It's got a deck of cards, but it's not Magic: The Gathering. It's got roguelike elements, but you don't spend all your time in dungeons. It's part action RPG, but it's not quite God of War. Defiant Development's Hand of Fate is a bit of everything. In the words of studio director Morgan Jaffit, it's a tabletop card game that comes to life. And while there's often a risk in trying to do too much with one game, Jaffit believes that Defiant has struck a balance that PC audiences will like.
Once a deck has been compiled, it turns into a beautiful 3D world.
Inspired by tabletop games with an aesthetic drawn from tarot cards, Hand of Fate merges two game systems: the card component feeds off the action RPG and vice versa. Players start with a bunch of cards that are dealt to them. They build their own deck, and that deck becomes a dungeon level that they explore. Each deck will have encounters on them, as well as different items, equipment and upgrades that the player will be able to use in various combat scenarios. Once a deck has been compiled, it turns into a beautiful 3D world, the cards fly in and the gear the player has collected flies onto the character.
Jaffit, who has always had a fascination with cards and the way they shuffle, told Polygon that the development team wanted to capture that magical moment when the cards fly out of your hands. And Hand of Fate certainly captures that magic and brings an additional dimension to deck building. Instead of just building a deck and having the game play out according to stats on the cards, the action RPG element gives greater meaning to the card component. Being able to see the game play out in a 3D world in turn influences how players approach building their deck.
"We made the cards really distinct," Jaffit told Polygon. "No weapons have five percent increases or anything like that. It's all about armor that freezes opponents when they hit you, or armor that means you gain more gold but take more damage. Everything is defined and delineated in separate categories.
"So what you've got is an action RPG that is really dependent on the equipment you've got. That makes each scenario feel really fresh and means you're constantly looking for interesting combinations. So the card system drives the action RPG system — it gives you all those variables to play with. On the flip-side, that makes the card game meaningful. Now you're looking to set up these combinations; you're looking to build these scenarios that can pay off in interesting ways."
Jaffit admits it was risky for the studio to make a game that merges different genres, especially since it goes against what he learned when he worked at bigger studios. "I spent a bunch of time inside big studio culture where the thing they say is you've got to come up with the premise right up front and make sure it's a really targeted game, and you never go after two niches simultaneously because that will reduce your market," he said. But Defiant decided to go after what it found interesting rather than trying to build a marketing pitch. The studio did everything "wrong" by the big studio model, but the results feel right. It made a game that its team wants to play, and hopefully it will find an audience that feels the same way.
Hand of Fate is due to launch in the first quarter of 2014. It will be a full-priced game with no free-to-play component. The studio launched a Kickstarter campaign today with the hope of raising $50,000 to fund the game's upcoming beta.