When it comes to religion, I consider myself agnostic. I have no clear thoughts on what I believe is out there, or if there is anything there to begin with, but it fascinates me what religious beliefs can involve, why, and what they lead to in other aspects such as morality. However, if there has been one religion that intrigues me more than others, it is the belief in spirits and use of Tarot-cards. I have no legit reasons as to why, only that I have friends involved with this and that I enjoy card-games. This is what actually got me into giving Hand of Fate a shot, as it literally creates your journey through the cards you are dealt. I am also a fan of roguelight games, but also on the edge when it comes to them. A clear balance between skill and randomization must be made in this kind of game and that is not always easy when death is also supposed to be common. Unfortunate events and also positive ones are to be expected, but also that you have at least a chance. Does this DM with cards of fate provide such journeys
Your journey is in the cards
As you start the game, you approach a fortune teller that presents you with your final test. Apparently, you have passed through thirteen gates before, and this is your final and toughest challenge yet. On a table, you are presented with cards laying in a connected pattern, with an avatar starting at one of them. This avatar represents you and from there, you choose which card to move the avatar towards. Each step will grant you an event represented by the card, and your goal is to venture to a card that will take you to the next set of cards placed in a new randomized and connected pattern, and eventually end with a boss-fight. The event-cards can range in many ways, such as a humble priest asking you to share some food with him, a band of thieves asking for gold in exchange for your life, or maybe a canyon where you see a treasure at the bottom. This is a great way to make every step, not just unnerving, but also the choices you make. You can support someone in need, but will the cost be worth the reward, or will you neglect any reward and hope to live another day? This holds true for every move and it is a great way to keep you engaged in what might happen.
When you are approached by a card that can involve some form of chance, you will be shown four cards, each involving either good, fantastic, bad or terrible outcomes, depending on the event. There will always be at least one positive and one negative card in there, and as you are shown them, they will shuffle and you must pick out the best outcome, or the consequences can be devastating. Besides this, you will be using traditional gold both in events, but also for purchasing items and equipment at vendors, such as armor, shields, and weapons. All equipment has an interesting ability to them to make them more than just number-crunchers, such as how weapons can have an elemental attack or helmets which explode when you reflect a projectile-attack.
What also is an important element similar to equipment, are blessings which can support in passive ways, such as more chance for critical hits, or curses that create a negative element, with my least favorite making you lose a coin for each step you take. Unlike the equipment, they can’t be taken off unless you get the aid from a priest. All of these supports, are very important as you won’t gain levels or stat-upgrades, making what you can acquire much more appealing and exciting. Besides coins, you will also have a counter for the amount of health and food. With each step you take on the map, you consume one amount of food, represented by apple-cards. They will heal your character up to your max health for each step you take, but should you go a step without one, you will lose a good amount of health and eventually die if you don’t get a way to replenish it.
There will be times when you have to take up arms either in combat or in an obstacle course, which are both in 3D-segments. Let’s start with the battles, as these are what you will do the most. You will be set in an arena, where you must battle a certain amount of enemies and it is eerily similar to the Batman Arkham-games, with fluent and almost semi-auto combat. You have one attack-button which homes into the enemy you are attacking towards, a dodge-move, the ability to kick an enemy for a short stun, and parry attacks if you have a shield. If an enemy lights up green, you can parry the attack, but if it’s red, you must avoid it (preferably by dodging). However, you can also use special-attacks if a weapon has a special ability, which must be charged over time, or if you have a side-arm that includes a certain amount of attacks, such as stunning the enemies.
All will come in handy, as despite how easy the combat is to get into, the enemies will become demanding and aggressive. They will also vary in how they act, from simply using long ranged weapons to neglect normal attacks, or attack right after a parry. Some areas will also have traps, so you must always be aware of your surroundings, at it makes the combat intense and engaging. Speaking of which, some cards will set your character in a dungeon you must escape and maybe include treasures to be found. Here, timing is all that matters and your dodge-move will come in handy. Fire, spikes, switches to activate traps, all are dangerous. These parts are not as varied as the battles, but are still fun and dangerous obstacle-courses that can kill you if you are too quick.
All these events are randomized and each time you die or win a board, a new setup will be placed with you starting from scratch. This is where the roguelight part comes in as each playthrough in story mode is short (both if you win or die) and if you do something that impresses the dealer or even win, you will be rewarded with tokens that will provide you with new cards for support. However, with each run you win, the dealer will also gain some new cards to use, so not all will be in your favor and the game will get gradually harder. Nothing feels unfair and despite getting a setup that won’t be in your favor, you always have a clear chance.
Helping you out against the odds is the ability to make a deck of towns, equipment, and nourishment to use in the sessions, with the dealer deciding enemies and curses. You can have the game make better decks for you, but for the more specific player, a quick look will be rewarding and not time-consuming as the game sorts out the cards for you. Through the story-campaign, there are 13 rounds you must win, each with an original boss and conditions to be met, such as starting with curses, and after every third victory, both positive and negative events will occur to make your adventure gradually harder. For example, one playthrough rewarded me with extra equipment, but every time I went to a new dungeon, I would get a card that did something negative to me.
This makes no playthrough the same, which is great and you are always on edge due to might happen next. Sadly, despite the random events, the cards will become familiar after a while, which makes it easier to figure out what event might happen. The cards will have different demands despite showing the same pictures, but they don’t vary much. The same can be said for the enemies as while the actions of enemies are well varied, the enemy-types aren’t. They range between 5 different ones, and the boss fights crave more strategy such as one having the ability to resurrect fallen comrades, but they are rather interesting versions of normal antagonists, with the exception of the last one. This doesn’t make any playthrough unengaging, but the surprise of what a card will involve will dim.
Despite these flaws, Hand of Fate takes an interesting approach to card-games, with the challenge focusing on you making the right choices as you never know what might happen next. The battles are very entertaining since they can be brutal, temple-obstacles are enjoyable, and no event becomes dull or unengaging. Even dying is not a huge annoyance, as no death becomes cheap and you are always thrown a bone as progression can be achieved through tokens for new cards if you play well. The cards will grow familiar and the variety of enemy-types could have been grander, but you will be entertained, challenged and die with encouragement to try again to see the ending.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
Standard, but effective fantasy
The atmosphere this simple setup creates is fantastic. You sit alone with an old man and you are not sure if he wants the best for you or enjoys the suffering you venture through. It can be similar to how a DM is there to create an adventure, and the simple elements with only using cards, enhances the mood. Lights from the candles flicker, a spider might venture over the books, and more similar details makes everything more unnerving because of how realistic it makes the setting. The symbols and the lovely pictures on the cards, gives the game a clear artstyle that is inviting and at times unsettling, with humble priests, canyons, and towns seeming peaceful, but demons, altars, and traps being more unnerving, especially since you never are quite sure what is to come.
The action-part represents the cards very well, with plenty of nice areas. The calm caravans and shops present a relaxing environment, while the battles share some different locations, such as swamps, ruins, forests, atop of cliffs, and plenty more with each having plenty of details and varied landscapes. Small elements make them more than just simple areas, such as leaves on the ground in forest and changes between daylight, dusk, dawn and night time that add to the atmosphere. The obstacle course labyrinths are only set in ruins however, so it is a shame the creativity isn’t carried over here, but are still appealing. The 3D characters in these areas, however, are a mixed bag. They have great attention to detail in their design and using depth in models instead of masking with textures is impressive. I also love your playable avatar and the dealer’s design as both have unique details, but never go overboard with too much either, making them memorable and relatable. How every character pops up from cards is also a clever way to introduce them in the 3D-segments and I love that you put on the equipment as the cards are laid down, making your achievements visually clear.
However, the enemies are very typical creatures you meet in these fantasy-worlds and the variety is at best passable. Humans, lizard-people, were-rats, and skeletons are classic, but since this is supposed to be your final test, shouldn’t there be more threatening monsters? They have some variations in their designs to distinguish melee from the long-ranged users, but even the bosses look quite similar, and almost become reskinned versions, with a few exceptions. At least the golems are a threat and everything looks good, but it can be rather standard than anything special. The animations they carry are decent, and the slow-mo to distinguish which attacks land first and when the last enemy falls, are also great details.
Jeff van Dyck is an underrated composer and I believe this is some of his best work. The game’s music takes on a more atmospheric tone, with strings of guitars and harps being soft and almost distant to make you calm before the danger takes hold, the beating of drums being strong when the action heats up, and the instruments being subtle when you choose which path to take. It is a very fitting soundtrack complementing each mood and setting perfectly. Thanks to the use of few instruments as well, it is not just easy to remember the clear tones that accompany them, but also how every single instrument sounds, even those not in the forefront. The only voice actor in this game is the dealer and again: I love how they make so much out of being simple. He has a very fitting voice, being stern, but not overly dark as it is often an easy way to mask poor voice acting. We get a personality from him through his narrations and comments, making him as intriguing as he is unsettling. Small nods to the way of a DM such as stating that he will have to rebalance some cards are simply icing on the cake.
Presentation Score: 8/10
After you cleared the tenth stage in story mode, you will unlock endless mode. This is surely a self-explanatory concept, but handled fantastically in this game. Endless mode combines all cards in the game you have collected so far and you can’t create a deck, which makes this adventure more intense! Each time you take a path to the next set of cards, something will appear to make the game more challenging and it will demand everything from you. Adding to this, are the different ways to play the game, with tons of play styles that can enhance one ability, but decrease others. For example, you can start as an explorer to reveal passages on every new floor, but can never wear heavy armor.
The cards will become familiar, but the consequences become bigger and it is easy to have the mentality that you will survive despite death being common. You can also save at any time, which makes it easy should you play for a long time. This is incredibly engaging, especially since you are also rewarded with new cards like in the main-game should you do some events to the dealers liking. Just like a roguelight-game should do, it makes you want to try until your thumbs are broken. Being scored at the end can also give a great perspective on how well you did it and what you must beat to surpass your last run. Dying has rarely been this fun
Extra Score: 9/10
Hand of Fate is a game that is, like many other roguelights, perfect for small sessions and it shows it knows how to make the concept work. It is engaging to get cards dealt out, see how far you can go, and wonder if this DM will support or hinder your progress. The biggest issue, is the variety in enemies and cards is a tad lacking, but never to the point of making the game dull (and the latter issue is fixed with a cheap DLC should you get hooked). If you have ever been interested in seeing if you can go the distance, Hand of Fate is a trial you should not turn back on. May the cards be in your favor.