Hand of Fate strikes a very entertaining mix of gameplay complexity and well-masked cheap designs.

User Rating: 8 | Hand of Fate (Early Access) PC

INTRO:

Rogue-lite and run-based games have the player trudging through the same gameplay fundamentals over and over; this is a given. What the more competently-designed ones do though is yield more rewards and challenges to the player, encouraging the player to return with promises and/or goads. Yet, at the same time, such games tend to fall back to some mechanisms that stymie the player’s progress, such as implementation of hazards and risks.

Hand of Fate is one such game. Yet, it has more to it that makes it not easily brushed off as yet “another of those” indie games.

He would have been great at a party.
He would have been great at a party.

PREMISE:

The story is not exactly blurted out to the player from the onset. In fact, there is no significant exposition dump anywhere in the game, except perhaps at the end when a certain major character ties things together.

The protagonist is supposedly an adventurer that is undergoing a journey. The journey is somehow presented as board game sessions with the deuteragonist, who is an enigmatic character known in-game as “the dealer”.

The board game is played with magical cards that are made from the memories of the adventurer. The cards represent the choices and travails of the adventurer, who makes the decisions as the board games – and his adventures – progress. The adventurer’s ultimate goal is to defeat the “champions” of the dealer, and eventually challenge the dealer himself.

THE DEALER:

The motivations of the taciturn protagonist are never elaborated. In fact, he doesn’t even utter a single legible word.

However, the dealer will make plenty of remarks. It would become clear to the player that he is a wizened person and is quite cynical and sceptical, despite the powers that he wields. The dealer makes more than a few hints about his past and how he got to where he is now, eventually revealing them around the end.

Anyway, the dealer deals the cards, and also holds the tokens that yields more cards – including those that contain encounters with the aforementioned champions. The dealer is fair – but the cards that he deals are not always so. Indeed, he will not be informing the player about what the cards do, until the player has at least played them once.

Even then, most of what he would say about the cards are critiques about the adventurer’s choices – and by extension, the player’s. Indeed, many of his remarks breach the fourth wall – something that followers of the game might appreciate, considering that this game had a years-long Early Access phase.

THE BOARD GAME:

Prior to every session of the board game, the dealer uses his magical telekinesis to gather, shuffle and deal the cards. Some of the cards would go into the player’s Reward decks (more on these later). Some of the cards would go into the dealer’s “Pain” and “Gain” decks (more on these later too).

Some of the cards – called the “Encounter Cards” – go into forming the table-top grid of cards that the player has to go through. The player’s progress through the grid is represented by a figurine, which so happens to resemble the adventurer.

The player would be collecting treasure, fighting enemies, enjoying fortunes and suffering misfortune as the game progresses.

THE CARDS:

The cards are the proverbial building blocks of most of the gameplay. They represent the dangers and opportunities in every run, the enemies that the player would face, and the gear that the player character can have.

At the beginning, there are not many cards, which lead to simple runs. This is suitable for beginners. Eventually, more cards will be introduced, making subsequent runs more complex, more challenging and, hopefully, more entertaining.

Goblins have a magically advanced but bizarre culture in this game’s setting.
Goblins have a magically advanced but bizarre culture in this game’s setting.

TOKENS:

Tokens are the means to unlock more cards. In turn, tokens are attached to certain cards; typically, these are the cards that the player has recently unlocked. This means that the player can go on a string of card-unlocking, which can be very gratuitous.

Of course, the player still needs to put in the effort to get the tokens. Each token has its own unlock requirements, though all of them involves some narrative about more adventure lying in wait for the protagonist.

Some tokens are associated with secondary storylines. As the player unlocks more of the tokens that are associated with a secondary storyline, the player is practically pursuing a secondary quest of sorts, to use a table-top RPG term. Many tokens of this kind have their own visual designs, but they are otherwise fundamentally the same as other tokens, e.g. they unlock more cards.

Cards are only unlocked at the end of each run, successful or otherwise. Therefore, as long as the player is putting in the effort to unlock cards, the player will be doing so until the player has unlocked all content there is.

THE DEALER’S ADDITIONS:

The dealer will also add cards to the total array of cards for each run. According to him, this “spices” up the game, which is perhaps an appropriate sentiment. He adds a mix of beneficial and detrimental cards, so at first glance, this might seem balanced. Of course, in practice, the player might not encounter equal numbers of welcome and unwelcome cards, due to the luck of the draw.

These cards are shaded differently from the other cards, and also have markers at their top right corners for the sake of those that have vision issues.

DECKS – OVERVIEW:

The cards go into decks, which is to be expected from a card-based game. The decks are all stacked up though, so the cards are not visible to the player.

Presumably, the game draws cards from the top of the decks. This can be confirmed if the player does save-scum. However, this is not always the case; examples of either circumstance will be described where relevant.

The Kraken can be defeated with default gear, by the way.
The Kraken can be defeated with default gear, by the way.

ENCOUNTER DECK:

The Encounter Deck is where the Encounter cards go into, together with any additional cards that the dealer includes. When the dealer creates a grid of cards (called a “floor” in-game), he draws from the Encounter deck. Since he always draws from the top, the floors always have the same permutation of cards regardless of how many times the player save-scums. The arrangement of the cards can be different each time, however.

In Story mode, it is only at the most challenging runs that the Encounter Deck would be completely drawn out. When this happens, the dealer reshuffles all of the discarded cards into a new stack for the Encounter Deck. In other words, the player would be having another cycle of the Encounter cards. This might be welcome, if the player has been trying to get the tokens from the cards in the same run.

In the less challenging runs though – namely the ones with relatively weak champions – the player is not likely to go through the entire Encounter Deck.

In Endless mode, the converse is more likely to happen. When it happens, the Encounter Deck is reshuffled, including the cards whose tokens have been won.

Endless mode is also the only mode in which certain cards are actually useful, such as those that have different effects when encountered again. Of course, the player character has to survive until the next reshuffle.

EQUIPMENT DECK:

The Equipment Deck contains Equipment Cards. These represent the possible gear pieces that the player character may come across. It has to be emphasized here that the player will not come across any other gear pieces whose cards are not in the Deck, unless they are part of a unique scenario. Examples of the exceptions include the sword and shield in the Hero’s Remains quest.

This means that the player will have to be careful about the loadout of the Deck. Having a balanced number of cards for each category of items is essential for giving the player character a chance to power-up.

When the player character is granted a piece of equipment, the player is presented with the “Draw from Armoury” cards. This is one of the Gain cards, which is usually in the Gain Deck, which will be described later. However, certain scenario outcomes will automatically pick the next Draw from Armoury card in the Gain Deck.

The types of equipment will be described later.

In turn, the draws from the Equipment Deck can happen in one of two ways: the game grants specific types of gear, or makes a randomized draw.

In the first case, the game goes through the Equipment Deck until it reaches a card with a specific type of gear. For example, an occasion may grant a ring to the player character; thus, the dealer rifles through the deck until he comes across a card with a ring.

Any card that has been drawn before this card is discarded. This can cause the player to lose out on getting the gear pieces in these cards until the Deck is exhausted. Of course, there is not much that the player can do about this.

In the second case, the game shows a “Draw from Armoury” card. Such a case usually happens in occasions when the player character has done well-resourced NPCs a good turn, and is rewarded with something from their belongings or stores. In this case, any card that is drawn from the top of the Equipment Deck is given to the player character, or displayed as choices that the player picks from.

Having the game deal you an encounter with the White Minotaur right at the beginning of a run is unpleasant, but defeating it with default gear is a doable endeavour.
Having the game deal you an encounter with the White Minotaur right at the beginning of a run is unpleasant, but defeating it with default gear is a doable endeavour.

GAIN DECK:

The Gain Deck contains the cards that yield resources and Draw from Armoury cards. The Deck starts with the basic cards, such as cards that give a little food and gold. As the player unlocks more cards, more lucrative cards are added to the Deck, including the Draw from Armoury cards.

Depending on the outcome of a scenario, the game may make regular draws from the Gain Deck, or rifles through it for specific types of cards. This is not unlike how the game makes draws from the Equipment Deck.

PAIN DECK:

The Pain Deck contains Pain Cards. These are drawn whenever the player suffers a failure on the card choices (more on these later). Pain Cards are also drawn in circumstances where the player deliberately gets the player character harmed.

Unlike the other Decks, the Pain Deck is already fully decked out; the player would learn this the hard way if not forewarned about this.

The most common of these cards are Injury cards. These outright inflict damage on the player character. The worst ones diminish the maximum health of the player character.

SPECIFIC GAINS AND PAINS:

Most occasions have the game selecting Gain and Pain cards of very specific types.

For example, if the occasion has the player character losing his max health, the game rifles through the Pain Deck from the top for a Max Health Injury card. The first card of this kind that it comes across will be applied; the previously drawn cards are discarded, awaiting a reshuffle.

BLESSING DECK:

Blessing Cards impart ever-present benefits to the player character. Furthermore, unlike Equipment Cards, the player character can have as many of them as have been unlocked.

The Blessing Deck is not available until the player has unlocked Blessing Cards. Typically, this only happens after the player has unlocked Encounter Cards that yield these cards.

Unless they are bought, the player character will never be given specific Blessings; the grants are always random, or to be precise, according to how the Deck was shuffled.

Any Blessings that are lost can be regained later; they simply await reshuffling.

CURSE DECK:

The Curse Deck contains Curse cards. Curse cards are the nasty counterparts to Blessing cards; they impart ever-present penalties. Most of them are debilitating.

This Deck is unlocked at the same time as the Blessing Deck, and it is already complete. Together with the Pain Deck, Hand of Fate would remind the new player that it is not a pleasantly easy game.

Liches are much easier after their minions are dead.
Liches are much easier after their minions are dead.

STORY MODE:

This is the default mode of the game. The player selects the card that represents one of the dealers’ champions. This card usually imparts some benefits and disadvantages – mostly disadvantages – to the player’s runs. The cards with stronger champions usually lead to longer runs, which add to their challenge while also providing more opportunities to power-up the player character for the boss fights.

Every run in Story mode sets up floors with cards drawn from the player’s Encounter Deck, together with cards that the champion’s card would add. Therefore, Runs in Story mode has considerable consistency.

ENDLESS MODE:

After defeating the “Jack of Plagues” (more on this character later), the player unlocks Endless Mode. This mode is entirely optional, and it will always end with the player character’s demise or forfeiture on the player’s part.

As mentioned earlier, runs in Endless mode will eventually go through the Encounter Deck. However, after every floor of cards, the dealer sticks Curses onto the player character, or just apply Injury cards. The deeper floors have the dealer applying even more, until the player character is effectively hobbled.

Of course, the player could be deft or lucky enough to shrug these off as they come. Even so, runs in Endless mode are as advertised; they will never be completed.

Thus, the player would likely play this mode for the purpose of unlocking tokens. On the other hand, the player could play runs in Story mode for the same purpose.

TABLE-TOP GAMEPLAY – FOREWORD:

Having described the fundamentals of the card-based gameplay, this review would henceforth refer to the portion of the gameplay that visually occurs on a table-top as the “table-top mode”.

For better or worse, the player’s experience with the game would take place mostly in this mode. This part of the gameplay features good writing, but it is also unfortunately where Hand of Fate is as its most irritating.

As mentioned earlier, the player’s progress through a run is represented as a golden figurine that is moving across arrangements of cards. Each card in the arrangement is an Encounter Card. Upon the player’s piece having moved onto a card, the player is shown the narrative concerning that card.

Some cards are little more than this, in which case the player just buttons through the text after reading them, and then continue with the table-top mode. Examples of these cards include some of the cards that advance a secondary storyline.

Some others come with a card-guessing mini-game, which will be described shortly.

Enemy introductions are always accompanied by very dark backgrounds.
Enemy introductions are always accompanied by very dark backgrounds.

“CHANCE EVENTS”:

The mini-game is called a “chance event”, according to the game’s parlance. In this mini-game, the dealer draws four of the cards that are used for such an occasion.

These cards represent the possible outcomes of the occasion. There are two types of these cards: “Success” and “Failure”. Each is further categorized into two subtypes: “Regular” and “Huge”. For most chance events, the cards are mostly Regular ones. If there are Huge variants, there is usually only one card of either type.

The ratio of Success cards to Failure ones is usually equal, but there are chance events where the ratio can vary. Furthermore, certain chance events even have varying ratios in subsequent encounters with them. For example, the first chance event of the Treasure Chest encounter usually has equal ratio of Success to Failure cards, but in later runs there is just one Success card.

Generally, the player wants Successes; these give rewards, or let the player progress without any hassle. Huge Successes usually give rewards, which are better than those granted by regular Successes, if any. The results of these outcomes can vary tremendously from one type of Encounter to another.

In some cases, the aforementioned ratios and outcomes may be dependent on the player character’s gear. For example, the River encounter requires a chance event if the player wants to get past this card on the table-top arrangement. Almost any outcome would let the player get past the card, but the if the player character is wearing Heavy Armour, the Huge Failure outcome would not only inflict damage but also causes the card arrangement to be reset because the player character has been swept elsewhere.

CARD-SHUFFLING:

After the dealer draws the cards, the cards are turned around so that their faces are obscured. Then, they are shuffled and spread out. The player has to choose one of the cards. The face of this card is then revealed, and it is considered as the outcome – unless the player has the Guardian Angel blessing, in which case the player gets to have another chance after the cards are reshuffled.

An observant player could ostensibly track the cards; an unscrupulous one could record the shuffling and watch the playback. This gameplay element is definitely not as fickle and frustrating as pure RNG rolls, which would have been quite awful for the table-top mode of Hand of Fate. After all, this is a matter of “what you see is what you get”; if the player can confidently track the cards, the card that the player picks would be certain to be the one that the player wants.

However, the shuffling methods can vary considerably. Usually, the tougher Chance Events have the shuffling go faster, but the player can get lucky such that the shuffling is slow.

Of course, players with vision issues concerning tracking of things would have a problem here, but so would they have a problem with other parts of the gameplay if tracking cards is a problem for them.

UNLOCKING TOKENS THROUGH CHANCE EVENTS:

Some tokens can only be unlocked through chance events, for better or worse (worse, in my opinion). Most of them have to be unlocked through Successes, with some requiring Huge Successes. A rare few actually require Failures, or even Huge Failures. (These latter ones appear late into the playthrough.)

Without referring to the wiki for the game, the player would not know which cards to go for. Unless the player makes a lucky guess, the player would have to spend time going through entire runs in the Story mode or cycles in Endless mode to get the Encounter card with the token again.

The Maiden is likely to be in any player’s deck – it is all good. The dealer does have a snide remark about this though.
The Maiden is likely to be in any player’s deck – it is all good. The dealer does have a snide remark about this though.

FOOD CONSUMPTION, HUNGER & NATURAL HEALING:

When the player character moves from one card to another, he automatically consumes one point of Food. This happens whether the cards have been revealed or not, and regardless of his health level.

If the player character runs out of food, he starts losing health on each move instead. On the other hand, if he is wounded and he is eating food, he will heal some hit-points. Indeed, it might be in the player’s interest to backtrack in order to regain health while moving forward again.

There are certain gear pieces and curses that have the player eating Gold instead of Food. This is hilarious, but otherwise the fundamentals of food consumption remains the same.

SHOPS:

Shop Encounters let the player spend gold on making purchases in order to resupply Food or power-up the player character with gear. The player can also sell excess gear at the shops – something that the player might want to do before ending runs in Story mode.

There are certain gear pieces, blessings and curses that can affect the outcome of transactions at shops. The player will want to keep track of these in order to optimize the player’s time at Shops.

Shops are generally peaceful encounters, but after certain storylines have been completed, the player character might be ambushed by mages.

As for what the shops offer, the variety depends on the type of shop. To cite some examples, the simply-named “Shop” sells any tangible piece of gear; Blessings are only ever sold by itinerary priests. They draw their offerings from the Equipment Deck, by the way, so the player could still do some window-shopping and see what could be had next from occasions that give Gain Cards to the player.

FORFEITING:

At any time during a run, the player can choose to forfeit. This counts as having ended the run. The player would likely do this if the player already has tokens that are desired.

ONLY ONE SAVE FILE:

The game has only one auto-save for any player profile. There is no in-game method to rollback any progress. If the player wants to start another playthrough while keeping the previous one, the player needs to make back-ups of the auto-save. The lack of a feature to have multiple playthroughs can appear unseemly.

SAVE-SCUMMING:

Hand of Fate is one of those indies that try to stretch the player’s experience with the game by having the player play run after run, while introducing many situations in which the player might lose the run.

Yet, there is also a feature that updates the aforementioned auto-save regularly, for the sake of people who want to take a break from the game. Specifically, the auto-save updates itself after the scenario of an Encounter card has been resolved, or when the player has changed the player character’s gear loadout.

Unscrupulous players might want to take advantage of this by either force-quitting the game when unfavourable outcomes are revealed. Resuming the game would put the player at the point just before the Encounter card.

Most of the upgrades that enemies are merely statistical, but some of them do actually make them trickier.
Most of the upgrades that enemies are merely statistical, but some of them do actually make them trickier.

FIGHTS – OVERVIEW:

There will be plenty of fighting; quite a lot of the Encounters lead to fights. All runs will end with boss fights against the dealer’s champions, to cite the most prominent examples.

Fights take place in a gameplay mode that is different from the table-top mode. Most fights are actually easy, especially for a player that is seasoned in third-person fighting gameplay.

However, the player character has very, very few means of healing – none most of the time, in fact. Therefore, the player will want to be as efficient as possible, at least until the boss fight of every run in Story mode.

That said, combat is mostly about the player’s skill, though there are a few factors of luck, most of which are manageable.

The following are elaborations and complaints about the fighting in this game.

NO CONTROL OVER CAMERA:

The first and foremost complaint is the design of the camera. Simply put, the player has no control over it whatsoever.

The reason for this is that the levels in which the fights take place are actually only partially complete. Whichever portion of the level that is not shown on-screen actually does not have any visual assets there. Much of the background is actually skybox texture with normal mapping and some animations.

Fortunately, most of the time, the camera is good enough at following the player character and showing what is relatively ahead of him as the player moves him around. Since most enemies depend on melee attacks, the camera would be showing most of them.

However, the ones that use ranged attacks can be off-screen. Thankfully, there are ways to counter them, as will be described later.

MOSTLY CRAMPED LEVELS:

The levels are mostly cramped places. This is perhaps understandable, because the adventurer is moving through places that are not exactly known for having wide open spaces.

The most notable of these are the arenas in the Crucible, which has its own Encounter Card. There is not a lot of space to move about, so the player will have to be aggressive early on in order to clear some enemies and make some space.

There are a few places where there is plenty of space, but these are usually reserved for fights against large enemies or enemies with ranged attacks.

The River card does not offer a lot of rewards for doing it successfully. In fact, it is a hindrance that the player will want to keep out of the Encounter Deck.
The River card does not offer a lot of rewards for doing it successfully. In fact, it is a hindrance that the player will want to keep out of the Encounter Deck.

COMBAT ROLLS:

The protagonist appears to be the only fighter that is capable of performing combat rolls; no other person exhibits such finesse.

That said, the player would be using combat rolls to get out of harm’s way. However, the player will want to keep in mind that combat rolls do not impart invulnerability, unlike the combat rolls in Souls-like games, for example.

Hits on the player character when he is rolling will be applied, meaning that the player will want to roll out of the way as soon as the player sees the wind-up animations of attacks from enemies. The hits can kill the player character, but if he does not die from this, his roll will not be interrupted, which is fortunate.

Still, due to the cramped spaces of the levels, the player will have to be mindful of where the player character would roll to.

SLOW ENEMIES:

Compared to the player character, even at his default speed, most enemies are slow. Indeed, one of the essential ways to fight is to make a few hits and dodge out of the way, because the almost-always numerically superior enemies will eventually mob the player character if he does not disengage frequently.

Most enemies are also slow on the attack. This can seem comical, such as the Bandits’ winding up of their axe and sword swings. Nonetheless, this noticeable wind-up is the player’s cue to get out of the way.

HIT COUNTERS & TIME SLOWING:

A counter shows the number of consecutive hits that the player character has landed, spaced at a generous four seconds or less between each. This counter is not just for show.

As the number rises, everything other than the player character and the camera seem to slow down, almost imperceptibly when the hit counter are less than 20. However, at high numbers, the player character practically becomes a whirling dervish from the perspective of enemies.

However, the hit counter is lost if the player character takes a hit, gets a hit blocked by a shield-bearing enemy, or hits air for more than one attack.

PRIMARY ATTACK COMBOS:

The player character’s primary attack is performed using whichever weapon that he is wielding. All weapons are single-handed and have either a haft or a handle, so he uses all of them in the same way.

Speaking of which, he has a strong arm that is capable of wielding the heftiest hammer in the same manner as a slim sword. He might have terrible grace, but his absurdly fantastic footwork compensates for that. A flurry of landed hits would knock down most enemies his size or smaller, and multiple flurries can even knock down large ones – assuming that they could all happen consecutively, of course.

Vanquished bosses eventually have their cards drawn alongside those for regular enemies.
Vanquished bosses eventually have their cards drawn alongside those for regular enemies.

ENEMIES TAKING TURNS:

Despite their numerical superiority, the enemies do not simultaneously attack the player character. Instead, they behave like the enemies in the earlier Assassin’s Creed games, in which enemies surround the player character but only one of them would be making a melee attack at any time.

This might seem contrived, but like in those Ubisoft titles, this is necessary. This is because these enemies would otherwise destroy the player character if they have managed to surround the player character.

However, consecutive attacks from different enemies can come in quick succession, especially if there are enemies with ranged attacks among them. Fortunately, the game does have wide windows of opportunity for the player to do something about them; there will be more elaboration on this later.

WARNINGS:

Even with the player character’s alacrity and the incompetence of enemies, the player would be hard-pressed to fend off many enemies in cramped environments. Thus, the player character has the uncanny ability to somehow detect incoming attacks, including those from his blind spots. This is presented in the form of visual cues and also slow-downs of in-game time.

To elaborate, an enemy that is making an attack on the player character has symbols appearing over its head. These can be jagged arrows for enemies that are making melee attacks, and sharper arrows for those that are making ranged attacks.

In the case of enemies making melee attacks, there are two types of attacks, each with their own visual cues. The attacks with green cues can be interrupted (more on this later), but the attacks with red (and visually gnarly) cues cannot be stopped unless the attacker is killed. The red cues are generally there to suggest to the player that the player character should be making a combat roll to get out of the way.

In the case of enemies making ranged attacks, there are actually two phases to the warnings. There are the arrows appearing over these enemies, and then other different symbols appearing over the player character’s head. This is the player’s cue to deflect the projectiles back.

There are also red warnings for certain ranged attacks. These have symbols with different shapes too. That said, these ranged attacks cannot be deflected.

The visual cues for these warnings do not appear if the player character does not have a shield. The slow-downs are retained, but the visual cues are far better aid for dealing with enemy attacks.

Some floor exits have ambushes. There is no way to know which ones have them, other than save-scumming.
Some floor exits have ambushes. There is no way to know which ones have them, other than save-scumming.

SHIELD – FOREWORD:

At the beginning of the playthrough, the player character does not have any shield. This is alright for dealing with the clumsy bandits, but later runs make a shield necessary due to reasons that have already been mentioned earlier.

That said, having a shield enables three combat moves: the shield-bash, melee counter and projectile reflection. The shield does not actually provide any passive protection to the player character like typical shields in video games would.

SHIELD-BASHING:

In lieu of using the primary attack, the player character can hit enemies with the front of the shield. This does inflict damage, though less so than the primary attack. On the other hand, this is guaranteed to stagger any enemy that is not already immune to getting staggered. This is also the only way to break the shield-guard of any enemy that is using a shield. (Interestingly, stagger-immune enemies that are shield-guarding can have their guard broken with a shield-bash anyway.)

MELEE COUNTER:

When the relevant symbol appears over the head of an enemy that is making a melee attack, the player can have the player character counter the enemy. This has the player character hitting the enemy with his shield, or sidestepping around and behind the enemy to strike the latter with his weapon.

The facing of the player character relative to the facing of the enemy does not matter; the player character will land the hit. This means that the player only needs to make the control input in time, which is convenient.

Time also slows down for everyone else when the player character is countering an enemy. The player can then follow up with other strikes; the enemy is usually opened up for quite a number of hits, with the exception of Lizardmen (more on these later).

PROJECTILE REFLECTION:

Making the control input for a counter when the symbol for an incoming projectile is over the head of the player character has him reflect the projectile. The projectile appears to speed up, just in time to be hit by an absurdly well-timed swing of the player character’s shield.

The projectile can be almost anything: throwing daggers, magic orbs, flaming spit and fireballs. It can seem outrageous that the player character can reflect even spells. Oddly though, despite his absurd finesse, he cannot deflect gunshots.

Anyway, the projectiles not only do not hurt him, but are reflected back to their sources. Incidentally, most enemies are not immune to their own ranged attacks. Indeed, much later in the game, certain enemies can only be reliably harmed by having their projectiles reflected back to them.

PRONE FINISHERS:

The player character’s primary attack combo eventually progresses to powerful hits that can knock down most enemies. Knocked-down enemies take quite a long while to get up, so the player could ignore them and go after the other enemies instead.

Alternatively, the player could go after the downed enemy. This has the player character mercilessly hitting the downed enemy. At the third attack, the player character goes for a finishing blow. If this blow connects, the enemy is outright killed, regardless of how much health that it has left.

Treasure chests yield a lot of goodies, but they require two consecutive chance events, the first being worse than the second.
Treasure chests yield a lot of goodies, but they require two consecutive chance events, the first being worse than the second.

BALANCING TO FINISHERS:

During the Early Access phase of this game, the developer discovered that skilled players would resort to finishers a lot. This made many fights rather trivial.

Therefore, the launch version of the game and onwards gives enemies a chance to avoid the killing blow – which is perhaps the only convincing finesse that they ever exhibit.

If the player character attempts a finisher on a downed enemy that still has a lot of its health remaining, the finisher generally fails to connect. However, there are exceptions: if the player has racked up a high hit counter, or if the player character is under the effect of an acceleration power, the finisher will connect. This is the gratuitous reward for the player having powered-up the player character.

If the player character attempts a finisher on a downed enemy that is already near-death, the finisher will connect. Of course, this is not really that much more rewarding.

Interestingly, the player can choose to use the shield instead of the weapon to perform a finisher; the player character uses the edge of the shield in a lethal manner. There is no gameplay difference, however.

GEAR - FOREWORD:

As mentioned earlier, the player can gain the pieces of gear whose cards have been placed in the player’s Equipment Deck. The player can have any permutation of gear in the Deck, but it is generally a good idea to have at least one of every type of gear in the Deck. These types of gear will be described shortly.

WEAPONS:

These are the pieces of equipment that the player character uses to eliminate enemies with. The player character always starts with one. Early on, this is the Rusty Axe, which is the worst weapon in the game but which the player character always has access to.

After obtaining the first relic from the dealer, the regular Axe replaces the Rusty Axe as the player character’s starting weapon. This does not become his default weapon, however; the regular Axe is implemented as an actual item, so it can be lost. If such a case happens, the player character reverts to the Rusty Axe (presumably picking it up from somewhere).

It is in the player’s interest to get at least one of the magical weapons in the game. These do more damage than mundane weapons, but their true worth is their magical properties. For example, the Thunderstrike Mace is perhaps one of the most powerful weapons in the game, because its special power is to wreath the player character in an aura of lightning that automatically harms nearby enemies.

The player character can amass any number of weapons. However, the player character can only ever bring just one weapon into a fight; he cannot change it during one.

Having the right weapon for the next fight would be great. However, without save-scumming, the player would not know what is coming up next.

Focus on getting locked cards out of the way as soon as possible. They are often unpleasant, and they gunk up the Encounter Deck.
Focus on getting locked cards out of the way as soon as possible. They are often unpleasant, and they gunk up the Encounter Deck.

SHIELDS, AGAIN:

The player character will use any shield in the same way, regardless of their size. However, some shields have additional properties that either help him during combat, or during the table-top mode of the gameplay (there will be more on this later too).

For an example of a shield with properties that help in combat, there is the Skeleton King Shield. According to the narrative, this is a trophy from defeating the King of Skulls. The player character cannot use it to fire the magical beam that the King of Skulls uses during his boss fight, however.

For an example of a shield with properties that help during the table-top mode, there is the Shield of Fortitude. At every third card with the shield equipped on the player character’s person, the player character does not consume food.

HEADWEAR:

The game calls headwear “helmets”, but some of the items that go onto the player character’s head are definitely not helmets.

That said, all helmets have magical properties. Like those on magical shields, these may either help the player during combat or during the table-top mode.

Otherwise, headwear has no other purpose (except perhaps making the player character look goofy).

ARMOUR:

The player character begins with regular Light Armour by default. If he upgrades to different Armour items and somehow lose them, he will revert back to regular Light Armor.

That said, there are three grades of armour: Light, Medium and Heavy. The heavier grades provide more protection, but noticeably slows down the player character’s on-foot movement; attack speed is not affected, fortunately. A regular version of each grade of armour exists. In fact, the player character is eventually upgraded to start any run with the regular Medium armour.

There are magical suits of armor. Again, like shields and headwear, most of them grant properties that either help the player in combat or in the table-top mode. Otherwise, they function like the regular versions of armour, according to their stipulated grade. The exception is Mithril Armour, which is light armour that grants the protection of heavy armour.

RINGS:

There are very few games with fantastical settings and loadouts for the player character that would pass on the concept of magical jewellery. These provide benefits that are at best statistical; after all, they are not expected to do much of anything else, other than looking like expensive bling. Thus, they are not terribly difficult to technically implement.

Hand of Fate is not an exception. Just like shields and helmets, rings impart benefits for either combat or the table-top mode.

Interestingly though, Hand of Fate would not follow the usual gameplay-balancing trope for rings, e.g. one ring on each hand. Instead, the player character can have ten of them, one for each finger. There are no excuses like “jealous enchantments” that prevent the player character from wearing so many rings. Therefore, it might be in the player’s interest to load the Equipment Deck with ten of the rings that the player favours most.

The Crucible fights are emblematic of the cramped arenas in the game.
The Crucible fights are emblematic of the cramped arenas in the game.

ARM-WEAR:

The player character can also wear gloves and wraps around his hands and arms. These impart magical benefits, just like headwear.

Oddly though, there are no magical footwear.

ARTEFACTS:

Next, there are artefacts. These do not impart benefits to the player character until they are activated during combat. The effects are temporary, but they are considerable.

For example, the Mercenary Contract artefact lets the player character beat gold coins out of enemies every few hits or so. It is absurd, but juggling between hitting enemies and collecting the gold is entertaining.

By default, the artefacts have cooldown timers that are longer than their effects, so the player cannot ostensibly use them throughout a fight. However, there are certain blessings and gear pieces that can reduce the cooldowns.

There is another balancing measure. This is the number of times that the artefact can be used. Afterwards, the artefact can no longer be used and it is discarded.

BLESSINGS & CURSES:

Blessings are perhaps the “gear” that the player would covet the most. This is because blessings can be stacked without any limit, and all of them will be active. Conversely, the player would not want to accumulate Curses, all of which are debilitating.

The player can see the Blessings and Curses that the player character has accumulated. There is not much that the player can do about them, but there are a number of Encounter cards concerning infernal entities that will count the number of Blessings and Curses that the player character has.

ENEMIES – FOREWORD:

When a fight occurs, the dealer draws cards that represent the quality and quantity of enemies that would be trying to kill the player character. These cards are placed in the combat area, and enemies climb out of the cards.

As mentioned earlier, most enemies are slow compared to the player character and take turns attacking him. Still, the player character is badly outnumbered, so the player needs to be serious about crowd management.

That said, crowd management requires the player to identify enemies according to their archetypes and then adapt his/her tactics accordingly. This is quite easy, thanks to how enemies are designed.

This is a long and repetitive quest line, but some of the rings and food gain cards are great long-term rewards.
This is a long and repetitive quest line, but some of the rings and food gain cards are great long-term rewards.

ENEMIES AND HAZARDS:

Enemies are generally ignorant of the presence of hazards. Even if they are being harmed by hazards, they will not move out of the way. Hence, it is possible for a cunning player to lure them into hazards.

ENEMIES AND THEIR AREA-EFFECT ATTACKS:

Some enemies can perform area-effect attacks. These will not affect enemies of the exact same type. However, they can injure enemies of other kinds. Therefore, it is in the player’s interest to exploit this, such as having bosses harm their own minions.

THE SUITS – OVERVIEW:

Conveniently, the enemies are categorized according to suits of cards. The suits are Dust, Skulls, Plague and Scales. Each suit of enemies poses its own challenges, though the Dust suit is generally easier than the others.

The following passages are about the numbered of these suits. The faces of the suits will be described later.

DUST:

Dust enemies are bandits. They might be humans, but it is clear that the human protagonist is leagues above them in skill. Indeed, they are the starting enemies, and without any upgrades, they are pushovers.

However, the bandits are soon upgraded to be able to throw daggers. After that, they begin to automatically distribute themselves between throwing daggers and mobbing the player character in melee.

They still remain the least of enemies though. On the other hand, there are no gear pieces or Blessings that specifically exploit them.

PLAGUE:

The Ratmen are the suit of Plague. The Ratmen are very much like the Skaven of Warhammer Fantasy; they are humanoid rodents who reproduce wildly and spread disease.

The bulk of them are wretched but fast. They often number at least four to a card, though later runs have six of them to a card.

Sometimes, and more often if they are a lot of them, there are ratmen skirmishers behind the wretches. These try to stay as far away from the player as possible while trying javelins at the player character. These are quite bothersome, but they can be tricked into moving into hazards.

Later, the wretches gain the ability to pounce at the player character. If their pounce connects, the player character is knocked down; this is one of very few occurrences in which the player character can lose his footing. He regains his footing quickly, but in that time, he is still vulnerable to any incoming attacks.

All Plague enemies emit toxic vapours when they die. The vapours eventually go away, but for as long as they stay around, they act as area denial. If the player character lingers for over a second near them, he will be poisoned and eventually lose about a dozen hit points in total.

The death animations are goofy, but they are still better than lazy rag-dolling.
The death animations are goofy, but they are still better than lazy rag-dolling.

SKULLS:

As their name suggests already, these enemies are fantastical undead. To be specific, these appear to be undead conquistadors. They are described in-game as the footsoldiers of a long-gone empire, specifically one that has developed gunpowder weaponry and colonial-era steel. With such an advanced technological base, it was unclear as to how their empire fell in the first place – though them being undead may be a clue.

That said, gameplay-wise, these undead soldiers often appear in two groups: one group is composed of musketeers, whereas the other group are footmen with swords and shields. The ones with swords and shields alternate in between trying to hit the player character with long wound-up attacks, and holding out their shields in the hope of the player character wasting his attacks on them.

Amusingly, the melee skeletons can have their shield-arms knocked off, which disables the ability to use their shields.

The musketeers attempt to move into positions to get clear shots at the player character. The musketeer’s ranged attacks cannot be deflected; they can only be dodged. However, the player can trick the musketeers into hitting their compatriots, which is satisfying.

Later, the undead soldiers are upgraded to have the typical trait of fantastical skeletal monsters: they can reanimate themselves. Not all of them can do so though; this seems to be randomized. However, the Skull suit’s faces can reanimate skeletons or spawn replacements.

Reanimated skeletons are not entirely restored; they can be missing shield-arms. Respawned skeletons are completely restored, however.

SCALES:

The Lizardmen are the suit of Scales. Borrowing again from Warhammer Fantasy, the Lizardmen of this game are anthropomorphic saurian warriors. They wield heavy gear fashioned from reptile shells, stone and metal. They are also the physically toughest among the suits, and hit the hardest.

The bulk of the rank-and-file are sword-and-shield warriors. These behave a lot like the Skull warriors, with the addition of a few moves unique to them. They may do a tail swipe, which cannot be countered, but can be shield-bashed against. Speaking of counters, they have an angry response to counters, which is an unstoppable swing.

Some of the non-boss Lizardmen are flame-spitting fire support. Not unlike the other ranged enemies, these hang back to spit their fireballs. Peculiarly, despite their volatile looks, the fireballs pass through enemies, just like javelins and daggers.

Fighting a lot of Lizardmen can be daunting. Incidentally, there are at least two pieces of gear that have hard-counters against them.

Like Charity, Demon Trader is a long and repetitive quest-line, but it yields cards for great rings.
Like Charity, Demon Trader is a long and repetitive quest-line, but it yields cards for great rings.

FACES – OVERVIEW:

The Faces of the suits (called the “Court” in-game) are much more difficult than the grunts. This is to be expected, because they are meant to be bosses. They eventually become part of the enemies that the player would fight regularly, because the dealer ups the ante in order to balance against the player character’s burgeoning power. Therefore, it is in the player’s interest to figure out what each of them can do.

The following are notable similarities between Faces of the same rank. One of these is that the Faces generally come together with additional goons too.

THE JACKS:

The jacks are melee-oriented bruisers. There may be differences between them, but their most frequent method of offense is to get close to the player character to hit him.

Minor unique traits are applied to each of them. For example, the Jack of Dust steals gold from the player if he lands hits, thus compounding the setback from being hit by him. Incidentally, he is also the Jack that gets drawn the most in non-boss fights.

THE QUEENS:

The Queens are always accompanied by autonomous support. This is usually a static edifice, such as the pillar of bones that is spawned together with the Queen of Skulls. The edifices usually shoot things at the player character, but the pillar of bones works differently: it returns fallen Skulls to the fray as soon as they are defeated.

As for the Queens themselves, they have variable methods of harming the player character. The Queen of Dust is a bruiser that is very fast on her feet and has an unstoppable combo. The Queen of Plagues can throw javelins, but also has a hook-line that she can use to reel the player character in. The Queen of Skulls has a hand-cannon, and the Queen of Fire breathes fire.

THE KINGS:

The Kings are practically vastly powered-up versions of the Jacks. They are much tougher and hit harder, and use their special abilities more frequently than the Jacks do with their own. Almost all of them can bolster their minions, or even reinforce them. The only exception is the King of Plague, who goes on the offensive from the get-go.

Speaking of buffs to the minions, these are the main reason for the player to go after the Kings first. Fights with the Kings can drag for too long if the player does not do so.

OTHER ENEMIES:

During the development of the game, there were enemies that the developer introduced in order to mix up the composition of enemies. However, they were not easily packaged into suits due to their thematic and gameplay designs. Thus, they are presented in-game as their own suits, but will be referred to by their names in this article.

These other enemies will never be upgraded throughout the game. Therefore, the player can use them as a means of gauging how far the player character has come.

It should be a no-brainer which enemy card should be removed – unless the player is a masochist with something to prove.
It should be a no-brainer which enemy card should be removed – unless the player is a masochist with something to prove.

HELL:

The Hell suit is perhaps the least interesting of the other enemies. This is because they are practically re-skinned Ratmen. They do not get the upgrades that Ratmen get, but that is not necessary because they have far greater hit points than Ratmen.

If there are large numbers of these demonic Ratmen around, one of them is replaced with a demonic version of the Jack of Plagues. This is just a tougher and bigger version of the smaller demons though.

MAGES:

Mages begin to appear after the player has encountered what pass for magic-users in the game’s fantastical world. The Mages are the frailest enemies; even the Ratmen becomes tougher than them as the playthrough progresses. Indeed, after the player character has his damage output upgraded, they go down laughably easily.

If they have been tougher, they would have been able to use their spells more effectively. For example, there is their line-producing spell, which is an effective area denial weapons.

LAVA GOLEMS:

Lava golems are there to be elite grunts. They are very tough, and have means of repelling the player character if they are being pressured. They are very resistant to fire weapons, as to be expected from their nature.

There is a major complaint about them though. They have large models and there tend to be quite a number of them. Therefore, they have the tendency to block the player’s view of the rest of the arena.

LICHES:

Liches are likely meant to be the Queen of Skulls, but were probably dropped because their necromantic trappings do not fit the theme of conquistadors. There is also the matter of them being very difficult to kill, more so than the Faces of the Skull suit.

Anyway, Liches attack by staying quite far away and firing fast-moving and hard-hitting spells. Reflecting these back is usually the most risk-free way to eliminate them, but they can take a lot of damage. The player will want to rush them, but even so, they will teleport away when they have taken some hits, while leaving behind pool of dark energy that will harm the player character if he lingers in them for too long.

After they have lost enough health, they will perform a spell that kills one of the other enemies; this sacrifice is selected randomly. This restores their health, but It is unclear how much health that they regain. Sometimes, the liches can be observed sacrificing consecutive enemies.

In the Story mode runs, the dealer will introduce hindrance cards into the Encounter Deck. These encounters are wholly troublesome.
In the Story mode runs, the dealer will introduce hindrance cards into the Encounter Deck. These encounters are wholly troublesome.

MINOTAURS:

The Minotaurs are introduced to the mix of enemies through a secondary questline. Even so, the game does eventually draw Minotaurs as enemies anyway, so it is in the new player’s interest to learn about them first in a controlled manner, namely through the aforementioned questline.

That said, a Minotaur is a daunting opponent. All of its attacks cannot be countered – only dodged. Its primary means of attack is to slam its flail about, tracking the player character; every slam is around a second in between, thus there is next to no window of opportunity to hit them. There are no cooldowns in between these onslaughts either; the most that the player can get in is one hit before it starts slamming around again.

Its other attack is to charge at the player character. It cannot change direction mid-charge, so this might seem like a good way to have it damage other enemies and get it into traps. Indeed, this is the safest way to harm a Minotaur.

There is a special Minotaur that applies after-effects to its attacks. These after-effects grant area-effect powers to the Minotaur. Fortunately, this Minotaur is only ever fought in a special Encounter card that the player can choose to include in the Encounter Deck.

KRAKEN:

The Kraken is one of the two bosses that do not actually move about in the arena space; these bosses’ physical form moves about outside the arena instead. Incidentally, they also happen to be gigantic compared to the player character.

Anyway, the Kraken is – surprisingly – not a squid-thing as video game kraken tend to be. Rather, it has a draconic head, which does indeed breathe fire. Meanwhile, it has tentacles that slam down on the player character. Thus, Hand of Fate has managed to somehow feature a creature that could pass as a dragon and as a giant squid.

The Kraken also features multi-phase boss fights. These can be challenging, because the player character has no readily available means of healing.

The other boss that has a huge form and multiple phases would not be mentioned here. However, it should be obvious as to who this is.

HARDER TO REFLECT RANGED ATTACKS AT CLOSER RANGES:

At long ranges, reflecting ranged attacks that can be reflected is easy. Indeed, the game immediately accelerates the ranged attacks so that the player character somehow gets to deflect them in time with his shield-swinging animation.

At closer ranges though, the player has to make the control input for countering as soon as the symbol appears, or it hits. Indeed, if the player character is right in front of the enemy, the ranged attack can hardly be reflected at all.

Therefore, getting close to such enemies carries its own risks, even though this is the quickest way to get rid of them.

ENEMY-CENTRIC GEAR AND BLESSINGS:

As mentioned earlier, there are gear pieces and blessings that are specifically designed to be used against certain kinds of enemies. Usually, these inflict extra damage on them, or the player character reaps some benefits from killing those enemies.

For example, the dubious blessing that is Lizard-Eater grants the player character a bit of health upon having killed a Lizardman. For another example, the Rat Cleaver has substantially increased damage when used against the Ratmen.

Unfortunately, if the player does not cheat, the player will not find it easy to utilize these gear pieces efficiently. This is because such a player could not know what is coming next, much less which enemy cards would be drawn. Those who do cheat can do so, which makes the game a lot easier.

With enough snazzy gear, a boss fight can be completed in under 20 seconds.
With enough snazzy gear, a boss fight can be completed in under 20 seconds.

VISUAL DESIGNS:

Being an indie game, it is clear that Hand of Fate is trying to reach for ambitious heights by going for 3D graphics. Its developers appear to have delivered, but observant players might notice the methods that they use to mask their lack of time and resources to portray truly convincing results.

There are clever camera angles that hide the limited number of visual assets for the game. The lack of any legible voice acting other than the dealer’s also minimizes the need for lip-synching. The dealer may be voiced, but the veil over his mouth negates any need for lip-synching.

Another convenient visual design is that the player character uses all weapons in the same manner. That they are all single-handed implements make this possible. Of course, players who are better versed in the use of medieval weaponry would point out that the player character is not using them in any way that is authentic.

The game also resorts to shifting the player character’s model rapidly. There are animation scripts that make these transitions visually palatable, but it would be obvious that the player character moves more like a Batman-like superhero than a medieval fighter.

Amusingly, all human characters, with the exception of the dealer, look rather savage, almost to the point of goofiness. There are a lot of agape mouths, because most of their utterances are shouts and yells.

The non-humans, of course, do not need much lip-synching because they have forms that are definitely not human, despite their anthropomorphic frames. They do have impressive animations, and most of them had been there since the Early Access days of the game. This suggests that they have been visual assets that the developers have been working on before the debut of the game. It would not be surprising if they had been assets for a work involving Warhammer Fantasy.

For a game that was made during the waning days of DirectX 9 and 10, Hand of Fate looks quite good. This is so, considering the amount of lighting, shadowing and animations that could be had from the limited view that the uncontrollable camera gives.

SOUND DESIGNS:

As mentioned already, there are no legible voice-overs other than those for the dealer, whose voice-actor was changed during the development of the game. Still, the voice-actor delivers very good performance – which is perhaps just as well because the dealer is sitting behind a table almost all the time.

As for everyone, expect grunts, yells and screams. They could all have been voiced by the same actor, even, considering that the inhuman voices could have been the result of someone straining his voice, before the results are passed through more audio filters.

There are many sound effects to be heard, though most are par for the course. Firstly, there is the usual clash of metal on metal or metal on flesh that is to be expected from combat in a video game with fantastical settings. Then, there are the typically artificial noises that play out when there are magical occurrences.

Perhaps as an unpleasant surprise, the final battle has quick-time events. They have wide windows of input though.
Perhaps as an unpleasant surprise, the final battle has quick-time events. They have wide windows of input though.

The sounds of cards being flipped or shuffled are noises that were not common in games with fantastical settings during the debut of Hand of Fate. (They certainly are now at this time of writing, by the way.) The sounds won’t help the player identify cards, but they do indicate when there would be a shuffling and guessing round or when enemy encounters occur, to cite some examples.

There are not many music tracks, and they are frequently switched anyway. Each track is used for a scene that the game is currently displayed, such as the modification of the player’s decks or the view of the dealer waiting for the player to select either Story or Endless mode. The most memorable of them is perhaps the one that plays in the credits; it has more than a few self-referential lines in its lyrics.

SUMMARY:

It might not look like it, but Hand of Fate is actually a budget game. Its Kickstarter campaign might have been successful and it had a long Early Access phase, but it is very much a budget game, made from the toil of a handful of developers. Hints of this can be seen in the cleverly but not extensively crafted aesthetic assets for the game.

Still, such effort is laudable, because it would have to be a jaded cynic that would observe the game for such flaws. To others, the results would have made for a very convincing case of a Kickstarted indie-game that came out very much alright.

As for the gameplay, it has perhaps the best implementation of probability-based gameplay mechanisms in indie games thus far. There are fickle procedural generators and success still requires familiarity and perseverance on the part of the player, but much of the second-by-second gameplay is a test of the player’s skill rather than luck.