Kickstarter has proven itself to be somewhat of minefield – not only for developers but gamers too. However, for each crowdfunding train wreck disaster there is a success story, Hand of Fate being one such happy tale. Brisbane based studio, Defiant Development, walked away from a successful Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2013 with close to £30,000. Compared to other lofty projects, that’s not a huge investment yet Hand of Fate proves you don’t need hundreds of thousands to create a innovative gaming experience.
Part of the game’s success is how closely it abides to a very simple premise. Sat opposite you in a dark deserted cabin is a withered stranger, inviting you to play a game of life and death. Upon agreeing to partake, the dealer will magically conjure up a deck of cards, laying them out to resemble a map of sorts. You, the adventurer, will hop from card to card each turn, moving between layers before confronting the final boss.
There are a total of thirteen decks to pit yourself against, each one more challenging than the last. They are made up of several different card types, including monsters, equipment, curses, and blessings as well as a diverse array of scenarios. These range from ambushes and vendors to a series of risk/reward gambles that can help or hinder you in your journey. Whether you reach the boss at the end of the deck ultimately depends on two things. First, your ability to manage a finite supply of food, health, and gold. Secondly, your prowess in combat.
Whenever you trigger a battle, the dealer and his playing cards will vanish as the adventurer goes head to head with their opponents in a small arena. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, most belonging to a specific “suit” such as Dust, Plague, or Skull (bandits, ratmen, and the undead). As for the combat gameplay, it feels very similar to the Batman Arkham series as well as last year’s Shadow of Mordor, allowing the player to counter incoming attacks and projectiles. It’s not quite as smooth or polish, mind you, the fluidity of battle often marred by strange movement animations and unpredictable AI attack patterns.
By alternating between these mini combat encounters and the actual card game itself, Hand of Fate manages to avoid growing stale. Even after long sessions, I still found myself compelled to carry on, replaying old decks just to see how my adventure would pan out using a newer pool of cards. Although each deck contains a number of presets, players are free to swap any remaining cards for ones they’ve unlocked by gaining tokens. These are handed out whenever you kill a boss for the first time or resolve one of the event cards in a certain way. Think of them as collectibles as well as a replay incentive.
Even when all thirteen decks have been toppled, players can go on to test their mettle against Hand of Fate’s Endless Mode. Here you’ll walk through a never-ending dungeon that gets harder and harder the more you explore. Needless to say, when it comes to content, there’s plenty to be had – even when you reflect on the game’s mid-range price point.
It also helps that Hand of Fate is easy on the eye, mixing some excellent card artwork with some great-looking fantasy backdrops. The music is just as much of a perfect fit as is the voice acting of the dealer, conjuring up an enigmatic character who serves as both the narrator and main antagonist. Letting the game down every so often was its performance. When fighting more than eight enemies at once, the framerate dips considerably, making it hard to pick out targets. Even when shuffling the cards during the intro menu, the dealer chugs with the game’s audio also vanishing at certain points.
These gripes are incredibly minor though when you evaluate the rest of the game. Defiant has done a fantastic job of marrying together two very different flavours of game, presenting it a stylish package that feels one part adventure book, one part action brawler. The potential for expansions and sequels further down the line is immediately apparent so, hopefully, this won’t be the last time we’re dealt into Hand of Fate.
Version tested: PS4