The original Hand of Fate from Defiant Development was a wonderful mash-up of role-playing, dungeon-crawlers, and tabletop card gaming. Hand of Fate 2 takes everything that made the first game work and adds even more superb content. It is exactly what a sequel should be.
If you missed the first game, the Hand of Fate series works like a single-player collectable card game. As you progress through the game you unlock more cards for your deck. This offers new encounters, characters, weapons, and enemies for you to fight and role-play through.
On the surface, Hand of Fate 2 is a clear graphical leap forward from the first game. The quest selection screen is the first thing players will see, and it absolutely shines. Taking place inside a moving caravan, the small details bring this simple location to life and turn it into a character of its own.
Character models, both the player and NPC’s, have a variety of individual details. The production on each character quickly gets across their personalities, and everybody will find a memorable design.
The locations for each encounter have also benefited from an upgrade. Not only are the encounter arenas beautifully atmospheric, the surrounding and background areas show an attention to detail which flows across the game.
The cards themselves have been revamped too. Smaller touches like folds in the cards give a flourish to something which could easily have been left flat. The card art is an absolute delight; no matter how many times you see them they are always a joy to see.
Game-play wise, Hand of Fate 2 really raises the bar from the first game. For example, the weaponry has seen a drastic change. There is a wider selection of weapons to put into your deck ranging from swords to billy clubs. These really do alter the pace of combat and allow you to better appeal to your preferred play-style. What was already a well-crafted battle system is now even more fun.
Equally, the combat mechanics have seen an overhaul. Working similar to the fighting in the Arkham series from Rocksteady, you are aiming to build together a combo to access special attacks linked to your chosen weapon. Blocking now opens enemies up for a riposte or counter-attack, and you can more reliably stun them to help carry on your combo.
These options have to be carefully weighed up, however. You are locked into an animation once you press the corresponding button, and will succeed or fail based on your understanding of this. Try to hack ‘n’ slash your way through a battle, and you’ll find your health torn to shreds.
Enemies have new attack options as well, including an impressive arsenal of ranged weaponry. It is essential for success that you learn their attack patterns and styles, especially considering that their damage output is more severe than in the first game. It is also pleasing to see some new enemy types taking centre-stage.
There are a few small issues with the combat though. If you are fighting multiple of an enemy type, they will all look identical; a problem which can create duller beats, and not rectified from Hand of Fate. Frustratingly, you can’t lock on to enemies which make tactically targeting an enemy almost impossible in the mass melees. With limited space in most of the arenas, this can lead to frantically whirling in a dogpile of opponents.
The role-playing encounters have seen an increase in options too. Hand of Fate 2 introduces more branching paths in conversations, adding, even more, replayability to a game which already gave you a ton of reasons to return. Before, these moments certainly paled compared to the fighting. Now, they throw up some of the highlights of Hand of Fate 2.
While these help to push along their own well-written side stories, Hand of Fate 2 struggles to clearly tell the main story-line. You can pick up on the details by listening to the Dealer’s dialogue and looking for clues in the card encounters, but it is most likely that players will miss these opportunities thanks to there being so much else to look at, listen to, and to do.
Some encounters offer you the option to alter them with a game of skill or luck. The follow-the-card-shuffle mini-game returns from Hand of Fate. In addition to this, you’ll come across a dice-rolling mechanic, card roulette, and a timing-style game. This range offers a much better risk/reward system, giving you both elation and frustration as you play through.
A special mention has to go to the character of the Dealer. Acting as both a companion and antagonist, his gravelly voice follows you through the game. Plaudits must go to the dialogue writers, and the voice acting. The Dealer is quickly becoming a video game villain worthy of going into the history books, if only for his intensely hilarious put-downs. I challenge any player to dislike him, even when he royally messes you about by dealing the worst card possible.
Unfortunately, these role-playing encounters are still reduced to the text-based adventure style. While it is understandable that not all of these meetings should be recreated in-game, it feels like a missed opportunity to have almost none done. This is perhaps only further highlighted by the new ability to visit your campsite, which is crafted using the in-game engine.
Meeting new characters, equipping new gear, and wielding new weaponry does reward you with an in-game, dramatic intro sequence when entering encounters. While these existed in Hand of Fate, they have been amped up to include a short piece of informative or flavour text. This added depth to the surrounding lore of Hand of Fate 2 definitely helps to fill the gaps which littered the original.
The overall quests benefit from all these improvements but have also earned a wider variety of aims and goals. In Hand of Fate, the quests pretty much revolved around finding your way to a boss battle and beating them to a pulp. In Hand of Fate 2, you are asked to complete actual quests. During my time playing the game, I collected cursed relics, turned detective to foil an assassination attempt, shepherded a helpless potato-lover, and completed many other overarching tasks.
Of course, going through this much-expanded game-world on your own would be a very dull affair. Thankfully, Hand of Fate 2 adds companions to your epic journey. Each companion offers their own quest-line and will support you in battle in their own special way. This varies from buffs in battle, direct damage to enemies, and assistance in skill/luck tests among others.
The personalities and quirks of these companions radically shift what felt like a lonely game in Hand of Fate, into fleshed-out party adventure in Hand of Fate 2. They provide another narrative stake to push you on, and to tie you emotionally to the story. This is something that was definitively missing in Hand of Fate.
Customisation is also thrown into the masterful melting pot which is Hand of Fate 2. Chiefly, as in the previous entry, you can customise your player deck to ensure you draw the equipment and encounters which best suit you; the game does have an auto-deck builder function too. You can choose your companion as you unlock them, providing customisation of your play-style in and out of combat. You can also customise your player character and choose a coat of arms, colour scheme, appearance, clothing and gender.
While these options are a welcome inclusion, there are limits to them. The appearance customisation options are stuck to presets, and it almost feels like a half-addition rather than a fully fledged feature. However, the addition of customisation to the series fair outweighs any of these criticisms.
Hand of Fate 2 is a fun, challenging, and rewarding game. The core concepts of the game are easy to pick up, yet any playthrough will be met with a variety of things to do and ways to complete your quest. Defiant Development has crafted a superb sequel which is well worthy of your attention. It is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One from November 7th.
Our copy of Hand of Fate 2 was provided by Defiant Development. Alan played so much Hand of Fate 2 for this review that he gets maniacally excited by the sound of card-shuffling.