Hand of Fate: the Worth of a Gimmick

<em>Hand of Fate</em> is the first console release (on PS4, XB1; also on Steam) from presumably indie studio Defiant Development. It&rsquo;s actually hard to find info on this developer, as its previous titles are a handful of mobile titles, and it doesn&rsquo;t even have a Wikipedia page. Still, I mean no disservice to their potential.</p>

Fair warning: this is a terrible game performance-wise (playing the PS4 version). Sound effects cut out. The voice of the Dealer will skip or repeat. Stuttering in combat actually interferes with you properly countering and dodging. In one particular instance, the frame rate got so bad, it was reaching 1-2 frames per second, making fighting completely impossible.

Yet, I still kept playing. It’s like how Bethesda games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim can have rampant issues yet we forgive them because of that unique style of fun they have. I’ve been playing this game for hours upon hours despite the crashes and bugs.

On paper, this game isn’t anything special. It’s a rogue like, meaning that it’s a rogue like game that is usually punishingly hard, and has you rest to square one upon death. You’ll be trudging through increasingly challenging encounters, some of which are won through luck, while others are fought using an Arkham Asylum/Assassin's Creed combat, with simple counters, dodges, attacks and bashes.

Hand of Fate’s gimmick is that the journey you undergo is represented through a series of tarot-style cards are dealt to you by the Dealer, a fortune teller in a cloak who sits across from you, commenting on the game, and determining your fate throughout the challenges.

This element really gives the game life. As you journey and collect more cards, your potential encounters naturally grows, and you build your deck from potential equipment and encounters. You might keep a card in your deck because it grants you some much needed resources, or keep a harder encounter in there because defeating it will grant you a token, griving you new cards. Your own recollections of your adventures inform your future adventures — what you choose to continue to face.

At some point, I was keeping a card around that drains my health, with the potential of taking all but one of my precious health points; because the much needed rewards could be worth it. The alternatives could actually be far worse.

While the game starts simple, it later exhibits the traits of a rogue like: harder enemies, encounters with high probabilities of failure, and resorting to multiple playthroughs to brute force your way to a conclusion.

The Dealer himself has presence. He quips about your choices and outcomes. He starts out ‘business as usual,’ but soon becomes more aggressive as you beat each of his challenges, boasting about how you cannot possibly win this time. He wonders if you’re playing the game to distract yourself from your problems. He muses that, since the encounters are represented by cards, you’re placing your own preconceptions on their contents, colouring the game by our perceptions. By his own admission, he’s gone through the cards far too often, his life is apparently just the game and the people he plays it with. He really adds, well, personality to the game.

Even though it has such a low budget compared to a triple-A, even though it had combat similar to Assassin’s Creed, and worse graphics than this month’s looker — The Order 1886 — I was far more enamored with this far cheaper game.

It shows that a good game needs more than money behind it: it needs a good hook. All The Order or Assassin’s Creed Unity have are the same old gameplay we’ve seen before without a much needed hook. It’s like how Shadow of Mordor did the Assassin’s Creed shtick, but added the Nemesis system that spiced up the gameplay, with orc leaderships dynamically changing and holding grudges against you. Shadow of Mordor got Game of the Year awards. Assassin’s Creed Unity was on Worst of 2015 lists.

So for now, Assassin’s Creed Unity remains in its box, and I’ve yet to even buy The Order, as I once again attempt to defeat the King of Scales in Hand of Fate.

One more round.

Just one more.