Hand of Fate is a combination of a card-based rogue-like & a 3D brawler. Taking on the role of a nameless stranger you face off against an equally mysterious opponent aptly named ‘The Dealer’ & his menagerie of creatures and cutthroat humans, all out to stop you while traversing the equally dangerous dungeons.
The game is extremely simple to pick up & play. The most thought needed is during the deck creation aspect & whether to risk it all in that one gamble between life & death that will inevitably show up. It does feature an auto deck builder for convenience, but it is not greatest since it will often ignore beneficial cards that have no downsides to them, for outright devious ones or questionable ones. Deck building comes before every challenge so needless to say, a fair bit of time is spent there. Once said & done, The Dealer will shuffle them all & will throw in his own cards into your deck for good measure. From this, he will create the dungeon with its events, weapons, armor, enemies, and tricks.
Combat in Hand of Fate is simple, its style being the same as the one the Batman ‘Arkham‘ series popularized. You can roll, do a light attack which increases in strength as you increase your combo, one button to use weapon skills, if applicable & another to use artifacts which also provide some benefit, like freezing enemies or dealing damage. Both weapon skills & artifacts function on a cooldown, the latter also having a limited number of uses before breaking. Counterattacks can only be done with a shield equipped, & again much like the ‘Arkham‘ series, a prompt will be displayed on enemies that are readying their attacks. A simple press of a button will deal a quick jab or set you behind the enemy (ranged attacks will be deflected back), which you can then follow up with regular attacks or just plain put some distance between you and your foe. Not all attacks can be countered, in this case the prompt will be red so best evade as best you can.
Each challenge has its own set of rules displayed curses, this being anything ranging from losing food every other step (like a true rogue game, food heals you per step taken), shops having lower prices but buying takes away health or most evil of all, gaining a new curse at the arrival of a new floor. Of course, curses can also be attained by getting an unlucky draw of a card or what have you. On the other hand, blessings are also a thing and equally as diverse & acquired much the same way. As the game progresses, you have the ability to start with random equipment, blessing, gold or food amount. At the same time however, enemies do get their own buffs, such as increased damage & health.
This last aspect, while definitely increasing the challenge also makes the already average combat much duller. Combat is ultimately the biggest negative of the game, it feels slow, and enemies turn into health sponges, meanwhile you never really feel any stronger. Adding to that, you might get unlucky & be at the end of a dungeon with nothing but the starting weapon, so you will have to ‘git gud’ with your evasion or risk losing it all, right at the level’s end boss. Of course, as I accidentally found out after a rage quit, the game autosaves before every battle, so you can certainly try your luck cheesing your way to victory. Another negative to the game, is the loading & odd performance hiccups, though of course being on PC, mileage may vary on this. Though I could have done without having to load a set piece & model every time I visited shops when you pretty much spend at best a few minutes in & I found nothing that warranted that.
Story-wise, it was there…? Who you are or your connection to the Dealer is never really explained. The best you will get is the Dealer’s constant but vague reminders that the cards in some way or shape have to do with you. Maybe he is narrating your character’s life before arriving at his table, amnesiac & out for blood. Hell, I might even be wrong in that interpretation, it is that vague & inconsequential to the action. Nonetheless, I loved the Dealer’s dry wit, his way of showing that he is in control, mocking your blunders or passively aggressively praising you or questioning your decisions. Definitely a welcome voice in an overall silent game.
All in all, for the pickup & play enjoyment as well as the frustration that Hand of Fate brings with its mix of hybrid of card game, brawler & rogue-like, it is kind of hard to recommend this entry when there is a sequel that does the same but much better. Only those truly curious into this series inception should go out of their way to pick this up or get it in some bundle. Otherwise, I lean towards just forgoing this entry & jumping right into the sequel.