When the original Hand of Fate dropped onto the Xbox One almost three years ago, it came out of nowhere. The intriguing concept of being an action-RPG/card game hybrid was enough to draw me in, and seemingly many others were drawn in too as its success has lead to a sequel. Even though Hand of Fate is a good game, there’s plenty of room for improvement and Hand of Fate 2 hopes to build upon that. Have Defiant Development dealt us a better hand in Hand of Fate 2, or will we be hoping for a redraw?
The mysterious magical Dealer is back, seeking revenge and hoping to mentor a plucky new hero in the ‘Game of Life and Death’, in order to take on the protagonist of the original game and end their villainous tyranny once and for all. That’s the overarching story in a nutshell, which is a little bare, but fortunately with a number of challenges presented to you along the way, each providing their own separate narrative, there are many stories to be told.
For those embarking on this journey, they’ll need to create their own character; a new feature to the series. There are four choices to be made and they are in regards the gender, skin tone, hair style/colour and the clothing colours, with just the four different options for each – except for gender. Whilst the character creation is a welcome addition on paper, the severe lack of choice means it’s nothing more than a token gesture and it meant I cared very little for the generic bloke I was to take control of.
Nevertheless, onto the journey I go. It doesn’t really matter if you have or haven’t played before, as the opening challenge lends itself well as a tutorial. Teaching players the basics, this level is a great way to ease back in to a game that could end your chances with the single turnover of a card. You see, the aim is to reveal cards laid out in various layouts by the Dealer and to satisfy each card’s request on-route to the end of challenge boss or objective. Imprinted on these cards are a multitude of scenarios; from helping a damsel in distress and saving people from a burning building, to defending the weak and gambling to earn money.
Depending on the card, it may simply play out as a textual conflict or conversation, where some sweet talking or bribing can see you on your merry way. These aren’t the most exciting parts, at least until the mini-games come into play. Previously, the only mini-game available was a card version of switch-a-roo with success and failure cards lying in wait to decide your fate, and although that returns to test your luck, there are some new ones included too.
Another card orientated game of chance comes in the form of a wheel of cards, which spins and spins until you stop it, and whatever card it lands on decides what happens. Then there’s the equally luck based rolling of Dice, with a total target needing to be met upon all the dice being rolled in order to succeed. Last, but certainly not least, is the swinging pendulum mini-game, and the only one that requires skill, as you attempt to stop the pendulum as it points to the moving target. It’s very frustrating to be hampered by the games of chance, so I really appreciate the pendulum activity to be successful via my own talents.
These mini-games are found randomly throughout the challenges and really add some spice to the goings on, as they can make or break your chances of completing a challenge. Challenges are the bread and butter of Hand of Fate 2, with 22 different Challenges to be unlocked, each with a self-contained story to tell. The sheer variety in the scenarios at hand is great, as the winning objective is rarely straightforward, or even vaguely similar to one that’s gone before it.
One such challenge may task you with aiding soldiers in a city, ridding the place of plagued enemies and saving innocent people. Simply defeating the source of the plague is enough to finish the challenge, but that alone will not earn the coveted Gold token. Whereas another challenge turns out to be more of a murder mystery style affair, gaining information about an impending assassination to determine the identity of them before it occurs. Defeating the assassin after the kill is a win condition; however doing so without preventing the murder itself will cause the Gold token to elude you once more. Both scenarios are interesting, and if you take the time to read the text, there’s a decent amount of lore in each. Just be aware that the Dealer often talks nonsense as the story unfolds, boring you to death with something unrelated and pointless. If only he narrated the stories, then it’d be much better.
Before taking on a mission, you are forewarned about certain aspects of it, to allow you the opportunity to build your deck accordingly. Just because the dealer has his own deck, doesn’t mean you can’t choose a few cards to merge into it yourself. The more you play and achieve greatness, the more cards you’ll unlock to bolster the deck. You can add encounters within the dungeon layouts, whilst also incorporating equipment cards to find on the adventure. Being able to select a couple of supplies is immensely helpful as well; these are available immediately and could be anything from an epic weapon to food supplies. It’s all fine and dandy going for some amazing axe from the start, but it might not be such a tasty proposition when you’ve run out of food and your health starts to deteriorate.
The final preparation choice is that of choosing a companion to provide assistance in, and occasionally outside of, combat. Each companion is useful for specific situations, so picking the right one for the job is crucial. My favourite at the moment is Colbjorn, who goes berserk when his special attack is activated, stunning multiple attackers at once. He also comes in handy during the dice rolling as he holds an extra dice to be used at the cost of losing him for a few turns.
Speaking of combat, certain card reveals will pit you against numerous enemies at any given moment and these sections transport you from the tabletop game, into a realm of action. The transition is far smoother in these parts than it used to be, despite it loading up better looking arenas and character models. Anyway, the fighting is hack’n’slash style in the third person perspective, with a main attack, a counter, an evasive manoeuvre, and a bashing move, all a part of your arsenal.
The way in which there are generally large groups of enemies to overcome, the emphasis is as much on defence as it is the offence, with the countering system similar to that found in the Arkham games – albeit not quite as polished or refined. There’s also a fairly big importance on creating combos to fill up a special weapon move meter, which could lead you to smash a hammer down on a group or launch a vicious dagger assault on an enemy. If you’re lucky, you might end up with a ranged weapon at your disposal, such as an awesome grenade to throw at the undead!
The amount of enemy types present seems to be a little sparse, but there are just about enough to keep the encounters exciting and fresh. Moments like having to fight off the Imperials with their guns, whilst trying to break down the defensive stances of the plagued Corrupted, are a real test of your combat strategy. You may even need to switch out certain weapons and armour to suit the upcoming battles, as there’s a fair bit of depth to the strengths and weaknesses of equipment. Unlike before, there are now 2-handed weapons and the possibility for dual-wielding, to enhance your options on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the environments leave a lot to be desired, with many being rather bland on the design front. Sure, they look decent as far as aesthetics go, but I remember the battle arenas being far more unconventional, often proving to be pretty dangerous with all sorts of hazards in the original Hand of Fate.
Aside from the campaign of Challenges, that’s your lot in Hand of Fate 2, with the promise of an Endless Mode “coming soon”. I’m not sure why this mode couldn’t have been ready for launch, but as of this review, it still hasn’t arrived. Not that you’ll finish the campaign in a hurry as it’s quite difficult, especially if luck isn’t on your side, and each level can easily last over half an hour if you soak in all the lore.
So overall, the surprise success has spawned a fitting sequel in Hand of Fate 2, with deeper RPG elements, interesting lore and some really great challenges which all feel different. The tabletop side and the new action elements blend together well to keep the excitement levels high, as do the new mini-games to test your nerve, skill and luck. The only things holding it back are the lame character customisation options, the annoying Dealer, and the amount of luck needed to succeed. It could also do with some additional enemy types thrown into the mix.
That still hasn’t stopped me going back for one more hand though, because I’ll show this mystical bloke that I am the master of my own fate. You should take the plunge and purchase Hand of Fate 2; it’s your destiny.