Leap of Fate is, as of this writing, in Early Access.
My evening was not going well. I had just wrapped up a particularly crushing Dark Souls session (read: ragequit due to death-related attrition) and I was in the mood for something lighter, easier or at least less punishing to relax for a bit. Unfortunately for me, I go into most games without much prior information, so I ended up playing Leap of Fate. A roguelike. With permadeath. What can I say? I’m a lucky sod and I make great life decisions.
“Leap of Fate” – do you see what they did there?
Developer Clever Plays boldly describes Leap of Fate as “a mix of the infinite replayability of The Binding of Isaac, the precise and reactive controls of League of Legends, and the feel-good combat of Diablo” and while technically true, and a good marketing phrase to boot (look at all those big names!) I think a more accurate description would be a mix between Nuclear Throne, Hand of Fate, and Rogue Legacy. Does that sound like a whole heap of “derivative”? That’s because it is, but I’m not of the opinion that “derivative” is a four-letter-word (count them, if you don’t believe me). Back in the 70’s we had an upstart director that took stuff out of westerns that he liked a lot, put them together and released a movie called Star Wars. In a similar fashion, Leap of Fate mixes certain elements from several other games, gives them a cohesive spin and churns out something new and interesting.
You are given little option upon starting up the game aside from “Options” and “New Game”. Much to my dismay, it automatically took me to the “Very Easy” difficulty, which felt insulting and like a poor design choice. I was very irritated by this for about five to ten minutes until my first death, whereupon my disappointment turned to apologetic comprehension. You control a “technomancer” (essentially a modern-day mage) and each level consists of several waves of enemies that have to be dispatched in order to get loot and progress. Your tools are a high speed infinite-ammunition basic attack, a limited use strong attack (defined by the “glyph” you have equipped) and a similarly limited use ability called “shadow walk” that essentially propels you in your chosen direction at high speed, temporarily invulnerable and able to pass through enemies and obstacles. Early on you also acquire the ability to use shadow walking aggressively, damaging enemies with it as well.
Leap of Fate throws you in the midst of things, taking little time to explain your circumstances. There are (or at least will be) four protagonists to choose from and each must pass the trials of “The Crucible”. Essentially, at the beginning of each run you arrive at a tarot table (hello, Hand of Fate influences!) which display a branching tree of cards with each card representing an encounter. Combat encounter cards display the number of waves you’ll have to face, as well as the amount of loot you will receive, while other cards represent stat improvement encounters (for a cost), shops where you may buy extra resources and so on.
Each run consists of three such tarot trees, each of them having a single destination point which you can rush for, or stay behind and explore other branches in order to farm some more loot or upgrades. And here’s the kicker: your health and special ability uses are persistent throughout the run. None of them replenish between encounters, so resource management becomes paramount to your success. At the end of a run, you unlock the next difficulty level, if available. In addition to this, each successful run uncovers a bit more of your character’s backstory and motivations with nice hand-painted still pictures and a voice-over.
Resources in this game are few and specialized. Health is self-explanatory. With time you can unlock a larger health bar and random enemy drops give you back a portion of it. Mana is collected from fallen enemies and is your primary currency for buying items and upgrades. You can also collect energy power-ups which give you additional uses of your secondary attack to be spent at your own discretion. Keys (purchasable with mana) unlock particular loot chests and some of the encounters and Karma is primarily used to give you exactly one retry upon death. Your permanent upgrades carry over into your next playthrough (a la Rogue Legacy), making each subsequent run of the game the slightest bit easier and mercifully so, because this game is brutal. And this is coming from someone who, you might recall, is currently enjoying the twisted pleasures of Dark Souls.
Fate is a cruel mistress
This is everyone’s favorite part of any review. This is the one where we talk about Leap of Fate‘s more technical aspects, its strengths, but also its shortcomings. My first major disappointment with the game happened thusly: having quit Dark Souls in tears, I was still on my couch, in front of my big-screen TV running Steam in Big Picture Mode, clutching at my controller. I boot up the game and suddenly I can’t do anything. Yes, you’ve guessed it: the game offers no controller support. This was a huge disappointment, because it’s a twin stick shooter and it can’t use sticks. This is an even greater shame seeing how the control scheme was clearly designed with controllers in mind. However, Leap of Fate being an Early Access title, I decided to do a quick search and indeed uncovered a forum thread where the developer stated that controller support was definitely in the works. This is alright, I suppose, but having it as a feature earlier on would have gone a much greater way towards its benefit. The keyboard and mouse controls are simple and intuitive, so it’s got that going for it at the very least.
Graphically it’s serviceable, but unimpressive from a fidelity point of view and it only seems to run at a 4:3 aspect ratio. The perspective is an isometric one, so you’re not constantly being assaulted with the obvious low-polygon models. This it does make up for, however, in performance (it ran at a consistent 100+ frame rate on my machine) and especially in the overall level design. The environments are varied, from bleak streets and alleyways, urban rooftops, secret societies and cybernetics laboratories. It positively radiates cyberpunk, but a more contemporary breed. Closer to Robocop than Blade Runner.
The story is just kind of…there. It’s not particularly good or particularly bad, but it is told at an awkward pace, in snippets, between successful runs and it doesn’t really manage (or really seem to want) to get you heavily invested. Which is fine, as it is not the main focus of the game. Furthermore to the awkwardness of the story we have the contribution of some rather amateur voice acting doing the narration. It’s not terrible, but both the audio quality and the delivery of the lines leave much to be desired. Another slight blemish on the sound design’s record (and this might be subjective on my part) is the sound effect of the basic attack. Now if you’re a pro player, like yours truly, you play this kind of game by holding the left mouse button down forever, constantly firing. The sound effect, however, is a weak, flimsy, impotent “woosh” that sounds less like unleashing concentrated energy that slams into your target and more like firing paper darts out of a plastic tube in rapid succession. This, however, is thankfully overshadowed by the terrific electronic soundtrack that perfectly blends into the cyberpunk aesthetic of the rest of the game.
It being in Early Access, Leap of Fate is still lacking in some promised features, such as three out of four other classes/protagonists, but aside from this and the issues stated above, the game is solid, works as intended, I haven’t encountered any glitches or crashes while playing and there is definitely a lot of content for one to experience again and again while they are mercilessly slaughtered by weird eyeball people.
Disclaimer: Game copy was supplied by publisher/developer