Beyond the Thirteen Gates at the End of the World...
The Game of Life and Death is played...
I love the opening blurb to Hand of Fate, a hybrid game that I've been playing recently after I picked it up on a whim. And you know what, I don't like card games. I haven't ever been fond of Magic the Gathering or any other deck-building game - but I like this, a lot. It's not a traditional Magic style game, it's as I said before: a hybrid.
It's a third person action game with roguelike elements such as food and you know, death. There's a random dungeon made up of cards that you explore on your quest to defeat the dealer and his minions. As you begin to unravel the mysteries of Story Mode you come across locked cards, defeating the card in question be it a text-adventure style description with a 'find the lady' style mini-game attached, or a simple choice of A B C or D you can gain the card's token and win loot, or even new cards to add to your equipment and encounter decks.
The dungeon layout is different each time, and initially your deck limits the kind of things you'll see and do - very quickly you'll build a collection of cards that change things up and as you move from card to card (doing so costs 1 food) you'll encounter heroic deeds, villains, monsters, traps and treasures galore as you explore the level to track down the exit or a dungeon boss.
The most powerful locked cards are the dealers' Jacks, Queens, Kings and the Ace of Skulls. These bosses are tough encounters that your hero is going to have to face as you guide him on his quest.
All your monster and shop encounters are done in third person, in arena-like areas that can be filled with traps or little environmental hazards. It's 3d and controls a little like Shadow of Mordor, Sleeping Dogs or Batman Arkham, with primary attacks on the X button, stun on the B button, counter or block on Y and dodge on A. The shoulder buttons can be special powers that you unlock on your quest, or items that are briefly assigned for the duration of that dungeon run.
You can only counter or block when you have a shield equipped and like Batman, Sleeping Dogs or Shadow of Mordor it requires the right kind of timing based on the icon that flashes up, ranged or melee. Perform it correctly and you'll counter the blow or missile - get it wrong and you'll take a hit, doing random damage and causing your heart's health card to leak that gory red stuff that keeps you fighting longer.
You control your hero in third person using the left stick, rotating the camera with the right unless it's an encounter like: Maze of Traps, where you're locked into a single camera mode as you navigate past the dangerous hazards.
You'll also build a collection of equipment from your previous dungeon runs, equipment cards that are added to your deck and through the Customisable Deck Builder can be added to your next dungeon. This allows you to craft the experience that you'd like, with favourite loot cards and monster encounters - of course there's always the dealer who adds in new cards that you won't expect.
That's as far as the deck building and collecting goes, at the moment I don't see a monetisation side to Hand of Fate and there's no DLC card packs on offer. Not sure what'll happen down the line, but it's a good sign that the game can stand on its own with its default gameplay and decks un-bolstered by the DLC crazy-craze that's sweeping across the game industry at the moment.
Hand of Fate manages to deliver interesting gameplay alongside the card deck, which works really well as part of the dungeon layout as well as adding a random element to the mini-games. By providing a few sudden twists and turns that with hundreds of items, encounters and so forth make for a different game every time, Hand of Fate is highly re-playable and extremely entertaining.
Your hero accrues equipment, blessings, items, curses and more as you get further down the dealer's suit of cards. Whilst you lose certain things when you die, you can make up for it by capturing the dealer's symbol (done by defeating all the cards on a row) which provides permanent bonuses to your character, as well as making the game harder for you. As the dealer says, "Balance must be maintained."
Hand of Fate is created by Defiant Development, a Brisbane based team of veteran game developers that enjoy creating innovative and fun titles - they seem to have hit the mark with this one and the presentation is top notch too, graphically it's a great looking title, the animations are solid and effective with some great combat moves, counters.
The voice acting by the dealer is some of the best I've heard since I booted up Bastion ages ago.
In fact the writing in Hand of Fate is also one of the key selling points, from the text-adventure style vignettes to the dealer's acerbic and sometimes helpful dialogue as you play the game with him.
All in all its a great game and I've had no problems with it on the Xbox One version - so it gets the big thumbs up from me!