Hand of Fate 2 at PAX West 2016

I got to play Defiant Development’s Hand of Fate 2 during my time at PAX West, and found it one of my favourite experiences on the show floor. If you haven’t played the original Hand of Fate, which was a Games With Gold title earlier this year, I highly suggest picking it up, or at least watching a let’s play. The deck-building RPG is a bit of an uncommon concept, but it plays very well, despite a spike in difficulty.  I’m happy to say that in the short amount of time I got to play it, the sequel looks even better, and I can’t wait to check it out once it fully releases (the game is currently in alpha).

The basic premise of the Hand of Fate series is a card game. At the start of the game cards are placed face-down on a table, and the player must navigate them to the end of a level, revealing traps, enemies, and shops along the way. Successfully completing certain actions rewards new and better cards that can be used later on to take down tougher enemies. If the player lands on an enemy card, they will be placed into a third-person battle with whatever items they have equipped, and must defend themselves with melee strikes, counters, and dodge rolls. The plot of the first game revolves around the unnamed player, who stumbles across the mysterious and sinister Dealer in a pub and sits down to play cards. After defeating the Jacks, Queens, and Kings of four Courts in combat, the player goes head-to-head with the Dealer himself, eventually defeating him. Hand of Fate 2 takes place a century after the first game, with the Dealer crawling back from the underworld to seek his revenge on the adventurer who defeated him. You are his protégé, and you will help him complete his task.

Through my brief gameplay, and more so the recently released trailer, Hand of Fate 2 feels like it has much more story than the original. The overworld and gameplay spaces are much more green and lush; a consequence of the Dealer’s defeat, perhaps? But the real story comes from the most recent trailer. We learn that in the hundred years since the first game, “the Empire” has taken control of the land, and purged the (visible) evil from its borders. You can clearly tell that a long time has passed, the world is full of infrastructure, and soldiers carry rifles while we only saw barrel-loaded muskets in the original. The full depth of the story itself remains to be seen, but the fact that the game actually has more of a premise than “play cards” is a good sign.

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Gameplay has received a number of simple changes as well. You no longer choose levels from a cabinet, instead twenty-two challenges are laid out before you on an overworld. The challenges play out more-or-less like levels in the original, however instead of simply reaching the end of a level, you must acquire enough “fame” through gameplay to challenge that level’s boss. Once you have enough fame, the exit to your current section of the level turns into the boss room, allowing you to defeat them. Hand of Fate 2 also introduces mini-games, certain cards will provide a scenario that you must get through by playing one of three mini-games. Yatzee- and Wheel Of Fortune-style games have been shown so far, which a third appearing in the full game. The change I’m most interested in, however, is companions. Each companion is unique, they’ll fight alongside you with different combat styles, and give you bonus choices in certain scenarios dependent on whom you choose. I fought alongside Colbjorn, for example. A large, lumbering man, he hits hard and can knock enemies back with his attacks. Outside of combat, he provides an extra die roll in the Yatzee-style mini-game. As with all companions, he also gives the player choices that other companions don’t provide. During my playtime I came across a burning home with a child trapped inside. I asked him to go in an save the child, keeping myself out of harm’s way. Although he was successful, he could have failed had I drawn a failure card,  injuring himself and causing me not to succeed in the encounter.

One of my least favourite new changes would have to be the revamped combat system. Is it bad? Not necessarily, I’ll need to reserve final judgement until I can play sitting down, and not at a noisy convention. And who knows, I might just need more practice with the changes. I thought I was stinking up the place because I hadn’t played the original Hand of Fate in a while, but after coming home and giving it a try I did about as well as I always do. So who knows. The combat is basically the same, although it has some changes that make it arguably better, even if I’m not used to it. You can swing your weapon, dodge, shield bash, and reflect projectiles. Although I didn’t get a chance to try either, Hand of Fate 2 allows you to forego the defence of a shield, and dual-wield or  use a two-handed weapon. The combat has also been slowed down somewhat from the original, which is a breath of fresh air. The first Hand of Fate felt like a lot of rolling around, shield bashing enemies, and countering attacks until you got a chance to strike, rinse and repeat until all the bad guys are dead. The combat in Hand of Fate 2 is less button-mashy and more fluid, and less twitchy. The dodge, which is now a jump to the side rather than a roll, was enough to make me dislike it as a whole, but like I said I may just have to get used to it. Overall the combat is objectively better, even if I’m not a fan of it.

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Aesthetically, Hand of Fate 2 is beautiful. The art is a lot more detailed than the simple style of the first game, which raised money through Kickstarter in early 2015. Battles are prettier, and items such as food are more colourful and less flat then the original. The heart, which shows your character’s health, was fairly detailed in the first game, looking like an actual heart with chambers and ventricles. However, the heart in Hand of Fate 2 no longer looks like just a drawing of a heart on a card, but a real, fleshy heart. The audio is great too. The composer from the first game returns, as does the outstanding voice actor of the Dealer, Anthony Skordi. Most games I’ll read a character’s subtitles and skip before they’ve actually finished talking, but in Hand of Fate I would put my controller down and listen to whatever the Dealer had to say, even if it was something inconsequential.

In the end, Hand of Fate 2 feels much more RPG-like than the original. Rather than just a card game, you play from an overworld, and must do certain tasks to gain fame and fight the boss. Fame also allows you to acquire “legendary weapons”, which as they sound, are more powerful than your garden-variety sword and have special abilities. Classes and companions make the game and your character feel deeper, you’re no longer a random warrior who decided to play cards with a mysterious cloaked man one night. Enemies are more robust, with special moves, strengths, and weaknesses that set them apart. Fame allows you much more control over your game, you won’t randomly stumble across the boss and miss doing something, because you know exactly where it is, or you might not even be able to challenge it. Bosses have a health bar, so it’s no longer a case of smack ’em until they die. You know how far you are from beating them, and can change your strategy accordingly. I believe enemies can have health bars as well, possibly through use of a specific item. I never encountered enemies with visible health during my playtime, but I noticed that the person ahead of me did. RPG-elements were present in the original Hand of Fate, but they feel more fleshed out and expanded upon in the sequel.

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Before I finish, I’d like to remember that none of this is set in stone. Hand of Fate 2 is currently in the alpha stage, which means that anything could be added, removed, or altered. Some of the images in this article aren’t even up-to-date. During my playtime the Dealer wore a white cloak, rather than the red and blue one from the first game, and was more scarred than in the images I used. The table, too, looks different, and currently the game uses the more detailed heart/health bar during combat. That’s not to say not to be excited, of course, Hand of Fate 2 is setting itself up to be an excellent game. I’ve already seen some good aesthetic changes compared to earlier assets, and constructive feedback from the community may have Defiant adding more wanted changes. Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t have a concrete release date yet, but Defiant is shooting for the first quarter of next year, so fans won’t have to wait long to get their hands on the game. Hand of Fate 2 will be launching on PC and Xbox One.

Did you play the first Hand of Fate? Are you looking forward to the sequel?

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