The rise of indie game development leads to all kinds of strange and fascinating mashups of game genres that no major studio would ever put together. There’s a good reason for that: shoving deckbuilding, choose-your-own-adventure, and arena combat into one game will result in a hot mess unless it’s done with great skill.
Well, the folks at Defiant have that skill, because Hand of Fate (Defiant Development, Teens and up, Xbox One/PS4/PC/Mac: $25) all three of those things in one package, and it’s a blast.
The game shifts between a card-playing engine and third-person combat. You sit across the table from a dealer who controls the game. He places cards on the table to form the steps through a dungeon, with different cards triggering encounters and attacks. In addition, he’ll play cards to throw some extra challenges your way, and deal out a kind of three-card monty that can increase or diminish your chances for success.
Meanwhile, you have your own deck, which grows as you go through different levels and defeat a sequence of bosses. This deck can be customized at the outset of each game, allowing you tailor your approach. Cards feature different game elements that are drawn, such as food and health to keep you going, weapons and armor, and other features. As you progress through the story, your character gains more sophisticated attacks and better equipment to meet the challenges of increasingly fierce foes.
Different stages of your journey are accompanied by text descriptions of characters or events, allowing you to choose an action than can draw you deeper into an side adventure, or just letting you trade for a special item.
The final major element in this strangely appealing soup is the combat engine. When it’s time to fight the battle indicate by the cards in play, the game drops into a respectable-looking 3D combat engine. The system plays like a simplified version of the Batman games, with turns, attacks, and blocks timed to counter a variety of monsters. Some might find this a jarring transition, but it really adds a bit of flavor and excitement to the card play, even if the encounters grow slightly repetitive in the long haul.
The total effect of all these elements is to draw the player into a randomly generated duel with a dungeon master and then bring that duel to life with combat and storytelling. It’s quite a neat feat.