STAFF REVIEW of Hand of Fate 2 (Xbox One)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Hand of Fate 2 Box art The first Hand of Fate really surprised me as I expected some sort of standard card based game, but I got anything but. Developed by Defiant Development, the anticipated sequel is now here, aptly titled Hand of Fate 2. Just like its predecessor, it may lure you in with its promise of card based mechanics, but there’s much more to it than that, including challenging combat and deck building strategy, but I hope you have luck on your side, as you’re going to need it throughout. Even though you might assume it’s a card based game, which it is, it plays much more like a classic tabletop game you’d bust out with friends more than anything else.

The memorable and mesmerizing dealer from the first game returns once again for the sequel, taking place a century after the previous game. Oddly enough, there’s no large overarching story, but instead there are 22 separate mini stories that act as levels themselves. It's here where you’ll be tasked with new objectives, meeting new characters and learning the evolving gameplay mechanics as you progress, all of which are very reminiscent of the first game.

If you haven't played before, you sit at a table in front of a very mysterious man that informs you is about to tell you a tale with his cards that are laid out on the table. You are represented by a small carved figurine, and you choose which pathway to take among the cards, each card revealing the story laid out in front of you as you progress. Some cards are helpful, coming in the form of shops or blessings, while others are traps, destined to make you fail your journey or resulting in you having to face ambushes of enemies trying to defeat you.

The stories that you are told are interesting, though mostly short, but some of them will take some time to complete given the secondary objectives you must do if you want to appropriately finish that particular story with a gold medal before moving onto the next. It’s a very interesting blend of RPG, card, and board game, as there’s not really much else like it that I’m aware of, done to this quality.

Cards are taken from your deck, which you specify for the most part, and your ultimate goal is to reach the end, usually ending with a battle against a challenging foe. As you progress, the objective becomes much more complicated, as you’ll need to earn enough fame, or find relics, etc., before making it to the end of each chapter. The cards are laid face down, so you don’t know which each one entails as you land on it, though the majority of them will have you facing battle or losing gold, health, or food supplies.

Certain cards allow you to make a dice roll to determine the outcome. Roll over a certain number and you’ll have success, fail and you’ll likely be thrown into combat against a group of thugs, thieves or worse, the new musketeers that can fire at you from afar. You’re given three dice and are allowed one re-roll of however many dice you choose.

Outcomes are also determined a few other ways, usually via a choice of 4 cards that are shuffled in front of you, but there’s no way to realistically follow a specific fail or success card to choose from, so it’s simply a game of chance. There’s also a ‘wheel spin’ of sorts, placing a number of cards in front of you and spinning them quickly, as you try and stop it on the card you want to choose. This takes practice to learn how much lead time you need to have in order to accurately choose the card you want, so this is even more chance based than skill as well. These little mini-games are fun, and even though I’ve had long stretches of wins, I've had even longer bouts of losses, in a row.

You’re also in possession of inventory cards than range from weapons, gear and accessories. These can be put into your deck to give you a leg up on the combat that you’ll face ahead. As you progress and clear missions, you’ll earn better gear, some of which is special, like a very high damage axe that requires you to have enough fame to wield it in each mission. To get fame you’ll need to explore the ‘map’ more and take your chances with landing on more cards, but this is where your resources come into play. You have cards for food, gold and health. Certain quests will ask you to decide whether to use some food cards to feed the poor, or maybe hand over some gold to avoid a battle, but if you don’t have enough resources, you’re going to suffer.

Sometimes luck is on your side and you’ll have an abundance of food, which at a camp, is usable at any time between card movements, and it can be converted into health, which you no doubt may have lost during your last combat or had bad luck on a game of chance with the cards. When not at camp you’ll be traversing a mountain, losing health almost every step of the way, so it’s a balance of how many cards you want to land on and turn over, hopefully gaining a reward, versus simply staying alive and making to the end this time around which seems more challenging than before.

You can attack, parry, dodge and bash, along with use specials and finishing moves with the triggers. Battles are short, as you are usually up against a handful of enemies, but they will challenge you as different types of enemies start to get mixed together. Combat itself is much like the type that the Batman games perfected, with colored icons above enemies’ heads displayed before they are about to make their attack, allowing you to dodge, counter or bash appropriately. The challenge comes when you’re surrounded, with later foes who are quite quick, testing your reflexes. While not as fluid as the Batman games, I started to do much better when I stopped button mashing, and instead, purposely hitting each button at specific times, sometimes waiting for a counter instead of constantly attacking.

Fill your combo meter and you’ll be able to utilize a special attack which varies based on which type of weapon you’re wielding at the time. These are very powerful and are a great reward encouraging you to try and keep your combo count up without getting hit. Certain zombie-like enemies will also have to have to be 'dispatched' with a finisher or else they may come back to life, so there is some prioritization of who to kill, and how, in some battles.

As you play more you’ll learn each enemy type’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, the stronger Viking-like enemies are very powerful, but slow, so you can easily counter or dodge away, whereas thieves are weak, but you need a much quicker reaction time to counter their attacks. Eventually you’ll be pit against a dozen or so enemies at a time, and it can become very satisfying when you’re able to do so without taking much damage.

Arguably the best addition to the series, and its combat mechanics, is the fact that you now get to take a companion into battle with you. As you progress through the campaign missions, you’ll meet, and recruit, new members into your party. While there’s only a handful to obtain, each of them add a completely different type of sidekick that will be best suited for different play styles, so you’ll need to play with, and experiment, to find out which suits you best.

Even though you choose your deck before starting attempting a challenge, the randomness of how they are laid out means that chance, or lady luck, plays a large part of your success or failure. Even though Hand of Fate 2 isn’t very narrative driven, which is ironic for a game where reading is involved between played cards, the gameplay is engaging and fun, even if it’s heavily luck based. I do wish that the dealer narrated all aspects of the reading parts though, as he has a wonderful and mesmerizing voice that calls your attention.

If you were a fan of the first Hand of Fate, the core formula hasn’t changed all that much, but it’s been refined as a whole. Some new additions, like companions, add some new exciting gameplay are to be found, but in the end, it’s essentially the same experience as before; slow progression and a feeling of repetitiveness now and then. Oddly there’s a lot of stutter and hitching during certain scenes and loading, though during gameplay it seems fine, even on an Xbox One X.

On one hand, the randomness adds in a factor of replayability, but on the other, the sheer randomness and luck involved with some of the elements can either be very rewarding or outright punishing. While it can become repetitive after a while, the decision to cut-up the campaign into mini stories is a great one, as you can sit down and do a challenge in a short amount of time if you don’t have much time to game in a single sitting. Even hours in, the gameplay is challenging and the randomness will constantly keep you on your toes, forcing you to weigh your options ahead of you. When all is considered, Hand of Fate 2 is still worth your time, so pull up a seat and get dealt in.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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