Hand of Fate PS4 Review: An RPG? A Card Game? This Kickstarter Success Is Unlike Anything You've Ever Played

By Alex Riviello , Updated Mar 25, 2015 09:45 AM EDT
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Hand of Fate is a wonderful game, but it’s nearly impossible to describe. According to the developer it's a "card based roguelike", which may be the closest and simplest description, but it also incorporates elements of deckbuilders, RPGs, and even action titles, to become what's easily the most unique game we've had the privilege of playing in a very long time.

It’s all about cards, though. You play the game in spurts, each round sitting down at a table across from a mysterious masked man who acts as your Dungeon Master of sorts. It’s his game, his creation, and he controls the cards. He deals you out cards from a deck that grows game to game with new enemies, challenges, and equipment for your characters, but he doesn’t do it quietly. He taunts you with the deck, promising it will feature challenges the likes you’ve never dreamed of. And he’s likely right.

At the start of each game you choose from a list of boss monsters that are plaguing the land, and he takes the cards attached to that monster and shuffles them into a deck that you have created, and it all begins.

He then deals out cards face down on the table and places a little miniature that represents you on the starting card. It’s now your goal to find the card that lets you escape this level. Each turn you move to an adjacent card, turning it over and dealing with whatever encounter it represents. It might be a friendly face, or an ambush, or any number of obstacles and challenges. You might have to do a little adventure gaming, making decisions of whether to assist people in need, try to loot treasure by picking the right card from a little four-card monty mini-game, or even come across a merchant or priest who can assist you. Get through the card and you’ll move to the next, and so on, until you get down to the level with the boss and defeat him or her.

But it’s not as easy as all that. You need food to survive, or you'll start losing health. Gaining gold is the best way to buy new equipment and restock your health, and Blessings and Curses can happen to you and change things around completely. Each card offers a completely new challenge, the biggest of which involves real combat.

Get into combat and the card game will transform into a third-person brawler heavily reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series, where you’ll smash enemies and parry incoming attacks when a prompt appears over one of their heads. Any equipment you’ve earned over the course of your adventure will appear either on your character or in his hand, and you will be able to fight with whatever cool loot you’ve earned. For instance, that Ice Blade will allow you to shoot out a cone of ice and slow your enemies, while a spiked shield will hurt anyone silly enough to attack you. You’ll face enemies like skeletons, plague rats, goblins, and lizardmen, as well as numerous boss creatures. The cards are always drawn randomly so you’re never sure what you’ll face.

Some cards have tokens attached to them, and you’ll want to fill your deck with as many of these as you can before each game. Complete a specific condition on a token card- whether it’s defeating an enemy, saving a person, or any of dozen other things- and you will gain that token after the game ends, even if you end up dying before the boss. The dealer will reluctantly hand it out to you, and it contains even more cards that you can add to your deck for future games. This ensures that each and every time you play you'll experience new adventures, as there are an absolute ton of cards to unlock.

There are some risks in gaining certain tokens, though, as sometimes defeating an enemy or helping someone out can inadvertently make things harder for you in the future. Sometimes defeating an enemy will only increase its power, forcing you to add cards with lock symbols to your deck, which have to be contended with to remove.

The amount of variety means that you'll just want to keep playing over and over, and once you've finally defeating all the bosses in the game (which will take you a good dozen hours) there's even an endless mode that lets you just keep playing forever with no end in sight. 

One slight issue with the PS4 version is the loading. There’s a lengthy loading screen whenever you enter combat (or barter with a merchant, oddly enough) that takes entirely too long and kills the pace of the game. (We aren't certain if this issue transfers over to the PC or Xbox One versions.)

But most remarkable thing about this? It’s was a Kickstarter project. This is the kind of game that shoots down all the naysayers about the crowdfunding site, because it feels completely unique, certainly not the kind of title that would have been attempted by a studio without that kind of initial funding.

Hand of Fate is a game you should own merely because it's trying something so different and being so successful at it. Try to explain the game to your friends and you might be stuck without an easy answer, but have them sit down and play it, and they'll soon understand.  

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Hand of Fate was reviewed from a PS4 code provided by the publisher. It's also available for Xbox One, PC, Mac and Linux.

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