Hand of Fate 2 has a simple concept shared by its predecessor; a fantasy adventure where major events and battles are determined by randomly drawn cards and then played out in real time combat ah-la Arkham. But while the original game wasn’t exactly the most technically polished, my experience was plagued by long load times, the sequel is not only significantly better feeling technically, but the whole game is more robust. More cards, more scenarios, and more challenges to overcome.
A New Deal
The moment you begin a game in Hand of Fate 2 you are thrust into some rapid-fire choice making. Each game is presented by The Dealer, who starts this initial game by giving a brief background (all through text) about your quest, your goal, and the obstacles in your way. But as The Dealer flips cards you quickly realize that this game has to be taken as seriously as any other tabletop card game, as items, bonuses and your possible death hang in the balance.
Each quest has a beginning, end, and certain encounters the dealer has to hit, what happens in between is all up to the player. At the start of each quest you choose from your deck of cards to add various items, encounters, companions, weapons and shields. These cards you own are the spoils from previous missions, giving you more options and opening up more strategies as you progress. Cards also don’t show you what you can gain or lose by using them until you try, meaning you have to experiment with different weapons and encounters to see all The Dealer is offering. Further still, tokens can be attached to cards which can be won by completing whatever the card brings in the right way.
While simply being tossed into is a great introduction to a game where the player understands the concept going in (DOOM 2016 anyone?), if someone were to send me into this game blind I could see the no-help start being a hurdle. There were different mini games that are not fully explained, such as a pendulum style game which you have to stop it at a certain point. Since there was no instruction, I completely hit the wrong target the first time, thinking I had nailed the challenge. Once I understood what was expected, completing the skill-based mini games was no trouble at all, but that immediate cluelessness wasn’t the best first impressions. Other minigames fall completely in the realm of chance, such as dice rolls. There are items you can pick up during your journey to grant re-rolls or add pluses to hit certain target numbers, but there is still a strong chance factor to a lot of this game.
Arkham When It Needs To Be
As for the combat, it is no secret that this game lifts heavily from the Arkham Asylum series’ combat system. Once you encounter enemy cards during the tabletop sections, the game will change to a third-person perspective in a small arena where you’ll strike, counter, and stun your enemies in simple but satisfying real-time combat. Even when it feels like a cartoony version of Batman’s brutal beatdowns. Even the companions you get in the tabletop sections join the fight as helpful allies.
When it comes to beating down baddies it gets the job done but there are noticeable spots where it feels half-finished . Whenever I found myself not countering fast enough, I couldn’t tell if it was from lack of feedback (seeing a symbol, the enemy winding up for his attack etc.) or if it was due to something more vague like the weapon type or the defense rating of the shield When my fate was in the cards, trial and error was definitely not something that was fun to dabble in.
This isn’t to imply that the combat in Hand of Fate 2 is terrible, but a bit more crucial feedback would go a long way.
Deal Another Hand
While combat comes in almost every mission, the differences across the missions themselves is what makes them worth playing. They quickly feel like adventures weaved by an experienced game master. Scenarios like quests to solve unrequited love, outing would-be murderers and chasing down blessings before climbing through magical towers.
The moment to moment excitement of a new quest was always thrilling and I constantly opted to use new weapons, tools and encounters if I had the chance in order to continue to discover the different ways the game could play out.
When Hand of Fate 2 is transparent about these systems it leads to a great deal amount of fun, but there moments even here that are lacking. For example, tokens are often attached to cards, meaning that killing baddies in a certain way with a weapon or completing whatever event the card brings will give the player more cards in their deck. However, there may not have enough information to accomplish those things, what move to use or what enemy to kill, etc.. Or when it is a two-step challenge, it can leave the player feeling like actual accomplishments are just out of reach.
I had one instance where I had to not only draw 1 in 4 cards to achieve success, but I then had to follow up with a very high dice roll to complete the token challenge. On another instance, I had to kill a certain type of enemy, only to find out that the entire quest I was on was going to be using a totally different type of bad guy. There is nothing wrong with predictability and when the numbers are on your side it definitely makes the success that much sweeter, but when that success is based on chance it can feel like a carrot in front of the player’s nose.
As I finished my time with Hand of Fate 2 I felt a certain twinge I get from time to time: the joy of seeing untapped potential. The universe based on The Dealer and the stories he tells and plays out with the player leaves room for every kind of iteration of this game, from mobile spin offs to expansion packs that add different characters and different missions.
This universe is ripe for additions and if the attention to detail can be maintained as well as refinements to its “less is more” design approach, the fate of this game’s universe seems to be in great hands.