Hand Of Fate
How do you describe a game like Hand of Fate? It takes elements from so many genres that it can be hard to pin down, but that's not a bad thing. I'm not the only one either. It's now six months since the game has been released and Morgan Jaffit, Creative Director and Founder of Defiant Development, has the same problem.
"It's a hard game to describe but we say Hand of Fate is a game that brings deck building to life. It combines card play and deck building with action RPG mechanics, and the combination leads to something really unique."
Before writing this review I reached out to the Brisbane based studio Defiant Development, makers of Hand of Fate, for some comments and in response I was invited down to the studio where I spoke with Morgan.
One of the first things I noticed was that he he was very complimentary of his team and he completely realises the effort every member of the Defiant Development team put in over almost two years to make their gamble pay off.
"I'm really proud of the fact that we can do these deeper narrative chunks in text instead of having to build a whole environment for them. There's a whole cast of characters who aren't depicted in anything but words and obviously that saved us an immense amount compared to a longer form game. We made our best stab at keeping our workload reasonable. Everybody did a phenomenal amount of work to make it all happen and I'm really pleased with the framework we built."
One of the reasons I think the game works so well is because of the background music and ambient noise largely provide by Jeff van Dyck of Total War fame. In other reviews I've read for Hand of Fate it's a piece of the puzzle that is rarely brought up, but it can be the difference maker and really draw players in. Such is the case here.
"It's really interesting actually because Jeff van Dyck is a bonifide genius. He's doing music for a huge variety of games right now. He used to be the Total War composer and he's quite well known in the Total War community. We know him locally because he's a local developer and he works with a lot of friends of ours but I didn't realise how much of a fan base he had until we announced that he'd be doing the music. Last year's free play awards there were 4 games nominated for sound. Three of them had Jeff soundtracks."
Since Hand of Fate launched back in February, the game has been supported through bug squashing, updates, a DLC pack and upgrading the game from Unity 4.5 to Unity 5. While that last one might not sound like much, as you can see from the screenshots below it gave the game a slight graphical overhaul while also bringing it in line with the latest version of the popular 3D engine.
When asked about any further DLC for Hand of Fate, Morgan surprised me with some news.
"I'll give you an exclusive if you like. What we've done now is we've taken all of the feedback that we've gotten along the way, good, bad and ugly, and rolled that in and we're starting work on a sequel, so that's where most of our focus is now.
We've got some patches and drops still coming for Hand of Fate but no big substantial bit of content and part of that is because the stuff we wanted to do we could only do justice to by reaching in and building it out for a sequel."
It's great to hear that an Australian studio is doing a sequel of their own intellectual property, and on console for that matter too. I don't think that's happened since Ty the Tasmanian Tiger a decade ago!
You could be forgiven for wondering whether or not there even would be a sequel after the Hand of Fate Kickstarter campaign only narrowly scraped through at the finish line, but clearly it's done well enough to give Defiant the luxury of working on their own projects instead of doing contract work.
"We kind of rolled the dice on Hand of Fate. It was our big bet. It's earned enough to pay for the next one. That's all we really want as a studio is to be able to keep making the games that we want. The funny thing is if we'd done a deal with a publisher then it wouldn't have paid for itself and we'd be back to a publisher on the next deal. Because we self-published it and took on all the development costs ourselves it's therefore our reward and that's enabled us to make another one."
Making a game for consoles is somewhat rare when it comes to indie developers and doubly so in Australia. Last generation was filled with horror stories about developing for the Playstation 3, and ID@Xbox wasn't exactly a thing locally. Now that there's a push by the big companies to get indies involved with their platform, the process of getting your game out there has never been smoother.
"It was really nice in a lot of ways. A lot of our team is ex big studio console development. There was a sense when we were doing mobile games of wanting to get back to playing with the big dogs and I'm really proud that we made an original IP console title with some success.
With Steam and the digital marketplace at the moment we can make the sorts of games with the same sorts of budgets that we were making in the late 90's. PC games. Which to me were a really exciting time. The budgets were small enough that you could be a bit interesting and take a risk and you didn't need to be the number one game of all time to make your money back. That feels like the age we're back to and I'm super stoked about that."
It comes as no surprise then that the Hand of Fate sequel will also be coming out on next gen consoles when it is released. Microsoft's E3 announcement of Xbox Early Access is also an enticing option for the guys at Defiant Development after having success with Steam the first time around.
"I think we'll have roughly the same strategy the next time around. I don't think we'll do a Kickstarter on Hand of Fate 2 because we've already been Kickstarted, but we'll certainly do early access again. That was a really great experience for us in terms of people playing the game and getting a sense of what worked and helping us to polish it up and make it as good as it could possibly be.
Looking at the community reaction in the last six months, Hand of Fate currently has over 2,000 reviews on Steam, 92% of which are positive, and a Metacritic score hovering around 80 across all platforms. I think that paints a fairly clear picture as to the quality of game you get with Hand of Fate.
If you haven't played it yet then I sincerely hope you do in the near future. It's a cool and unique experience that will keep you coming back for hours. It's available right now through Steam, GOG and Humble Bundle, as well as on your PS4 or Xbox One.