Deal Me In:
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be tasked with reviewing the original Hand of Fate –a game I might have otherwise missed altogether. I called it a ‘fantastic and fresh game, heartbreakingly hampered by bugs’, and really hoped the curious little card-driven roleplaying game would get a sequel.
When it was announced I whooped, much to the bemusement of those around me, but I’m pleased to say that Hand of Fate 2 is, for the most part, the game I longed for two and a half years ago.
Once again we’re shacked up on the fringes of the known world with the mysterious Dealer, a hooded dungeon master who guides us through Hand of Fate 2, playing both friend and foe alike. Hand of Fate 2 isn’t just one story, it’s a collection of them, and their disparate threads split and weave, diverge with successes or failures, and craft altogether original little stories for every player who dives in.
You see, Hand of Fate 2 – much like its predecessor – is a role playing game in the most traditional sense. Anyone who has sat around a table with a dungeon master and fought imaginary dragons will feel right at home once the Dealer begins to read your adventures. He deals out cards – from a deck that you have some semblance of control over – and each one is an event, an encounter of some sort. Maybe you stumble across a high-stakes arm wrestling ring, or some lousy bandits picking on a peasant, or even a burning building you can save people from. There are hundreds of these bite-sized tales, and you and a handful of dice can figure out whether or not you’ll triumph in these situations.
These narrative stepping stones appear in pre-defined adventures that take on various D&D clichés, but their semi-randomized nature really mixes things up and keeps things fresh upon repeat plays. What’s even cooler is that, should you succeed in particularly tricky encounters – successfully pickpocketing a snobbish royal three times in a row, for instance – you can earn another card that will unlock a new adventure: in this case, being invited on a larger heist thanks to your nimble fingers. These cards can then be added (or subtracted) from your deck and you can hope to run into these new adventures on your next outing. It’s a really cool set up that evolves and feigns progress in a game that usually revels in stripping you of it at the end of each session, and it works fantastically at keeping you involved and having a sense of ownership over your adventures.
What I mean by stripping you of progress is that, at the outset of each new adventure – each of which must be overcome to best the Dealer at his own game – you’re given a standard load out and forced back into the wilds. That cool sword or glowing axe you picked up in the last adventure is gone, shuffled back into the Dealer’s hand, potentially to be won again. This might sound annoying but it works – starting out at the bottom each adventure and re-earning your favourite loot is satisfying, and for the sake of balance it’s a completely necessary evil.
When encounters go south – or you purposefully go looking for a fight – the game is transformed from a card-based tabletop game to a slightly generic hack-n-slash. The Arkham combat of hit, parry, evade quick time events is here again – though much more reliable and less luck based than its predecessor – but it still feels like a bit of a let-down compared to the rest of the package. Fights with rogues, thieves, knights and mages all feel the same – floaty and a little tiresome against bigger groups. There are supposed to be effective weapons against certain enemies, but honestly I found that as long as I was hitting bad guys with pointy things I was doing just fine.
The loading times between board and battle are much less egregious now, which numbs the pain of the mechanics somewhat. Like any good D&D campaign, you’re here to be pushed to your limits, and the game allows for that by pitting you against mostly unfair odds so that, even if you’re fantastic at the button mashing, you’re bound to take a hit or two and put you in danger of dying further down the line. It feels a bit cheap at times but the ends justify the means.
What doesn’t feel like a compromise are the mini-games that dictate your wins and losses elsewhere. In some situations a multiple-choice answer just doesn’t offer up enough tension, and the game asks you to perform a skill check of some sort, brought to life by one of the title’s mini-games. Whilst the original relied heavily on the cup-and-ball (or in this case, the card-and-ball) game, tasking you with watching a card during a shuffle and then picking it out of a line up, the sequel throws some variety in. I liked the dice-checks, because you can roll them around before you toss them and even re-roll particular die – for a price – and this part of the game felt the most like a D&D campaign to me. The card roulette felt more skill based than the other mini-games, and is used in particularly scary situations to up the tension to great effect. These little distractions add some meat to the game it would otherwise be lacking.
Taverns and shops now don’t have 3D counterparts that require hefty loading screens – something I begged for in my original review – so this was a change I was thrilled about. Aside from the clumsy fights, Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t get in the way of its own flow, and the importance of that can’t be overstated. It’s a game that allows your imagination to get in on the action – something videogames are doing less and less, if at all – and allowing you to go from encounter to encounter quickly means that the illusion of the game’s world – the world within the world – is rarely broken.
The Dealer is a fantastic character to lead you through all of this. Some excellent voice acting allows him to play the role of helpful friend and devious foe throughout each adventure, and his musings and quips never failed to amuse when I was facing down a particularly hairy situation. The flavourtext of the cards and their curious little images spark the imagination, too, and smart use of sound effects and music really ice that particular cake.
Aside from some janky battle animations and so-so graphics, the game runs very well. Gone are the game breaking bugs that plagued my playthrough of the original, and I was free to enjoy Hand of Fate 2 to my heart’s content. Performance during battles can be a little patchy but nothing that spoils the feel of the game. Stability was of course my biggest issue with the Hand of Fate, so I’m really pleased to say that the sequel doesn’t suffer in the same regard.
“Hand of Fate 2” is a great sequel to a brilliant concept. Nearly every one of my previous issues have been addressed, and the game has received a lot more variety and content to keep things fresh and interesting. The battle system is still archaic and clunky, but it’s competent enough for me to mash my way through it without it spoiling the experience. It’s an atmospheric dive into roleplaying games of the past, combining the best elements of D&D and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books to make something genuinely unique in video games.
For fans of either, or just good, organic stories in videogames, Hand of Fate 2 is a wonderful treat.