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Hand of Fate 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Developer: Defiant Development
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2017


PC Review - 'Hand of Fate 2'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 8, 2018 @ 3:30 a.m. PST

Hand of Fate 2 is a collectible card game where players are tested in third-person action-adventure combat, face decisions laced with consequences and make strategic choices while building their deck.

Two years ago, the Australian developer Defiant Developmental released Hand of Fate, a roguelike that used cards as the main mechanic for its random nature. With a solid combat system and an intriguing character in The Dealer, the combination worked well, and the game felt fresh even if some of the mechanics were well-known at the time. We now have the sequel, Hand of Fate 2, which is a more refined version of the original idea.

The story is slightly similar to the first game. As the protagonist, you've met the hooded masked person known as The Dealer. Joining him on a journey in his wagon, you are once again invited to play a game where your life is at stake. This time around, you have more of a backstory: Your quest begins with the retrieval of a family amulet, and the story evolves into saving the kingdom from a tyrant. You're also given several different side stories, which serve to further build up the world.

All of the world-building pales in comparison to The Dealer, who single-handedly serves as the best motivator in the game. His personality is never locked down, so he can praise your kindness and then mock you for relying on one card far too often. He teases but never sounds malicious, so he's a pretty good rival.

Once you finish the opening mission, which also serves as your backstory, you're introduced to the deck-building element. You'll choose some of the encounter and equipment cards, and you'll get a chance to throw in companion cards that can help in various situations. Once you've selected cards, The Dealer chooses some of his own and then shuffles them together before placing them on the table in patterns. Your goal is to get through one card at a time until you reach the boss encounter.

There's an emphasis on building good decks this time around due to one of the new mechanics: challenges. On the surface, challenges act as stand-alone stories with loose ties to the overall narrative. In reality, those challenges either serve as end goals or hindrances in your quest. One of the early challenges, for example, is to rescue soldiers so they can protect a town from being invaded by infected creatures. Another challenge may task you with trying to finish the quest with only a meager amount of health, and another challenge asks you to gather resources before a barbarian horde arrives.

There are over 20 challenges in the game, and your deck determines your approach and how difficult you can make it for yourself. Do you want a route that focuses on gold rewards so you can bribe people? Since food is depleted for every move you make, do you want to stack your deck heavily with that? Do you want more difficult scenarios that reward you with new cards if you complete everything before dying? There's a great deal of choices to be made, and while the card deployment is random enough that you may never see a few of them on your quest, the customization is enough that each run can feel distinct.

Aside from making card choices, the game throws some other obstacles in your way. As in the previous title, there are many scenarios where you'll resort to combat, and nothing has changed on this front. The game still follows the Batman: Arkham style of doing things by having a combat system that focuses mainly on crowd control; you can hit and block in any direction, and you have the ability to counter-attack after every parry. Depending on the weapon, combat can feel weighty but certainly more responsive than before. Companions are the only new thing, and their level of help is dependent on who you select. One person may excel at charging into an enemy to bowl them over while another is better suited at providing a temporary shield. They'll come in very handy at times, but most fights can be won without using them.

Outside of combat, Hand of Fate 2 makes you wrestle with other minigames — collectively known as Gambits — that come in four different forms, depending on which card is selected. Sometimes, you'll pick between four different cards to get a desired outcome, and other times, you'll spin a wheel for the same result. Some games require you to stop a pendulum at the right spot lest you suffer a penalty, while there are a few times you'll need to roll dice and beat a score threshold to win. Companions can also be useful, as you'll get benefits like more dice to roll, more positive effect cards to choose from, or slower pendulum movement.

Despite the variety that comes from having Gambits, their presence means that luck plays a bigger factor in failure this time around. You can construct a perfect deck for the situation at hand, and you can fight each battle almost flawlessly, but the element of chance inherent in each minigame can undo it all. Even with some of the companion buffs, there are times when it feels like the constant penalties from losing minigames are to ensure that every win is by the skin of your teeth. It can feel deflating at times, but the title retains a high level of enjoyment despite that.

All of these things combine to create a varied adventure that seems better suited to short game sessions as opposed to marathon ones. The wider selection of cards and the presence of minigames makes the title feel less repetitive than before. However, it only takes about one or two challenges before it feels like you're doing the same thing even if the journeys aren't alike. Luckily, most challenges are a decent enough length that you won't feel like you've wasted your time if you're not devoting hours to the game.

The prior game's presentation was solid, and this entry significantly improves on that. Character models are well detailed and quite sizeable, and the amount of particle effects matches what players expect from any modern game that doesn't take the sprite approach. The animations are fluid, and the game is capable of handling a good deal of enemies on-screen. The environments look wonderful, even if there are a limited amount of them, and the framerate holds steady throughout.

On the audio side, everything is centered around The Dealer, and rightfully so, since his pitch-perfect delivery and lines are the perfect impetus for you to keep venturing on journeys even after a loss. His performance is memorable enough that you'll forget about everyone else's speaking roles, even though they're just as solid. The sound effects are also nice, and the music expertly handles the feeling of mystery and intrigue while delivering hints of an epic journey. It's the kind of audio experience that has players turning up the volume.

Hand of Fate 2 is certainly a much more improved product over the original. Upgraded presentation aside, there's more of a story to back up the game, so you're given a purpose instead of playing The Dealer's game just for the sake of it. Combat may not have improved much, but everything else has, making for a deeper journey even if luck spoils things now and again. Even without the upcoming extras, Hand of Fate 2 is worth checking out.

Score: 8.5/10

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