Review: Hand of Fate (PS4)

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Title: Hand of Fate
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.1 GB)
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Publisher: Defiant Development
Developer: Defiant Development
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: T
Hand of Fate is also available on PlayStation Vita (Q1 2015), Xbox One, PC, and Mac.
The PlayStation 4 version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
You enter the room, a darkened hut that belongs to a fortune teller of sorts. The fortune teller, a man with a hood and mask seems to be flipping cards about like some kind of magic trick. He beckons you to take a seat and as you draw close you can see that he isn’t touching the cards at all; it would seem that the magic trick is actually magic. Once you are seated, he begins to shuffle up the cards and lay them out in piles. It is then that the game begins.

Your objective in the game is simple: defeat the boss. Each space your character moves is represented by a card. Move to the space and the card is flipped up. The first few encounters are simple enough. One of them tells of an encounter with a strange goblin-man and asks what you would do. You answer and receive a shield. The next tells of meeting a maiden who asks you what you want. You respond with “supplies” and draw a card that says to gain 3 food, lest you run out and start draining health because it would seem that as you move you consume food.

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The next card you travel to is not so kind. A bandit attack. You are dealt a monster card. The Two of Dust. Without warning your perspective changes and rather than the small room, you find yourself in dusty arena. The Two of Dust card appears before you and from it springs two bandits. Your avatar is now more than a game piece, it is a human carrying a weapon and the shield you picked up previously. The bandits attack but your shield gives you the ability to see their attacks and to reflect or counter attack. You take control of the avatar and after a minute or two the encounter is over. The bandits have been defeated.

… somewhat similar to the combat in the Batman Arkham series …

Suddenly you are back in the fortune teller’s hut. The card tells you that you search the corpses of the bandits and find something. “Draw 1 gain card.” You find some gold and move on to the next card. The flipped card tells you that you pass a ravine and can see a glint at the bottom. You are offered the choice to climb down. You choose yes and the dealer lays down four cards. Three of them say “success,” one “failure.” The dealer then shuffles them up and tells you to pick one. Success. The card tells you that you climb down the ravine and find a weapon. You are dealt a new weapon card.

Play continues like this for a few more rounds until you flip over a special encounter. This one is the Jack of Dust, the boss for this round. Again you find your avatar squared up in combat but this time the enemy is a little tougher. Some of his attacks can’t be countered and he has followers that shoot darts at you. It is a hard fought battle but you are victorious. The fortune teller smiles wryly and begins to shuffle up for another round.

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Hand of Fate is an interesting game. In many ways, one might consider it a roguelike game as the player starts over from square-one each round. However, the unique thing about the game is that it plays out like a card game, as described above. Each story round uses the player’s deck of equipment and events so the player can affect what encounters they run across, making it a little different than a traditional roguelike.

Some events are a simple choice. Other events are a choice but have a random chance of succeeding or failing. Combat encounters are also a big part of the game where it switches to a third-person brawler. It’s somewhat similar to the combat in the Batman Arkham series and if the player has a shield, enemies have a flashing icon above their head when they attack, setting up the player to reflect their attack. The goal of each story round is to reach the boss character and defeat them while not running out of food supplies that drain with each move. To that end, each event can either help the player (by giving them more supplies, gold, weapons, etc.) or hurt them (giving them a curse, doing damage to the player, forcing them into combat) and it’s up to the player to make it through.

… the bosses offer a good challenge …

For the most part, I really enjoyed Hand of Fate’s unique take on the roguelike. The game is thrilling the first time through as each encounter is new and interesting. I did notice that it began to lose its luster after a while though. Coming across the same encounter a few times and knowing how the different options play out made it start to feel stale. Fortunately, the game is constantly giving the player new cards and I made it a point to try to cycle out older cards for newer ones in my deck.

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The combat is decent but didn’t feel quite as fluid and responsive as the aforementioned Batman games. It still works well enough though and there’s a good variation between weapons, shields, and artifacts to help to keep it fresh and interesting. Plus the bosses offer a good challenge at the end of each story round.

The game also has an Endless mode that is unlocked part way through the story. Unlike story mode, the player can’t adjust the deck for this one. As the name suggests, the mode is an endless run (until the player dies) through random cards unlike the end-after-boss-encounters story mode. The mode scores the player on how long they can last but sadly there don’t appear to be any online leaderboards for it.

… The fortune teller is very chatty …

Visuals:
For a small downloadable game, Hand of Fate looks pretty good. Most of the time is spent staring at the fortune teller though and I wish there were some accompanying graphics to go along with the encounters on the cards. Instead, most situations play out through text with the combat encounters being the exception. One small complaint would also be that on a few occasions the game would flip over cards on the table but wouldn’t seem to let me zoom in to actually see what they were. The combat arenas are a little small but are graphically pleasing with a solid style and some good variation to fight within. The way the cards stack and the player’s avatar pops out of them is a nice visual flourish that fits the theme of the game.

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Audio:
Music in Hand of Fate is pretty limited; mostly some quiet but fitting background tracks for certain actions but eerie silence for other parts. What is more noticeable is the voice acting. The fortune teller is very chatty, offering up his opinions on the game as it unfolds. At first I was really impressed with him. During my second round, I encountered a card that I had encountered during the first round. The first time I had picked an option that gave me a shield and so I picked that again. He chimed in then “I’m beginning to think you only include that card as an easy way to get a shield.”

While the game does include some more contextual dialogue, it still runs into the problem many sports games get with an announcer: there just isn’t enough. After playing the game for a while the dialogue starts to repeat and while it never got the point that I felt like it detracted from the game, it wasn’t as interesting as it seemed when I first started. One particularly annoying example was when I got stuck on a story mission and had to retry half a dozen times. Each time while shuffling the deck he’d say “I’m beginning to admire your methods, crude as they are.” Fortunately, beating the mission made him change his shuffling dialogue but it did grow tired for those attempts. Performance wise, the voice acting is good though.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
Hand of Fate is a unique take on the roguelike genre and I found it to be satisfying. The ability to guide your fate slightly through deck building is a great way to approach the genre and the combat offers a good challenge. The game is most fun during the exploration phase, when each encounter is new and there is the thrill of not knowing what each one does. While the shine dulls over time, the game does a good job at staving it off with new cards. Even with its imperfections, Hand of Fate is a pretty easy recommendation to fans of roguelike games.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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  • I think I am gonna pick this up after reading your review. I wish it was a little cheaper though lol