Making a good sequel to a great game is no easy task. You want to recreate the formula that allowed the first game to succeed but you have to innovate at the same time or the new title will look like the old one with a new coat of paint. Hand of Fate 2 manages this task beautifully. Defiant Development has created a game that improves on its predecessor in every possible aspect while managing to keep its core intact.
Hand of Fate 2 takes place 100 years after the events of the first game, and a new protagonist is facing the dealer in another game of life and death. Those who played the original Hand of Fate may raise an eyebrow at this development considering that game's ending, but everything is explained in the 20-25 hours it will take to complete the story mode.
This time around, players will be able to create and customize their avatar. There aren't that many customization options, but you can choose the fighter’s gender and few presets for face and hair. Still, it’s a welcome little addition that helps make the game feel fresh. It’s worth noting that such customization has no impact on the actual gameplay, so it's nice that your character can be further customized whenever you see fit.
Once the cards start being delt, we can notice the first difference between Hand of Fate 2 and its predecessor. In the original, the player had to beat a series of challenges linked to a particular seed of cards that led to a specific boss. In the sequel, the missions are less streamlined. We have 22 missions to unlock, each named after one of the traditional tarot and carrying their own theme. Every challenge is self-conclusive and cards of any seed can be encountered in the missions.
This time around, it will not be sufficient to reach the end of the dungeon and kill the boss to succeed. there are actual objectives and requisites needed to claim the challenge token. This means that every encounter feels fresh and new as they each introduce new variables to the mix. For example, in the challenge linked to the Strength card, our hero wakes up after an unfortunate encounter with an ogre, wielding half of a cursed talisman that prevents food from healing him. The focus of this challenge is to find the ogre and retrieve the other half of the artifact and break the curse. The “Justice” challenge requires you to gather resources and build defenses for an imperial fort which is under barbarian attack. Every mission will change the rules of the game just enough to test your deck building skills and make you more and more interested in revealing the story that brought the main character to play the game of life and death and, of course, the destiny of the mysterious dealer.
Once the mission has been picked, the deck building part of the game starts. You will need to create a deck for both encounters and equipment as well as choose your starting equipment and companion. Since every challenge has different modifiers and themes attached to it, you will want to pay extra attention to your picks. If a challenge features a great number of a specific enemy, you will want to pick cards that can counter that particular seed. Likewise, in a challenge that hints at risks of starvation, it’s beneficial to include extra encounters that grant food. Fortunately, the game tells you what you can expect from a mission when selecting it and the deck building includes a search and filter system which helps the player navigate the enormous amount of cards the game offers.
The core gameplay remains unchanged from the first Hand of Fate, but there are few additions. The game board is created by placing face down cards from the encounters deck, including cards picked by the player and cards specific for the mission. The player then moves the token representing the main character, selecting one of the neighboring cards. When stepping on a face-down card, the main character will consume one unit of food and reveal the encounter associated with the card. Most encounters will require the player to make a decision or initiate combat. In the previous game, the outcome of an action was decided with the dealer shuffling a number of success and failure cards. The player would then pick one of the cards and the encounter would evolve accordingly. That particular mini-game is still present, but now its been joined by three new mini-games with basically the same purpose. Aside from the aforementioned card picking, the game may ask you to decide the outcome of an event by stopping a spinning wheel of cards, rolling some dice or halting a pendulum in a specific spot. While all these new mini-games (or gambits) may appear to add random elements to the game, a keen eye goes a long way to overcome such difficulties. If precision is not enough, though, the game offers a variety of equipment and blessings aimed to make the gambits more accessible. Of course, your companions may also help with that.
Companions are another addition to the classic formula of Hand of Fate. There are four companions in total, each acquired during specific missions. Every one of these allies will follow the main character in combat, fighting alongside them and granting their skillset. Companions also can help the player overcome gambits in exchange for making them unavailable for three turns. For example, Malaclypse will allow a second spin of the card wheel in case of failure and Colbjorn can optionally grant an extra die to roll. The most surprising thing about these secondary characters is that they are way less one-dimensional than one might expect from a game like this. Companions will have their own lines during combat and will give their opinions during encounters. They also have their own encounter cards that will advance their personal questline, which rewards an upgraded version of that companion upon completion. The developers went the extra mile to make sure these characters would be more than just an expendable research by integrating them seamlessly into the world.
As mentioned before, many encounters will end up in combat. The fighting system was one of the weak links of the original game as it was decently done but didn’t really feel rewarding or interesting in the long run. In Hand of Fate 2 combat is definitely more challenging and generally better done than its predecessor. It’s a variation of the Arkham style with the usual parries and dodge moves. The biggest improvement lies in the feeling of the hits. The main character grunts, the screen shakes a little and the camera slows for a moment before the weapon connects, making every blow a little more impactful. Animation quality also improved a lot as both enemies and allies react to the fight around them in convincing ways. While it’s a big improvement overall, combat can still feel clunky and sometimes unresponsive. It’s particularly hard to convince our hero to hit a specific enemy when the battleground is crowded, which is a common complaint with these types of brawlers.
One thing that contributes in making each combat scenario feel interesting and fresh is the varied enemy designs. While there are still seeds that tell you what enemy you’re facing, we’re not limited to four variations of creatures anymore. Even between the same seed, there are multiple classes of enemies to fight, including powerful bosses. For example, the steel seed contains regular soldiers, musketeers armed with rifles, phalanx with big shields and even powerful knight and generals that can be a challenge all on their own. The only downside of this enemy variety is that enemies that belong to the same type will basically be clones. All musketeers look identical with basically no variation between individuals. This is most likely a design choice to allow the player to recognize by glance what every enemy is capable of, but a minimum of variance between individuals would have been appreciated.
Of course, to fight enhanced enemies you will need enhanced equipment. Our hero is now able to dual-wield two weapons, grab a two-handed weapon, or go ahead with a one-handed shield combo. The choice of weaponry is not only cosmetic, as it will give specific advantages against certain enemies. For example, heavy weapons are particularly useful against armored enemies, making it the first choice in fighting Imperials, while dual blades are so fast that dodging their blows is difficult, making them particularly useful against rogues. These advantages can have a serious impact on the fight to the point that you’ll often want to swap your weapon for a weaker one for specific battles since they'll be more effective against the current enemy. It adds an extra layer to the gameplay that will force the player to reconsider their choices multiple times.
On the technical side, the game received a visible upgrade. The graphics are clean and pleasant to see, with models and textures that are well done and well animated. There isn't an extreme level of detail, but everything manages to impress nonetheless. As for sound, this has also received an upgrade. The dealer has the same magnificent tones as the first game, and the voices of the other characters are less present but still up to that quality. There are some lines that repeat themselves but not often enough to be a huge problem. The soundtrack varies from the calm to the furious to the ominous depending on the context and it’s magnificently done, making a great job in creating the mood for the situation that is on-screen.
Making a sequel to an acclaimed game is always a challenge and a hard one at that. Defiant Development rose to this challenge and created an engaging and masterfully crafted game that improves on its predecessor in every possible way.
Our Hand of Fate 2 review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Hand of Fate 2 manages to take everything praiseworthy about the previous installment and make it even better. The challenges players face never look alike and the improved combat system manages to elevate the weakest parts of the original.
- Engaging Core Gameplay
- Great Replayability
- Improved Combat
- Always Surprising
- Combat Still Clunky in Spots
- Frustrating RNG