The original Hand of Fate was a unique game that combined elements of card-based mechanics with real-time action and a smattering of choose-your-own-adventure elements. It was unique and fun, especially for those of us who have played our fair share of D&D. It felt like the dealer was our DM.
It wasn't perfect, but it had a great premise. Now, Hand of Fate 2 is out for PS4 and it promises to improve on the original in every way possible. That's a tall order, so does this game rise above its predecessor, or did we get dealt a bad hand this time?
A Selection of Stories, Wrapped in a Blanket of Revenge
The original Hand of Fate suffered from a story that didn't feel very dynamic. It had a strong mystery, but repetition quickly set in as you faced off against the various captains the Dealer sent after you.
In Hand of Fate 2, the story is divided into a series of smaller stories that each have their own threads to follow. You'll be faced with a variety of challenges, objectives, and twists to deal with. It's far more dynamic than the original. There are even multiple outcomes for each level that represent a standard victory or a gold one.
In one story, you'll be tasked with hunting down stolen relics across a wide selection of cards where the relics move each turn. In another story, you'll be forced to hunt for clues to save someone from an upcoming assassination.
The ability to repeat the stories for a better outcome and take advantage of the randomization that the cards provide is what makes Hand of Fate 2 immediately better than its predecessor.
Throughout these bite-sized stories, the Dealer will also offer his own cryptic narration and hints at the greater story happening across all of your smaller ones.
The performance by Anthony Skordi is nothing short of perfection as he delivers his smooth and confident narration. He will comment on events that are happening as well, offering subtle encouragement or a jab at an already rough situation if you fail an activity.
The story is further developed through the encounter cards that you come across during your journey. These are randomized and consist of the ones you put in, as well as ones added by the dealer. These micro-events often add even more lore and texture to the story and the world.
These are also the situations where you can learn more about the new companions that join you on your adventures. Various encounters that are specific to these characters give you an opportunity to learn more about them and their personality.
This all culminates in an experience that is constantly seeking to immerse you in its world and the events happening all around you. Whether it's the sharp writing in the game descriptor text, or the cryptic narration, the story is always engaging you in some way, shape, or form.
By giving each level its own self-contained story, Hand of Fate 2 manages to keep the player engaged far more consistently than the original title did. With extra polish and encounters in other areas of the story, the sequel comes through in fine form.
A Mixture of Gameplay Elements That Blend Together Cohesively
Hand of Fate 2 is one of those cocnepts that sounds like it's trying to do too much at once. After all, how can you combined a card-based game with an action RPG and still manage to throw in consistent choose-your-own-adventure elements?
Allow me to illustrate a typical turn in Hand of Fate 2:
- The Dealer lays out an arrangement of cards, face down. You move your token to the first one and it flips over.
- Let's assume it's an encounter card. You'll read the text explaining the event. In this example, you've see some enemies up ahead on a bridge. You're given the choice to attack directly or throw a weapon at the weak supports to collapse the bridge.
- For the sake of this example, you need to roll dice to see if your attempt is successful. You roll, and you just manage to succeed with a combined score of 13.
- The results are explained to you as you choose which of the enemies to sacrifice and which to fight.
- The game pulls you into the card, along with your current equipment, and places you in a 3D arena to fight the enemies in real-time.
- You finish the encounter and return to the table with the Dealer, ready to move to the next card.
As you can see from the example, the cards represent the events on your journey and are revealed as you move. Your health, current food stores, and your inventory can be accessed on this screen. You can also make camp to purchase equipment, food, or consume food to raise your health.
You can even change your character's appearance and gender at any point while camping, allowing you to customize how you look in combat.
Cards are used to represent encounters, shops, objectives, enemies, and so forth. You'll also be given cards to represent your weapons, armor, and any blessing or curses that have been put upon you.
Each turn flows seamlessly from one event to the next. In our example, you needed to roll dice to succeed, but other types of encounters will have you stop a spinning wheel, pause a metronome on a specific space, or even choose from face-down cards that read "success" or varying degrees of "failure."
The strategy comes into play when you begin a level. You'll have the option to choose your companion, encounter cards you want to add to the ones the dealer will add, and starting equipment.
By giving yourself a loadout that improves your odds, you can easily turn the tide of the level. Death at any point will send you back to the beginning, so your deck composition is important.
Of course, having a companion that gives you a useful ability in combat is also helpful, along with the right weapons for the enemy type. Combat in Hand of Fate 2 is real-time fighting with the option for defense-breaking kicks and counters if you're quick enough when the green icon flashes above your head.
Depending on your weapon, you will also have an ability you can trigger, and a powerful move when your combo counter reaches the appropriate number.
Your companion will also have a skill that can be triggered when their meter is full, giving you the chance to turn the tide in specific battles. While the combat is much more responsive and interesting, it can still feel sluggish at times. Sometimes it felt like the counter was not as responsive as it could have been, and the animation is somewhat clunky when it does happen.
Beyond this, your fate will sometimes be left to chance or a sharp eye. Dice rolls, choosing a card and spinning the wheel all leave certain outcomes to luck. These don't represent a majority of the gameplay, but they can turn your luck one way or another.
This means that sometimes you're just going to have bad luck. Whether it's a string of encounter cards with poor outcomes or bad dice rolls, sometimes fate just feels like it's out to get you.
While it can be frustrating to lose, the randomization pairs well with your ability to strategize accordingly with your deck and the choices you make when you are in power.
Overall, it's a unique experience that manages to juggle all of these mechanics without ever feeling like they are mismatched. Furthermore, the balance feels very cohesive between each element.
Fans of Dungeons & Dragons, card-based games, and choose-your-own-adventure games will find a lot to love here.
Detailed Art Combines With Sharp and Polished Presentation
Hand of Fate 2 is an exceptional looking game from top-to-bottom. The Dealer himself is a mysterious individual with lanky hands and grotesque pustules on his face.
The carriage you find yourself in has a detailed interior and a 3D map where you choose your next level. The way the Dealer sends cards through the air and deals them out onto the table makes me grin every time. It's a presentation that is detailed and confident.
Of course, the experience would fall apart if the art on the cards wasn't interesting, and I'm pleased to report that this aspect is excellent in Hand of Fate 2. Card portraits have extremely detailed and varied art on each of them. Even the weapons have unique art for each type and variation.
The only place where Hand of Fate's presentation falters is during the transition that happens between the card game and combat. I realize this is a loading screen, but it's meant to show the cards flying by as you fly down a colorful portal to the combat arena.
During this loading screen, there is some visible judder that breaks the immersion somewhat. It has no effect on the gameplay itself, but it is noticeable and consistent during these loading screens.
Combat itself feels a lot better than the first game, but the animations can still come across as clunky. The character models are certainly more detailed, but compared to the detail everywhere else, the combat is the least detailed from a graphical standpoint.
Honestly, though, these are nitpicking observations in an otherwise smooth and solid experience. In comparison to the original title, Hand of Fate 2 is a better game in every way.
Not only that, but it proves that the talented developers at Defiant can deftly combine several different mechanics into one cohesive and very fun experience.
When it comes to the hand that this game deals, I'm going all in, and you should too.
Final Score: 9.0/10
A copy of Hand of Fate 2 was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes. Version was tested and reviewed on PS4 Pro
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 12/7/17