Friday, July 31, 2015

Hand of Fate -- Deck-Building Roguelike with Real Time Combat

A lot of indie games distill a well-known concept to its essence, and throw in a twist. Being a small company--generally without many resources--that's how you manage to ship a tight, awesome game experience on a small budget. Hand of Fate is a game that largely succeeds at this mission.

I first saw Hand of Fate at PAX East 2014 on the expo hall floor and got to talk to one of the developers for a short period and play a demo build, and it looked super promising. The premise hasn't changed since, and the game released almost a year later, February 2015.

The dealer table. You can see the "dungeon" on the table itself, and I'm about to make a decision regarding The Altar encounter. Note the token at the bottom means if I succeed, I'll get more cards at the end of this scenario, win or lose.
Said premise is relatively simple. You're playing a game of chance and skill with the mysterious "Dealer", for stakes that are initially unclear. The game itself is a dungeon crawler of sorts, except your "dungeon" is made up of random cards from an encounter deck you put together, plus a few of the Dealer's own cards depending on the scenario. The other deck you put together is the equipment you potentially have access to. When you get equipment cards, they get pulled from your deck and handed to your character to equip, so you can choose what arsenal you want available.

You get access to new cards by successfully completing encounters, so while you're playing each individual game, you're expanding and strengthening the cards you have access to as a whole. This is a fantastic way to encourage you to put new encounters in your deck rather than always relying on early, safer encounters. Each scenario has your character starting from scratch, but the ability to stack your deck with useful weapons and not including earlier equipment provides some level of indirect character advancement.

Deciding what equipment I want in my deck for the next scenario. Equipment marked "new" I don't know the effects of until I actually collect it in a scenario.
All scenarios so far have involved killing some champion of the Dealer--usually a beefed up variant of the enemies you tend to see in that level, i.e.: bandits, ratmen, lizardmen, and so on. Combat itself is a bit too simple--if there's one place in the game where the developers' tight experience falls down a bit, it's combat.

You get thrown into a real-time arena, and you have actions bound to buttons. Melee attack, Counter (if you have a shield), Stun, or Dodge Roll. Enemies seem to only be able to attack one at a time (and they swarm you if they're not attacking) so short of traps you're not dealing with having to dodge or counter a bajillion attacks constantly. In fact, if you get into the rhythm of just hitting melee attacks until you see a counterable attack prompt on screen, you can pretty much get out of most fights unscathed. Eventually you get access to "artifacts" that have limited uses that give you abilities, such as poisoning an enemy, or healing. Some weapons also come with on-use powers--a sword I found had the ability to spray frost and freeze enemies it touched, which was super useful.

I would suggest using a controller if you play on PC. I haven't tried using the keyboard and mouse, but it's definitely built with console in mind. Combat probably wouldn't be nearly as easy if I had to use a keyboard in this instance.

Real time combat arena, though this one is basically just navigating a maze of traps for treasure.
Mind you, I'm still relatively early in the game; the first 1/3rd completed. As you defeat scenarios, the game beefs up the enemies and gives them new attack patterns and abilities. Traps have started appearing in the combat arenas, which make blindly dodge-rolling a bad idea. Some arenas are nothing but traps, and you have to get through them all to get to the treasure, which was pretty neat. And most bosses have abilities that aren't counterable, so you just end up dodge-rolling away, though a quick stun might be helpful depending on the boss.

The one thing I do want to touch on is the aesthetic of the game. The dealer table is amazing. The dealer himself is fairly expressive for a character that's mostly covered, and his voice actor is amazing. The writing is really on point, too. The first time I ran into an encounter, I figured out how to get a shield out of it if I didn't have one. The second time I ran into it, the dealer quipped, "You just put that encounter in for an easy shield, didn't you?" Little things like that which make it feel so much more immersive. The visuals of the table and the cards are on point, as well. Given the simplicity of the game's setting, it really afforded the developer time to polish that primary environment and it really pays off.

I could watch the cards float around each other for a very long time. Hypnotic and quite pretty.
Also, I really appreciate the developer putting in a setting to turn off the spider that sometimes would appear on the table. As an arachnophobe, I thank you from the bottom of my cowardly heart.

I've played about 3 hours of the game so far, and I'm really impressed. I've been having an absolute blast. I highly recommend picking this one up.
#HandOfFate, #Indie, #FirstImpression

1 comment:

  1. I purchased Hand of Fate in March and found it to be a very enjoyable game. I think it has a great atmosphere and the voice acting is spot on. The combat is somewhat basic but I'm okay with this as my reactions are slowing up.

    It also seems to get a lot of ongoing love from the developers who regularly patch it and have recently added new content. So many titles simple arrive on Steam and then get abandoned, left forever in a broken state. Not so with Hand of Fate.

    Playing with a Xbox controller is essential as the game just isn't that keyboard friendly.

    Overall this is one of the better purchases I've made this year. I just wish Mister Lionel would keep his hands off my pickled onions :)