The Dealer is back. He has forced his way out of the thirteen gates and resides once more over the game. The rules have changed but the stakes have not. It is life or death, and the Dealer seeks his revenge.
Hand of Fate 2, like its predecessor, is a deckbuiling, dungeon-crawling action rpg that has players amassing cards and completing missions as they traverse an ever shifting meta-board game.
At its core, Hand of Fate 2 plays much like the first instalment. You will find yourself making decisions in a choose-your-own-adventure style of text-based options, you’ll engage in what has come to be known as “batman-style” combat, you’ll collect new equipment and encounters as you progress, and be gambling your success all the while.
If you want a detailed rundown of gameplay and what to expect, I would advise you to read my review of the first game. This review will largely consist of what the sequel has brought to the table and what has changed.
So What’s new?
At its heart, Hand of Fate 2 maintains a very similar framework to the first game. You’ll be building a deck of cards composed of encounters and equipment and having them put to the test in a dungeon-crawling type environment. Some cards will contain tokens, which require beating them or using them in a certain way to unlock new cards.
Hand of Fate 2 also adds a fourth resource for you to maintain and grow: Fame. Upon completion of a particularly noteworthy or scandalous task you’ll find your fame will rise and shrink respectively. Fame determines what kind of gear you can wield and how some folk will treat you. Are you heroic enough to wield the legendary war hammer? Are you the prophesised saviour? Garner enough fame and you may just be.
Initially, fame feels like a tacked on mechanic, designed to stifle your power. It limits how quickly you can use more powerful weapons and armour and it seems that it might screw you over if you haven’t been paying attention. However, fame is relatively easy to come by, and it’s rare that you’ll get new equipment and be unable to use it by the end of the level because your fame is too low. When this does happen, however, it often feels like the game didn’t give you enough chances. It quickly becomes a decision to add more fame building cards to your deck, and ultimately seems unnecessary.
However, there are a few challenges that revolve around fate that are done spectacularly well. Fate certainly exists as more than something to stop you become over powered quick, but it may feel like that’s the only purpose at times.
A key determining factor of success in Hand of Fate is the shell game that has players picking either a success or failure card. Hand of Fate 2 has added two more “gambits” to determine success. Dice rolling, having more RNG than the shell game and the pendulum and wheel spin, having more skill. All three of these games are refreshing additions to Hand of Fate 2, as the shell game certainly got repetitive after extended play in the first game.
However, the dice gambit is disappointing. The Dealer gives you a chance to reroll any dice that were unfavourable once, and there are a few ways you can tilt the odds in your favour, but in the end it largely comes down to randomness. There are occasions where I feel like I did everything correctly and still failed, which tends to leave a sour taste in my mouth.
Brimstone and Platinum.
The game also adds two new types of cards. Platinum cards and Brimstone cards. Platinum cards make the game run a little smoother for you and glow an incandescent silver. Usually you can only put one of these in a deck because they are so damn good. Brimstone cards, however, glow a fiery orange and are pure pain. But they’ll have a token attached that’ll you’ll no doubt want, so they are worth putting in. There is no limit to the amount of Brimstone cards you can have in a deck.
While the first game let you build two separate decks of equipment and encounters, Hand of Fate 2 adds an additional two. Admittedly, these are measly decks of one to five cards, but are new decks nonetheless. Players can now swap out their starting equipment so that it is appropriate for the level ahead and add companions to their quests.
Yes, companions! Now you can craft a companions deck that will help you out in combat and add new cards to the game. In a fight, companions will work alongside you and offer special charged-up abilities (somewhat similar to how weapon charges worked in the first game). Otherwise, they might offer advantages to some of the Dealer’s gambits. Companions also have their own quests, ala cards like The Land Locked Lubber in the first game.
Much of the first game played the same. The first level would be more or less the same as the last, just with longer dungeons, tweaked rules, and harder enemies. Hand of Fate 2 makes each level radically different.
The first game ended each level in a boss fight, with every fourth boss defeated changing enemy difficulty and starting equipment. Hand of Fate 2 has done away with a lot of this. Most levels now provide you with a primary and secondary objective, not all of them end in boss fights, and for the most part, these levels are not completed linearly.
What stands out to me most about this change in the goals of each level is that there actually is a change in the goals of each level. Hand of Fate would have you climbing your way up the ranks of four different types of enemies for the entire game. In the sequel, you’ll find that every level has you playing very differently. Whereas in the first game, certain cards were must haves for every encounter, Hand of Fate 2 makes you properly work your deck around each individual level.
The Hierophant level, for example, has players deducing an assassin within the Thieves’ Guild. Players must win characters over with correct dialogue choices, bribe them with gold, or play to their weaknesses to find clues and ultimately guess at who the assassin is. In order to achieve this, you’ll need a deck that’ll earn you gold and build your equipment so that it can fend off thieves with ease.
Another level, The Lovers, has you protecting a bumbling potato farmer. You’ll need to have food enough to heal him, weapons and armour enough to keep yourself alive, with the quick footed-ness to save him every time he’s kidnapped (and boy oh boy does he get kidnapped a lot).
In the first game, you’d receive a level’s token upon the boss’s defeat. This token would unlock a plethora of new equipment and encounters, as opposed to just one or two. Hand of Fate 2 works a little differently. I just mentioned that each level has a primary and secondary objective, and this means that nearly every level has two tokens up for grabs.
In the aforementioned Hierophant level, for example, you’ll get the silver token upon the level’s completion, even if you fail to deduce the assassin (much like I did on my first attempt). But, if you manage to wheedle out every clue, you’ll earn a gold token. Better equipment and more exciting encounters abound!
Weapons now come with tokens attached, much like encounters and levels. You’ll have to pull off their special moves a certain amount of times or attack certain enemies in certain ways.
However, with all the new ways to earn tokens added, it feels as though individual encounter cards are sorely lacking their own. This, for me, is one of my main gripes with the sequel. Many of the new cards you will receive will completely lack a token, making the only incentive to add them to your deck the removal of the new tag and learn what they do. But why swap out tried and true cards for ones that might be useless? And certainly now that you get nothing extra out of it…
It seems that once you have enough cards that are good enough to get you out of most situations and balance resources, you have little to no incentive to try new cards if it does not have a token. And trust me, you’ll be earning plenty of new cards that come tokenless upon the completion of a level.
The first game had a similar problem, but with equipment. By the endgame, there was so much new stuff that you struggled to get through it all and figure out which were worth having and which weren’t. Hand of Fate 2 somewhat remedies this with weapon tokens, but otherwise it’s much of the same. Too many choices.
Shops now consist of simple text menus, rather than 3D rendered places that have to load in and out. This is a great improvement over the system in the last game. I doubt I could go back.
Walking over cards that are face up no longer consumes food. Another great change that makes perfect sense and has me fearing to go back to the first game. Makes the game play a hell of a lot fairer.
Decks no longer need to be 30+ cards big, meaning you can optimize them with only the best cards as the game progresses and becomes more difficult. This is in comparison to the first instalment where your deck needed to be so large that you were often running sub-optimal cards. This was the case more so as the difficulty ramped up, tipping the odds way out of your favour and into the hands of RNG (or fate, perhaps).
You can make camp on face up cards. This allows you to spend food for healing and gives you an anytime shop. You can also go over the details of your mission and perform level-specific actions.
A weapon’s ability is no longer a cooldown, but rather a combo meter. I prefer the cooldown approach from the first game, but Hand of Fate 2 balances this by giving every weapon an ability.
The card art has changed too. Many cards from Hand of Fate make a reappearance, but there are many new ones on offer, all with fresh and exciting art.
Perhaps too exciting. Much of the new card art is too over the top. Not to mention the Brimstone and Platinum ones that glow and flicker like 1 in 10,000 trading cards. It seems an odd departure from the tarot deck inspired art of the first game. Many cards feel out of place, either too cartoony or too detailed. It’s rather annoyingly inconsistent.
So, is it worth picking up?
If you were a fan of the first instalment, Hand of Fate 2 is a no-brainer. Yes, yes, yes, you should pick it up. The game keeps the heart of the first, while bringing enough new mechanics to the table to keep everything fresh. It is, in my eyes, what every sequel should strive to be.
Anthony Skordi reprises his role as the Dealer, and does a good a job as ever. The writing is excellently witty and engaging, often quite humorous too. Encounters are described in eloquent simplicity and the decisions are clear. Hand of Fate 2 is much prettier than the first and takes on a new, cosier setting. Character animations look fantastic and there is even a flashy loading screen between fights.
The batman-style combat has returned. Unfortunately, this style of gameplay does get a little tired after a while, not unlike the original. Companions and the varieties of enemy types keep things fresh, but only for so long.
If, however, you have never touched Hand of Fate, my recommendation would still be a whole-hearted yes. If you’re a fan of deck builders, roguelikes, action-rpgs or just want something different, this game should be right up your alley. Fair word of warning, you many never be able to play the first, if you start with the second.
Hand of Fate 2 is an utterly fantastic experience. A damn near perfect follow up and without a doubt the ultimate example of a sequel done right. Defiant Development have knocked it out of the park and I cannot wait to see what they bring to the table next.
A fan of deck building or online CCGs? Check out my review of Gwent!