Back in 1982, British writers Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone published the then ground-breaking Fighting Fantasy book series. These were single-player role-playing games where ‘you become the hero’ – basically consisting of being given choices at certain stages which would change the direction and outcome of the story. It was coupled with dice-rolling – used for fighting a variety of monsters as well as lending an element of randomness to various events that would occur. Fast forward to over thirty years later, and this format has been ever-so-slightly tweaked and is back with a vengeance in the form of Hand of Fate.
Part “choose your own adventure”, part 3rd-person-fighter, part deck builder, part rogue-like – can this digital-only hybrid successfully combine classic genres and bring them to a whole new generation? Turn to page 7 to find out (or just keeping reading).
With Hand of Fate, Defiant Development has blended so many genres together, to say that they almost nail it, is high praise indeed. Manipulating the card decks so that you experience as many new events and wearables is fairly limited, but it does lend a decent layer of strategy to the game. Similarly, combat tries to emulate the Batman: Arkham series – but the reality is that it’s far too simplistic to compete and never really fulfils its potential. Equally, the moments spent against the Dealer are incredibly fun to start with, but repetition eventually creeps in, dulling the experience somewhat. By the same token, the random factor means you’re never quite in controls of events which can lead to a certain level of frustration.
However, despite being made up of several limited gaming styles, Hand of Fate is actually much more than a sum of its parts. It’s only when you experience these components blended together that you begin see the genius of Defiant’s vision and just how much fun it actually is to play. The player-tweaked rogue-like element is perfect for a quick gaming session or longer marathons, whilst the combat becomes a welcome and pleasant distraction from the many text-based choices you have to make. Add to this the wide variety of situations you face and it all starts to come together into a cleverly-crafter and coherent package. Of course, none of this would matter without the star of the show – the Dealer.
There’s just something the feels right about pitting your wits against a constant protagonist, and the sarcastic, witty and often frustrated Dealer is the perfect foil that holds everything together. Part adversary, part begrudging cheerleader, he adds so much personality and atmosphere to the proceedings – he alone gives Hand of Fate an identity all of its own. His constant questioning of your actions, pessimism of your chances, and even compliments at your successes – bring everything to life. After extended play there is, as many games containing commentary, a level of repetition, but this really is at a minimum, and I can only hope future instalments increase his repertoire even further.
Hand of Fate is by no means a perfect title: it does suffer from the occasional technical stutter and glitch. However, for a budget digital-only release, this can and should be overlooked. None of that gets in the way of it being a love-letter to the games and genres that have clearly inspired it. Credit has to be given to Defiant for creating something new yet feels so familiar. Hopefully it’ll be enough of a success to see a sequel, where its ideas can be fleshed out even further. If not though, this possibly overlooked gem should be picked up as soon as possible, because as it stands it really is that much fun to play and well worth your time.