Platform: PS4, PC (reviewed)
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Hand of Fate 2 is essentially what you’d want to see when you mix a card game with a video game. You start your adventure in a large stagecoach of sorts, sitting across the table from a very devious looking man in robes, equipped with an even more devious sounding voice. This man is the game master, and for one reason or another, you must play his game. It actually feels like a single-player Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but with cards and playable action sequences.
The original Hand of Fate was quite similar in concept, but as with all creative things, it had flaws. Hand of Fate 2 seems to have buffed them out and even added a few elements to the game.
The tabletop game elements are easy to understand with a lot of room for strategy.
The game features 22 missions with each one being portioned out as different chapters. Each mission has the game master placing face-down cards on the table and a figure, representing you, that must choose which card to advance towards. Each card is an encounter of sorts that you must overcome. Each mission has a different objective, and it’s not just the same mission with a different color. Each mission actually feels different from the last.
Many of the cards you encounter are specific to the chapter at hand. But before each chapter, the player may assemble their own cards, acquired in previous chapters, to shuffle into the deck before it begins. While each new chapter brings a new and unique challenge, players can pick which of their own cards will appear within the story, though they are in the hands of fate (ahem…) in regards to when it comes to where they’ll end up in the mix.
On top of this, players will also get to pick which companions they’ve met along their previous adventures will come with them. These companions are quite varied in terms of who they are and how they influence the stories’ outcomes. Lastly, you also get to pick your item/gear cards. The interesting thing about these items is that picking them for your deck doesn’t mean you start with them. It means you can encounter and acquire them throughout the chapter. This really alleviates feeling overpowered, and though a simple concept, it really did make the game unique in that way.
Luck is a major component in Hand of Fate 2, but it’s not the only play the game makes.
Every card you flip over prompts an advancement in the story. The game master narrates what you encounter, and you must choose what you do in response. But as anyone who’s played tabletop games before knows, you can’t just say you do it, you have to succeed first. This fail/succeed decision plays out in a number of ways. Sometimes, you get four cards with any variation of “Success”, “Failure”, “Major Success”, and “Major Failure”. The game master shows you them, then shuffles them face down. Good luck. Another way the game tests your success is with dice rolls. You have a number to beat and three six-sided die. You roll once, and if you don’t pass, you can select any number of die to roll again to try and beat the challenge number.
The third way a challenge is encountered is with combat. This is where the item/gear cards come into play. When combat is inevitable, a portal opens up on the table and your figure, your current equipment cards, and the game master’s encounter cards are all swallowed up by it. You’re then dropped into a combat situation.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been playing Shadow of War a lot recently, but the combat feels like a lighter version of that. Of course, being light may come off as a negative, but with the other elements of the game in mind, it requires just the right amount of skill to shake up the structure of the game without being too much of a departure. You have a standard attack, a parry/block, a kick/bash/stun, a special move and a finisher. These moves are shaken up even more depending on the equipment selected. For example, a sword and shield are best for blocking and immediately countering an enemy, while an ax is best used to wear down an enemy with tough defenses. Not only that, but the enemies you encounter have different resistances and weaknesses to specific types of weapons.
Mentioned earlier, the weapons you have available are found throughout each chapter, as opposed to given to you outright at the start of each adventure. Hand of Fate 2 really balances skill with luck. Essentially, it’s a game that rewards a skillful selection of cards to be put into a luck-of-the-draw situation. Also, careful selection of companions is also needed, as they aid you in combat, each in their own unique way.
Companions are what change the game in a pretty big way.
One might think the 22 seemingly unrelated missions might feel disconnected for the sake of the card deck aesthetic. Well, Companions actually help by being the connective tissue between these chapters. Previous chapters can be attempted again with a different companion and newly acquired cards, making old missions actually play out in a vastly different way.
While equipment, gold, and food may reset every time you start a new chapter, the experiences of the companions remains. This makes the 22 missions, which isn’t a bad amount for a ~$30 game, much more replayable than the number 22 implies. Replayable isn’t really the best word to use for it though, as they do change pretty significantly with different cards and companions.
Not to mention, separating the game into 22 missions really brings out the card game feeling. Instead of feeling like things are being taken away at the start of each chapter, the sense of accomplishment reappeared every time I found the particularly cool sword I put in the deck.
The only aspect of the game that feels slightly repetitive is the combat sequences.
It’s not bad at all, it’s just a little too simple to want to go back to it as much as you’re required to. The real shame can actually be considered a plus as well because the graphics in the action sequences are quite nice. The characters are chunky and vibrantly colored in a style very reminiscent of the Fable series. Buckles and flaps are chunky, swords are big, and the colors and shadow contrast really let neat details through. If the combat was a little more enjoyable, this complaint of too much combat would likely flip completely, considering how nice it is to look at.
Defending oneself in combat consists of parrying when a green icon appears, and dodging when a red one appears. They all have slightly weird timing, making it a touch frustrating to pull off. Maybe Defiant Development can lend their art director to another studio making an action RPG?
The last thing to note about Hand of Fate 2, comparing it to its predecessor is the game master. The first game really made him feel like an antagonist. You’re forced to play this dangerous card game with him and his tone seemed to mock every wrong turn you made. It makes beating his games that much more satisfying. But in Hand of Fate 2, the game’s scope is made to be something larger. He even says so himself in the beginning.
This takes the spotlight off of him and encompasses more of the companion characters, the new cards, and the new environments. By themselves, these are great improvements, but the mysterious and possibly wicked card dealer, unfortunately, must share his seat with these new additions.
Despite this, Hand of Fate 2 is ultimately an improvement over its already cult classic predecessor. For what it offers in terms of replayability for a single-player game at its price of $29.99, it would be hard to pass up. It’s great to see a diamond in the rough get a sequel, a creative and unique concept getting the chance to improve on itself. Who knows, maybe one day, Hand of Fate 3 will end up adding another player into this one-on-one card game called life.