller to play the game, and it shows why shortly after starting up. The game wasn’t optimally designed for keyboard usage, with the default WASD format for movement being mapped in the same scheme as using Q to counter, the number keys to use abilities, and the spacebar to roll. The result will leave the player struggling to keep their left hand in a claw-like form. It gets worse if forced to play on a laptop with nothing but a touchpad mouse, as using the mouse buttons causes noticeable button lag for all of the keys thus breaking the flow of the hack-and-slash portions.
Overall, Hand of Fate is one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences to come out of 2015 so far. It is definitely a strong starting title for Defiant Development, and will surely be a tough act to follow. This game cannot be recommended enough, so please do not let it pass you by.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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