Hand of Fate 2 Review – A brilliant Successor
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Release: 7th November 2017 (PC, PS4) / Xbox One soon-ish
I´m not a big fan of card games, not Hearthstone nor any other game could really catch my interest. Still, after picking it up on a sale Hand of Fate quickly won me over with its unique approach to both roguelikes and cards. So with the release of the sequel just around the corner I had to check it out and can happily confirm, that it´s bigger and better in every aspect.
Hand of Fate 2 plays after the first one, giving the control over a whole new character on his journey through the dealer´s card game of fate. Divided into 22 different sub-levels, each with their own story, new characters and twists, we´re sent on a journey to win the game or die trying.
The big story behind both games isn´t particularly obvious nor complicated, only referenced or hinted at through cryptic metaphors. One of the biggest improvements is the fact that the 22 different segments all feature their own little mission now. A central conflict or goal, like regaining stolen artifacts or gaining enough blessings to meet the queen at the end. However, all of it is told by the different cards in our deck and the dealer´s. Even though the original game came out in 2014, it´s still a very unique system to tell a story through cards. Depending on the spot we land on, it´s possible to either encounter a story-relevant card able to bring us closer to our goal or help us on the journey. While the central cards of each passage are provided by the dealer, the other half is selected by the player, offering everything from little events to long running side stories.
Those are determined by the new companions found throughout the game. From a betrayed northmen to a more comical mage, Hand of Fate 2 offers a wide variety of them with their own plots completeable by landing on the right card, giving the whole side quests a whole new meaning.
The whole story is once again told exclusively by text and imagination, resembling more of a visual novel or Dungeons & Dragons style games. Since they´re all well written and really convey the unique feeling of coming from a card game, it´s a wonderful way to immerse the player into a world full of mysteries and strange creatures. However, because no world is peaceful Hand of Fate 2 cards often come with choices that need to be made, little mini games or even fights to settle their conflicts.
In combination with the main and side quests most of these encounters connect or play in a much better way than in the previous one. From uncovering more and more about the mages Malaclypse´s past, problems and goal to sneaking in a castle or having to challenge orcs for blessings, the game can offer a surprisingly diverse experience during its ~20 hours long main campaign. They feel like an ongoing plot in bigger stories.
Nonetheless, the game can remains true to its roots when it comes to the gameplay itself, for better and worse. On the one hand, nearly every mini game may seem like pure luck, like the classic card shuffle or wheel, that determine whether the characters have success or fail at certain events but none is purely out of the players hands. For example, it´s possible to follow the cards movements during shuffle or determine when the wheel stops. Only dice rolling seems a bit too luck-based. Yet, the games never seem unfair and constantly give the player a fair chance of winning them. The mix of skill and luck was always a great feature of Hand of Fate.
The actual core part of Hand of Fate 2 stayed pretty similar to its predecessor as well. Most of the time will be spent on the card table, where the dozens of cards will be randomly placed to create a giant field of events. The different missions serve more as an overall direction and gives every area a way clearer vision. Especially since most of the cards are chosen by the player out of the ever-growing deck of cards. Basically, the player can choose the parts a level is made of while the dealer just mixes his own obtainable mission cards into the mix to add an own little twist.
Once the table is created an all cards are laid down it´s up to the player to choose a route without knowing what might lie under the next card. Additionally, every move costs food, a resource obtainable by card events and incredible important for longer areas. Gold on the other hand serves more of an optional function, able to purchase or trade with the different people encountered on the way. Depending on the luck, obtaining the required mission item, gaining new equipment etc might be easy or full of traps. If a human eating plant will take 20 hp from us in exchange for nothing or if we´re able to steal a weapon from it, is determined through the previously named mini games. The constant fear of the unknown, while trying to conserve the available resources are core parts of Hand of Fate 2´s greatness.
However, it now feels so much more diverse because of the various mission objectives and design. Where the predecessor featured nearly the same exact goal in every mission, the layout of the cards, flow or obstacles are unique every time. From chasing items on a giant card field, to different tiny areas centering about special events or even levels on time. It feels so much more interesting and new every time, compared to the slowly redundant becoming ones from the predecessor. Combined with the ability to choose most of the cards, Hand of Fate 2 offers much more layers of diversity. Considering dying during a playthrough means to restart the whole segment, having options to diversify is not only neat but necessary. I only wished dying would reward you in any way than simple knowledge.
Unfortunately, my biggest complain stayed mostly the same too, the combat still feels way too clunky and unresponsive. Even though the great Batman Arkham combat system served as the role model, it just doesn´t feel completely right. Mostly due to the animation priority for most moves, along the big health pools of the enemies, fighting seems more like hitting punching bags and hoping to be able to parry. Big enemies that can take around a dozen hits aren´t fun. Even though they tried to make it a bit more tactical by laying a greater focus on the strength of weaknesses of different weapons and enemy types, the base didn´t change and feels as mediocre as ever. It´s fun but not to its fullest potential.
On the other hand, Hand of Fate 2 nails the looks of both the real-time fights and card table segments. On high settings it´s a quite demanding game for some reason but rewards you with one of the most atmospheric recreation of a mysterious card table. Everything from the dealer to the curtains looks stunning and just sucks the player into its world. The combat sequences may suffer from some stiff animations and clumsy looking moves but both the models and environments just fit into the world of Hand of Fate 2. Underlined by a beautiful soundtrack, it´s a gorgeous experience to play.
Hand of Fate was a great game, offering a unique mix of card games and roguelikes along Dungeons & Dragons influences. Yet, Hand of Fate 2 somehow manages to surpass its predecessor in all things. It has clearer goals in its different quests, more diverse gameplay and is simply bigger and better in every aspect while staying true to its roots. Minor flaws like the more or less average combat system, some too luck based minigames or the repetitivity of dying and having to replay the whole area again are quickly forgotten once the game begins to suck you into its world. Defiant Development delivered a truly brilliant game, that leaes nearly no space for criticism.
[A Review Code was provided by Stride PR on behalf of Defiant Development]