Relevant information before reading this early impression article:
- I was not given a review copy.
- I have no affiliation nor contact with anyone at Defiant Development.
- Specifications of the system used for this first impressions article can be found here.
- At the time of writing this article, I had played the game for 9 hours
- This game is still in Beta and as such comments made in the article regarding performance and/or bugs may not be relevant to the state of the game at full release.
Hand of Fate, by Defiant Development of Brisbane, Australia is certainly an intriguing spin and meshing of the Roguelite, Card Game and RPG genres. Perhaps you could call it a collectible card game that doubles as a choose-your-own adventure.
Hand of Fate uses a theme of a tabletop game in a Mystic's tent - complete with magical control over cards, cryptic advice, veiled threats and a rather creepy looking spider that wonders around the table. The game is driven entirely through playing cards. Thematically, Hand of Fate is very strong - and the Dealer's voice acting is particularly well done by Anthony Skordi. Hearing him complain about the amount of time you take to make a decision never gets old.
Hand of Fate has two game modes; 'Story Mode' and 'Endless'. In Story Mode, the aim is to work through 4 tiers of bosses from the different suits; Dust, Scales, Plague, Mages and Skulls. Endless mode is an unrestricted and bottomless-dungeon style offering that serves as a high score chase.
While this allows you to have some control over the content of the levels, the real strength of this system is that goes a long way to preventing player frustration if they're stuck on a level. Failed it three times? Completely swap out all of your encounter cards and the level will be radically different. Only certain monster and environmental encounters are fixed per level.
Food will decrease by 1 per move, and when you're injured your character will recover 5 health per move. Equipment can be gained through encounters. Some encounters will reward you with a specific piece of equipment, while others will allow you to draw one at random from your deck. Equipment can be managed via the functional inventory screen shown below.
Should you fall in combat (or starve or otherwise die on the tabletop) your progress through the level is lost - but you retain any tokens you've earned, and at the end of the game you'll still get to open them. This again allows you to customise the next play through of the level. What should be noted here is that this can not only be used to make the game easier, but the right selection of encounters and equipment can also make the game significantly more challenging.
JACK-OF-ALL TRADES, MASTER OF.. MOST?
When I first looked at the blurb for this game on the Steam store, I had the feeling this was going to be one of those games that tried to do a bit too much without really being good at anything (Brütal Legend springs to mind). It's a pleasant surprise then to find out that the ambitions Defiant Development had for the game seem to be on course to being met. After 9 hours, I haven't managed to finish story mode yet.
The combat starts to become a little repetitive, but the chase for new equipment and the desire to unlock some of the rarer encounters isn't fading. The ability to change the deck, completely swap out encounters and equipment before attempting to defeat the boss again adds a great deal to replayability and takes the edge of the frustration that can creep in from repeatedly failing a certain level (damn you and your rats, Queen of Plague).
The narrative is excellent, the single character in the game, The Dealer, is well fleshed out, brilliantly voice-acted and entertaining enough to hold your attention. The lore of the game, the various encounters and creatures you'll encounter as you go through the game are engaging, and when you realise that certain encounters are linked to each other, the game reveals several layers of complexity that weren't there at the start.
At the end of these articles I will finish with a single line that sums up my recommendation - Worth a buy, wait for fixes, wait for sale, wait for more content or avoid.
Hand of Fate fortunately looks like it's going to be an Early Access success, and when it's released I'll have no problem giving it my worth a buy recommendation. If you're feeling particularly brave, the game is available now, in Beta for a €19.99 asking price. There is no set release date or retail price yet, although given the state of the game at the moment, release can't be too far away.