Monday, February 23, 2015

Hand of Fate (Xbox One) Review

Hand of Fate seeks to combine the dungeon crawling and combat of an action RPG with the "luck of the draw" nature of card games into a cohesive whole.  Admittedly, it seems like a tall order, but it actually works out pretty well.

The game is divided into small campaigns that span one dungeon each.  The encounter cards you put in your deck are added to a few the deckmaster (that's what I'm calling the mysterious person you play against) throws in and then are shuffled together.  Each floor of the dungeon will be a few of these cards laid out in a pattern.  You can choose any adjacent card to move to, even if it is uncovered.  Moving costs 1 food, but restores 5 HP.  If you have no food, moving loses 10 HP.  Considering your starting health is 100, starving hurts.

When you move onto a face-down encounter card, it is flipped up and you have to deal with whatever it is.  Many times it is a fight against a few opponents.  There are also areas filled with traps that you can negotiate for treasure, or even wandering merchants and other scenarios that require you to make a choice.  Sometimes the choice is a simple choose an answer and the rest of the time you must choose a Chance card.  Four cards are taken from the pool (Huge success, success, failure and huge failure), shown to you, flipped over, moved around, and then you choose.  It's sadly not as easy as the "guess which cup the ball is under" mini-games that I've played before, since they all move together and then spread out, making it hard to actually follow one.  I guess it makes it more fair, but since I'm good at those, it makes it harder to get a good result.

Some encounters and treasures will reward you with money, food or even equipment cards.  The equipment cards are, like the encounter cards, chosen by the player and mixed with a few from the deckmaster.  They can be weapons, armor, a shield or even an artifact that grants you a special move.  Before you start any campaign, you choose (within deck limits) which encounter and equipment cards you put into your decks, so you can tailor it to your playstyle.  The game will also recommend cards for you, if customizing a deck isn't your thing.  I usually let the computer do it, then tweak what they suggest to make a quick custom deck.

Enemy cards will tell you how many and what type of enemies you will be fighting.  Fights remind me a lot of the Batman: Arkham games, at least when you have a shield equipped.  You can attack and dodge, and having a shield will let you counter an opponent (when they have a mark above their head), and use a stun attack to stop them from blocking.  However, unlike the Arkham series, it pays to be aggressive.  It's much more efficient to attack enemies, then counter or dodge as necessary to cut them all down.  Combat in Hand of Fate is a good middle ground between counter only and hack and slash.

Making your way through the encounter cards will eventually end up with a staircase or cart card that will take you to another "floor" of the dungeon.  Sometimes it isn't necessary to uncover every card, but successfully defeating one for the first time will unlock various reward upon completion of the campaign.  At the end of the last floor, there is a boss you must defeat.  Doing so will grant you many rewards, such as new encounter and equipment cards.  The cards are yours to keep even if you fail the dungeon, so prioritizing them can make subsequent runs easier.  After beating three bosses, you get a permanent starting bonus card as an extra reward.  So while death may send you to the start of each dungeon, choices you make can make it easier to do another run.

Each subsequent dungeon takes longer than the previous, and there are 12 to make your way through.  Getting partway through the game also unlocks an endless mode.  The game isn't too difficult, but the random nature of what cards you get can make some trips much harder than others.  I'd say it's easily worth the $20 they are asking for.  The achievements might take awhile, since you have to get all the cards, and even get really lucky for a few of the achievements.

I recommend Hand of Fate to any RPG or action RPG fans.  It replicates the random nature of pen and paper RPGs really well by using a deck of cards as a dungeon.  The idea is cool and more importantly, it is pulled off really well.  My biggest problems with the game are sometimes the random nature can make a dungeon much harder than it should be, and that the game wasn't too clear when it was saving, making me hesitant to quit playing the first time.  It can also get really choppy while it is loading, but the game is well worth checking out.

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