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Hand of Fate – PC

Hand of Fate – PC

Platform: PC

Developer: Defiant Development

Publisher: Defiant Development

Release Date: February 17th, 2015

Genre: RPG, Adventure, Card Games

Reviewed by Nips

As of November 7th, 2017, the sequel to Hand of Fate, dubbed Hand of Fate 2, was released to the virtual shelves, giving fans another glimpse into the dark and mysterious world of the Black Deck. This new game has been making a lot of noise on the grapevine, but I confess that I had never even heard of the original! As stingy as always, I opted to check out the cheaper Hand of Fate to see if the new game seems promising.

Created by Defiant Development, Hand of Fate is an indie title that presents the player with an immersive virtual card game that puts their power of memory, strategy, and reaction to the test. Seated across from the robed and enigmatic Dealer, the player descends into a world that promises both peril and glory in equal measures.

As Hand of Fate begins proper, the Dealer shuffles the cards and lays them out on the table; the player’s mission is to navigate the maze of cards, encountering friends, enemies, and promises of loot along their quest for victory. “Encounter” cards take the form of ambushes and fearsome dungeons, as well as friendly priests, townsfolk, and traveling bards that each face the player with opportunities for reward and punishment. These punishments take the form of “pain” cards, which cause the player to lose food, gold, and health. Their opposite: Gain cards, which reward the player with all of the above, as well as equipment cards that are used to help them during their next encounter or combat scenario.

At its core, Hand of Fate is a rogue-like game, much like The Binding of Isaac, each taking form in brief chapters or “runs.” At the beginning of each new run, the cards are re-shuffled and dealt anew, as the player strives to reach the bottom floor of the ever-shifting dungeon and defeat the boss at the end. From the Jack of Dust or the King of Bones, each boss is more difficult than the last, changing the way the game is played through curse cards and a veritable scale in difficulty.

One facet that makes Hand of Fate so interesting is that it is up to the player to assemble their own deck. Be it enemy encounters or serendipitous reunions with the generous Maiden, it is important to keep a good balance of different card types in order to diversify your loot portfolio. This creates a fascinating dynamic between the player and the game, because no one wants to keep an Ambush card in their deck, but it sure is preferable to the punishment offered in Devil’s Wager. In this way, the player is deciding just how much punishment they’re willing to take, but with an imposed minimum card count, it’s hard to avoid punishment altogether.

As you progress from run to run, you start encountering a lot of the same cards as before, as if Hand of Fate is a game that twists and transforms time, itself. A lot of these characters, such as The Priest, The Maiden, or The Bard, are like old and weathered friends, and others, such as Mr. Lionel or The White Council, are like elusive adversaries that cause the player as much harm as good.

And with the unfolding of each new run, Hand of Fate becomes more and more interesting. Some, if not most, cards in this game come with an added bonus: If you can complete them to the Dealer’s satisfaction, you get a token that unlocks a new card at the end of the run. In this way, Hand of Fate introduces a multitude of side quests and subplots that carry out within the greater meta game. By the time you’ve hit the fourth White Council, Minotaur, or Mr. Lionel card, each one has told you an engaging tale that increases in difficulty along the way. I really enjoy the inclusion of these cards, as they add greatly to the grander game and lore within Hand of Fate.

Not only does the token and unlocking system make Hand of Fate more interesting and complex, but it is actually a really cool tool for encouraging risky play. In keeping with the principle of least resistance, players are more likely to choose options that minimize their risk of failure, even if it might give them a slightly more interesting game if they behaved otherwise. With the token system, however, players are encouraged to choose the riskier option because they know if they succeed they’ll unlock yet another card. While playing, this system was hands-down my favorite part of the game, as I would seek out familiar friends and encounters in the hopes of progressing all of my subplots, even if it might mean I would lose my game.

The other side of the token, unfortunately, is that as soon as you run out of incentives for taking risks, there is no longer any reason to play an interesting game. After a while, I found myself running out of novel encounter cards fairly quickly. One of the benefits of rogue-like games is that they provide for countless hours of play time with fewer resources, since additions to the game are meted out slowly and selectively. Unfortunately, Hand of Fate doesn’t offer quite as much as I would have liked in that region. On top of this, I soon found myself gaming the system in several ways to extend my life and maximize my gold income. For instance, spending more time on an empty map is a great way to get some healing, and backtracking to previously-visited shop cards gives the player a second chance to purchase items. Frankly, playing this way isn’t very fun at all, and it’s also pretty time-consuming. Eliminating the ability to revisit shops and adding a timer on how long the player spends on a floor would greatly mitigate these shortcomings and probably make Hand of Fate a bit more fun.

On top of level navigation and decision-making, Hand of Fate features some bona fide, gritty combat. And the combat in Hand of Fate takes the game in an interesting direction. During each encounter, the table fades away and the player is plunged into a 3D arena with their selected enemies, engaging in a Dark Soulsstyle brawl to the death. This part of the game is fine. It’s there, and it has a certain degree of nuance, but it’s not particularly interesting or extremely complex. At the most, it puts the player’s preparation to the test, but I don’t find these sections particularly engaging.

So we’ve talked about the gameplay–and boy, is the gameplay fun–but there’s one more core component to Hand of Fate that I haven’t mentioned so far. That component is the atmosphere. Since Hand of Fate is simply a game about exploring a deck of cards, Defiant Development made the crucial choice to lavish tons of attention on the careful craft of an atmosphere that sucks the player into the Black Deck’s grisly world.

Let’s start off with the Dealer. Simply put, the Dealer is a masterwork of a character. Hidden behind his robes, the Dealer looks back at the player with an unfathomable gaze, using his magic to will the deck of cards into an order intended to challenge the player at every step. An impeccable degree of voice acting gives the Dealer an entrancing yet mysterious aesthetic, as he offers commentary, quips, and criticisms of the game and of the player’s choices. This sole character single-handedly injects a crucial amount of personality into Hand of Fate, and I seriously don’t think this game would be nearly as exciting without him.

Aside from the Dealer, the overall sound and art direction of Hand of Fate really helps to drive home the atmosphere. The delicate sound of flipping cards just has a calming quality to it, and each card features a Medieval aesthetic, adding a palpable sense of ritual and lore to the meta game. Soothing and evocative instrumentals cue the player into certain moods as they engage in a game of chance or encounter a fresh horde of enemies. It’s clear to me that the developers spent a lot of time crafting the atmosphere of this game, and it goes an extremely long way toward making the experience even more immersive. My advice? Play this game in a dark room with the volume up!

So there we have it. With an undeniable atmosphere featuring the charming character of the Dealer, Hand of Fate sucks the player into a world of mystery, misery, and, above all, adventure. Drawing from the Black Deck, the mystical Dealer guides the player along a rogue-like journey fraught with peril and even a few friendly faces, a journey that changes over time and grows in complexity, enticing the player ever-forward into its depths.

I had a ton of fun with Hand of Fate, and am excited for the chance to try out Hand of Fate 2. If you find card games, rogue-like games, and the prospect of adventure at all interesting, then I’d definitely recommend this title. Why not try out the original before giving the sequel a try?

Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Written by Nips


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