Hand of Fate 2 is the sequel to Hand of Fate by Defiant Development, a development group based in Australia. Much like its predecessor, Hand of Fate 2 is what I can only describe as a board game if you stopped every few minutes to punch the hell out of whoever you’re playing against. Back in 2015, Kane Newell reviewed the game and gave it a ‘55%’ (this was before we changed to our current /10 score system), citing its lacklustre combat and somewhat repetitive nature as its main faults. While those points are fair, I was a much bigger fan of the original game, with its interesting meta-game based on the cards you add to the deck of encounters and the witty banter of the enigmatic ‘Dealer’ doing a lot more to save the game for me. That being said, I went into Hand of Fate 2 somewhat skeptical, worried that Defiant might have dropped the ball for the sequel to one of their most well regarded titles. The changes that I found, however, were most surprising.
One of the largest changes that you notice right out of the gate is that the game’s narrative is much more front and centre. While there was a hint of a narrative in the first game, it was very downplayed, and it was pretty enigmatic as to what exactly the scenario was; the only solid fact seemed to be the idea that the cards used in the game were representative of events that had already occurred. Everything else was not too clear. In the sequel, the narrative is much more grounded and much more direct: You play as a nameless adventurer who has entered into some kind of contract with the mysterious ‘Dealer,’ a man whose exact purpose and place in this world are wrapped in mystery. The fact that you’ve even met him is pretty surprising since it was strongly suggested that he had actually perished at the first game’s climax. Turns out the Dealer had managed to crawl his way out of death and is unsurprisingly a bit…miffed at the guy who tried to kill him. That’s why you’re here: He was weakened by his near death experience and is going to need your help to take down ‘Kalas’ (pronounced ‘callous,’ perhaps appropriately). However, it seems that Kalas isn’t one to make things easy and has hidden himself in an Empire that is being beset on all sides by problems: The government and military are corrupt systems of glory hounds and profit-seeking nobles; bandits move almost freely throughout the countryside; brutal raiders come screaming in from the north, and the cities are being eaten from within by a horrifying plague. Not only is this a much more solid setting than the first game, but it also explains why the Dealer seems to be in such a rush (the entire game takes place in the back of his moving caravan). Turns out that Kalas is at least partially responsible for this mess, and thus there’s no time to waste; you’ve got to hurry to kick Kalas’s rear end into the next age before this land is completely destroyed. Unfortunately, it seems that people are in the habit of losing their memories upon meeting the Dealer as evidenced by the fact your character has lost all of their skills and must relive their memories in order to be strong enough to fight Kalas, and thus once more we dive into ‘The Game.’
The Game is, obviously, where the gameplay takes place, and it should be very familiar to those who have played the first Hand of Fate. It’s split into two sections, the ‘board game’ and a real time combat system. The first of the two features a token representing the player moving over a set of flipped down cards, which flip up to reveal various encounters as the player lands on them. The board game is set over a series of ‘Challenges,’ which act as a set of 22 missions to be completed over the main game. In order to survive each of the Challenges, the player has to carefully manage a set of money and food resources, the latter of which depletes as the player’s token moves forward. In addition to that, the board game section comes with its unique set of challenges: Each of the encounters that a player comes across will put them into a different scenario, from dangerous situations such as being ambushed to more mundane settings like trying to help an eccentric alchemist brew a potion. Some of these situations will require the player to get involved with the real-time combat (more on that later), but many of them instead lead into one of the game’s various mini-games. You may be asked to draw a card through a shuffled selection of four, to try and time a spinning wheel to stop on a specific outcome, to stop a swinging pendulum at a specific time, or to roll a set of three dice. This is a notable improvement over the first game where the only mini-game was the four cards example, which got pretty stale after a while.
This increased variety keeps the board game section of the game feeling relatively fresh and engaging, which helps to keep it just as interesting as the other parts of the game. Another noticeable improvement to the variety of this section of the game is that there’s a much more varied set of objectives: While the challenges changed and became harder in the first game, your overall objective was always to simply get to the boss at the end of a level and kick their ass. While bosses are present for this one, there is a much more varied list of tasks you have to complete in order to unlock more tools to help you progress. One mission might require you to raise your total armour to above a certain threshold or to complete a complex dungeon within a certain number of in-game days. Adding the fact that each of these missions also come with their own mini-story and scenario (they REALLY play out like miniaturised sessions of D&D), and this makes each of the missions stand out a lot more than the missions from the previous game.
Of course, not every issue is going to be resolved by playing harmless mini-games, and the game includes the real-time combat for exactly those moments. It’s mostly similar to the first game where the basic controls resolve around a quick light attack, a dodge roll, and a parry. However, this sequel has seen a great number of improvements to the combat system: Parrying has been made more complex and less overpowered, there is a slight delay in how quickly you can roll to discourage spamming, and enemies have a more varied reaction to getting hit, meaning you need to remain on your toes. Likewise, the game has seen an extensive expansion to its weapon system with the addition of both heavy two-handed weapons and light dual weapons, effectively making the returning sword and shield combo the medium class of weapon. Each of these weapons uses the basic controls, though the difference lies in the particular details, such as the fact that the heavy weapons can’t parry but do ignore enemy armour. This ties into the fact the enemy factions (the Empire’s soldiers, criminal brigands, the Northern Raiders, etc.) that a player will come across are strong and weak to certain types, meaning that a player must effectively master all of the game’s weapons to truly excel.
This is all without mentioning that the game’s combat has had a lot of quality of life improvements, such as the new animations and sound making the combat feel much more punchy and satisfying, and the improved engine allowing for more enemies on-screen at any time. Overall, it is a significant improvement over the first game’s combat, and while it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, it’s still a very well realized combat system. The only problem I take with the combat situations specifically is that some enemies fall more into the category of annoying rather than challenging or fun: There’s a spell-casting enemy that lays down fields that damage you while you stand in them. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, but since the spells are targeted at where you’re standing, which will usually be right in front of them, they enter a position where they can’t be hit. Since melee is your only attack, and the only fast way to get rid of the fields is to run around the arena like an idiot while you wait for the fields to be moved, it can drag out a fight. Thankfully, only a minority of enemies are like this, and most combat situations move along at a brisk pace.
Helping that sense of pace is another of the game’s newest features, the addition of companion characters. These characters are interesting since they take part in both the real-time combat and the board game segments. In combat, they’ll use their own strings of attacks to help the player and can use beefy special abilities with a number of different outcomes, from shielding the player to causing a stunning effect on enemies. These advantages are pretty handy since there can be an absolute ton of enemies on-screen rushing the otherwise solitary main character, and thus they can help take some of the aggro off the player. This is a considerable change from the first game where the player was completely alone in battle. That being said, each of the companions comes with an effect to help with the board game segments, such as the ability to add another dice to a roll or slowing down the pendulum mini-game, meaning their uses extend to beyond just combat. Caution needs to be used, however, since using these assists will put the characters out of action for a while, which could be trouble if a difficult encounter comes up during that time. Using these companions allows the player to help take the edge off some of the more difficult mini-games while still being tactical choices that the player has to make carefully. It also helps that each of the companions comes with their own series of encounter cards, which help to show off their own pretty amusing and engaging personalities. On the whole, I think the companions are a great addition to the game and help to vary up multiple runs through the challenge missions.
Another feature that’s connected to both the combat and the board game sections that is probably the most interesting part of the game overall is the title’s ‘meta game.’ Much like the first game, you actually get to decide on a few of the encounter cards that you’ll have to face in any singular run through a mission, in addition to the possible loot that you can uncover throughout said run. What’s neat about this system is how it balances itself: You only have a few slots available so you can’t waste too many on easy events that don’t give too many rewards out, since it might be better to choose more dangerous events that have bigger payouts. Likewise, you need to choose carefully for whatever challenges you’re going to have to face in the mission. It’s probably a smarter idea to include plenty of encounters where you gain food in a mission where starvation is a prominent threat, and you need to make sure to bring plenty of opportunities to get the weapons and armour you’ll need to take on the boss at the end of each mission. What I find compelling about the system is that it’s not always a sure thing; you’re adding these encounters so you have the opportunity to find them, but there’s always a chance you’ll be dead before you actually get to them. Whether you’ll succeed or not is going to depend heavily on your skill in combat and in completing the various mini-games, but truly mastering the game requires you to really maximise the most out of encounters you place in your deck. Likewise, completing certain encounters actually leads to unlocking more encounters, expanding your options. With some diligence, it’s possible to craft perfect decks to deal with the pretty difficult missions, a fact that feels pretty satisfying.
Of course, no game would be complete without a game master. Once again, one of the highlights of the game is the banter that the Dealer throws your way. He may no longer be the only reoccurring character in your adventure since you now have your companions, but he is the one you spend the most time with, so it’s probably a good thing he’s so compelling. He’s changed a little bit from the first game, having traded his grand hall on the edge of the afterlife (maybe? It wasn’t super clear) for a dinky caravan, and he seems to be suffering from the same supernatural plague that has been ravaging the land. Despite these things, he remains fairly haughty and aloof, though that doesn’t mean that he’s any less chatty. This guy has a comment for damn near everything: He’ll comment on the annoyance that gnomes have caused him with some sympathy after the player has run afoul of them, but he’ll also laugh with no small amusement if you screw up one of the mini-games. He also does a good job of filling the player in on all of the lore of the surrounding lands, having quite a few factoids and trivia points to ramble away on as the player moves about the board. Hand of Fate 2 even expands on some of the Dealer’s characteristics from the first game, such as how it’s clear that he has a whole lot more anger boiling inside him now after he had to almost literally claw his way back into life. Considering that he’s clearly only helping the main character to help himself take out Kalas, you do genuinely feel like you’re merely being dragged along on his warpath. With all that in mind, it’s still amusing how he retains the pretty high-and-mighty opinion he has of himself, and it’s definitely a good thing that he remains the ‘face’ of the game, despite otherwise not showing his own.
Unfortunately, there are a few negatives that bring the game down somewhat. One of the slighty more noticeable issues is that the game is somewhat buggy. A particularly bad bug I encountered was when the game would glitch and I wouldn’t be able to advance through an encounter since the game would just stop responding, which can be a pretty big risk to your run through a scenario. You CAN exit out and then re-enter back into the game in such a scenario since the game will continue from the last auto-save, but that brings problems of its own since it can sometimes glitch and forget that you are using a certain piece of equipment (i.e, your shield will still be in your inventory but for some reason not actually wielded by your character). The game is difficult enough just by its nature, so the last thing the player is going to want to worry about is the game breaking down. I’m confident these issues will get patched out: Defiant Development were nothing if not exemplary in how far they went to patch the first Hand of Fate until that game ran buttery smooth, but it’s still a serious problem to have to close the game just to get it to work.
While we’re talking about closing the game, I find it perplexing that you can’t suspend the game midway through a run. Basically, once you’re in a mission, you have to complete it or else forfeit back to the main menu. This is confusing as hell since the fact that you can manually close the game and load back into the last auto-save shows that there must be some capacity to be able to suspend the game midway through a mission, even if that method is buggy. The missions aren’t super long, and they’re built so that it’s possible to beat them in a single sitting, but it’s still fairly strange that you can’t stop midway through them.
There is also an issue that the game’s load times can sometimes be pretty lengthy. The board game sections don’t require much loading because of their simple nature, but loading into the real-time combat can vary from being fairly quick to sometimes feeling sluggish. Thankfully, combat isn’t so common that this is a serious issue, but it can hurt the otherwise pretty excellent sense of pacing the game has. This is hopefully another issue that can be patched in the future, but there’s no guarantee.
While the present issues do hurt the game, I believe the overall package of Hand of Fate 2 is a worthy sequel to the groundwork that the first game established. It improves on nearly every element from the first game while still finding the time to implement several new features that help to expand on the core gameplay. With the changes to the balance, it has become a sufficiently challenging title that is a joy to play through and conquer. If you were a fan of the first game, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy this second one, and total newcomers will also be able to jump in without too many issues (they might not see the significance in some of the Dealer’s dialogue, though that’s a relatively minor concern). So pull up a chair, draw those cards, and see how far your skills will take you in the game’s…well, game.
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC (via Steam)
Release Date: 7th November (NA), 9th November (other territories)