The Dealer is back with a whole slew of new tricks, gameplay mechanics, challenges and cards to explore and overcome! Hand of Fate was a personal favorite of mine when it released in early 2015 and it’s been improved in every conceivable way in this sequel. Can you make it through the wildly varied missions of this roguelike-ish action card game?
Title: Hand of Fate 2
Developer: Defiant Development
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by the Developer
Interface: DualShock PS4 Controller
Available on PS4, Xbox One, Steam (Win/Mac/Linux)
Hand of Fate 2 is a dungeon crawler set in a world of dark fantasy. Master a living boardgame where every stage of the adventure is drawn from a deck of legendary encounters chosen by you! Choose wisely – your opponent, the enigmatic Dealer, will pull no punches as he shapes you into the instrument of his revenge.
The table has changed, but the stakes remain the same: life or death!
As I mentioned, Hand of Fate was one of my favorite 2015 games, so I had high hopes for this sequel and threw it on my wishlist the second I heard of its existence. I was so excited, in fact, that I was nervous to try the game out for fear that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Boy was I crazy to worry about that!
The overall concept of Hand of Fate 2 is very similar to the original – you sit at a table with the Dealer, who is voiced just as remarkably as in the original, and you play out adventures from your past via cards placed face-down on the table. These cards can trigger all sorts of things, such as real-time fights, various types of challenges, and/or multiple-option choices. Whereas in the original each “level” involved going through the various unique suits of leader enemies, this time around you’ll be completing nearly two dozen various, wild challenges!
That’s right, just like before you’ll be facing off against random cards and various enemies. By the time you reach the final encounter of a mission (if you even make it there!) you can be starving and dying or super well-prepared to crush your enemies and see you driven before you. Now you’ll be completing some other task(s) on the way, from raising your max health to over 130 so you can tank an assassin’s arrow to collecting blessings to impress a priestess or exploring huge, open areas and scrounging for food to survive. There are even more wild missions like deducing which of three assassins is trying to kill their guild master, collecting wood and stone to build the defenses of a fort while enemies advance, and even one where you’ve been badly wounded at the beginning of the mission and left with a cursed item that prevents you from healing from food.
These missions are the central part in the game’s main cycle of playing missions, unlocking new cards (either from individual cards being successfully completed or by beating missions) and then using those cards to prepare you better for different missions. New to Hand of Fate 2 is the ability to set up various parts of a mission’s decks yourself (see screenshot below). If you need to raise your max health to 130, for example, you can pack the deck with cards that are more likely to boost your max health instead of additional food or better equipment. Before each mission you can select a specific number of cards to add to the dealer’s various decks, and while you can have the game automatically choose these (and it does a good job with it), the later levels often require hand-picking some cards as well. The game has a LOT of awesome filtering options that make this easy, which was a huge relief as even games I’ve always loved like Magic: The Gathering suffer from filtering issues in video games most of the time.
Sometimes, like that evil, terrifying mission that starts you with 10 HP, it’s best to skip a level and move on or replay old missions to earn additional cards. In this case, for instance, an artifact can be earned that you can add to your starting character that can heal you by 10 HP 3 times, quadrupling your starting health! However, cards are far from the only important thing, and even focusing entirely on a single stat can be the death of you. Focusing entirely on health, for example, may make gold and food too rare and you’ll end up risking starving to death. Focusing entirely on cards that reveal lots of the map and food on the mission where the maps are so huge means your equipment will suffer and fights will be tougher. Even the perfect deck can lead to your death if you’re unlucky with the encounters the Dealer has in a mission’s deck, but even those can be mitigated through the addition of companions.
Companions are allies who will fight beside you when you face off against enemies, but they also each have their own special battle skills and effects in exploration. You can choose one for (almost) each mission (one, for example, requires The Trickster since the mission includes him). For example, The Trickster uses fireballs against enemies, grants you a shield that can absorb a hit without taking damage or ruining your hit combo and can also allow you to respin a wheel gambit. Another character adds an extra die to dice gambits, and so on. Using their gambit skill takes them out of battles for 3 turns, but if you play your cards right (pun intended) that won’t matter anyway since you won’t fight anyone anyway. However, using an extra die to win a dice gambit that nets you 10 gold and then not having a companion against a horde of enemies can result in a great deal of lost health or even death, so using their gambit skills is a dangerous decision as well.
That’s one of the things that really makes Hand of Fate 2 shine – while you may be at the mercy of fate, luck and the Dealer, you wield a perfect amount of influence over the game to give yourself a fair shot. Sure some missions are harder than others, especially if you’re going for 100% success (some missions have an additional challenge to complete to earn an additional token; tokens grant you their associated card(s) to use), but the game is never cheap or unfair. Even when I come across a few rough encounters in a row and get stomped on it doesn’t feel unfair, it just feels like I should’ve fought more carefully or convinces me to use one of my starting item slots on a better piece of gear instead of more food, gold or health.
While the majority of the game takes place with you moving around a table full of cards, you’ll also spend a good amount of time in battle. Going into a battle shifts into third person view with you running around, fighting whatever various enemies the cards have dealt you. Like the rest of the game, combat is greatly improved; I don’t remember much about the combat in the original Hand of Fate but I remember being amazed when I dove into this one. The controls are simple – you can attack, bash (which knocks off enemy armor or stuns them so they can’t block), dodge or block. Enemies will give you visual cues before they attack – red for attacks you need to dodge and green for those you can block. This all sounds familiar and very simple, and it is when you’re facing off against only a few enemies or only one type of enemy, but when you’re battling several different types and the battlefield is chaotic things get really wild! One mission, for example, has you hunting for fate shards by winning various challenges. As you move from map to map in the mission the boss – the Black Knight – gets additional allies in the boss fight, so by the time you go to fight him you may be facing a good dozen enemies with varying close and long range attacks, plus the Black Knight himself who has multiple lunging attacks in addition to his unavoidable one. Ogres in the game are ridiculously powerful as well, and while their pattern is fairly predictable a single hit can REALLY hurt and they take a LOT of damage to take down. Alone they’re a threat, but with other enemies they can very well mean death even from full health if you aren’t careful! Combat is also bolstered by some challenges of their own – this time around even some of the equipment cards have tokens you can earn by completing challenges in battle, such as killing 25 of a certain enemy with a specific weapon, and once it’s completed the card is upgraded into an even more powerful one that you can start a mission with.
Finally worth mentioning is the story, and even though I’ve already mentioned him no discussion of the story can happen without the Dealer. As I mentioned before his voice work is exceptional, just like the first game, and he’s quickly become one of my favorite characters from gaming as a whole. No detail is left untouched with him – even spending time idle can lead to some great lines that are as snarky as they are insightful about his history. In the original Hand of Fate your mission is to take on the Dealer himself and defeat him, this time around the Dealer is preparing you the best he can to take on the protagonist of the first game to get revenge. The companions mix things up as well; each has their own line of cards to progress through that can be added to any mission. These cards essentially take them through their own stories, and each companion is very unique and interesting. Finally, there’s plenty of story to be found in each mission. This text is very quickly skippable if you want (or if you’ve already seen it), but it also adds a lot of depth and detail to the already-great missions in the game.
Hand of Fate 2 is easily one of the best games of 2017 in my book, and it’s my number one indie of the year. Even though I haven’t completed it yet there’s no doubt that I will, and I’m looking forward to the Endless Mode that’s listed in the main menu (with a “coming soon” text on it). In addition to the upcoming Endless Mode, the game has additional replayability in the tokens found on various cards. Some of these take a lot of luck or skill to complete, meaning you’re highly unlikely to succeed on your first or second or fifth try. They’re minor, and loss is hardly the end of the world, but for completionists like me it’ll keep you playing.
If you enjoyed the original, there’s absolutely no reason not to get the sequel. If you haven’t tried the series out yet but enjoy roguelikes and/or unique card games it’s definitely a great title to start with as none of the game requires knowledge of the original.