Games Review: Hand of Fate (Xbox One, 2015)

Created by Defiant Development, an indie studio in my home town of Brisbane, Hand of Fate strives to be different. It combines elements of a deck-building CCG, a roguelike dungeon crawler and action RPG’s to come up with something entirely new and, while it doesn’t always completely succeed, there’s still a lot to like here.

You jump into the game and find yourself seated across the table from a hooded figure. This figure begins dealing cards onto the table and it’s through this device that Hand of Fate tells its stories. Flipping over cards on the table shows you what happens to you next – maybe you find some loot, you have to make a decision about how to traverse some particularly rough terrain or you encounter a horde of bandits.

During these sections you’ll often pick up cards that let you keep things in your hand, like weapons, armour and the like. This means you can, to a certain extent, kit your character out to deal with just about any scenario provided you hang onto the right cards.

This was probably my favourite part of the game because it reminded me forcibly of playing D&D. The hooded figure is your DM, generating your experience through chance encounters and providing you with a drip feed of loot to keep you from being completely outclassed.

Every so often you’ll be faced with making a decision – do you attempt to scale a rocky outcrop and claim the potential loot/take the potential shortcut or do you carry on and go another way. It can be hard to know at times which of these decisions is the right one but often I definitely enjoyed the not knowing how any given one of these decisions would play out.

You’ll also frequently run into a dungeon or combat scenario which will place you in a fully 3D arena in which you control your character. This mode is probably the game’s weakest facet. Combat functions similarly to the way the Batman: Arkham franchise does things – enemies crowd around you and then attack you at different times. You hit Y to counter them and then lay into them with whatever weapon you have equipped. Once they’re all dead, or you complete a specific goal – some of these instances are on a timer and you just have to survive – combat ends and you collect your loot and XP.

Though it mimics Batman, which is smart because the combat in those games rules, Hand of Fate just isn’t able to capture the same level of fluidity and responsiveness in its controls that such a combat system requires. The controls certainly aren’t lossy, but it feels like there’s a bit of lag to them and my counters would often miss and my avatar would keep swinging his axe after I’d stopped mashing the attack button.

The dungeons are another area where Hand of Fate trips up a bit. These often require you to navigate a maze of traps and escape certain death. This would be fine but for one or two minor irritants. The camera is quite rigid in these sections and it can make getting a good look at the level around you a bit of a challenge. You might find you die unreasonably in these sections just because there was a fire trap or something similar obscured by the camera’s insistence on staying where it is and occluding the geometry.

I did find that the longer I played the game, the less these issues bothered me though so it’s definitely possible to muscle past them and get on with your adventure. Dungeons and combat are also placed far enough apart that I didn’t feel like I had to slog through one after another before getting back to the more interesting card-based story sections.

Graphically, Hand of Fate is surprisingly pretty given the small size of the team that worked on the game. All of the card game sections, though minimally designed, are quite lovely to look at. The dealer’s animations are subtle and really skillfully put together (watch him, he’s a devil) and the card designs themselves are full of lovely art. The combat and dungeon sections have really nice looks to them, but do appear a bit muddy and character models are a bit on the blocky side. Still, everything that needs to be communicated graphically in these sections is, and well.

Hand of Fate has only recently arrived on the Xbox One but can also be grabbed on PC via and PlayStation 4 via the PS Store. And you absolutely should – Hand of Fate is representative of the local game development game, not just here in Queensland but nationwide. It’s full of big, new, interesting ideas, it’s been built by a team that clearly know what they’re doing and they absolutely deserve your support. Despite a few rough edges here and there, I had a great time with this. I really hope this gives Defiant the clout they need to go even bigger next time.

Review Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Creative storytelling mechanic; deep deckbuilding
Lowlights: Some clunky combat and dungeon-crawling
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Released: February 18, 2015
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC via Steam

Reviewed on Xbox One

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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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