I’ve been waiting for Hand of Fate 2 for a while, and man, I was not disappointed. A sequel to 2015’s card-collecting beat-’em-up, Hand of Fate 2 improves on the original in just about every way. Its difficulty and losses bring a strange sort of joy, that you can only get from knowing next time you’ll do better. And the Dealer? Well, I still kind of want to see if I can kill him with a playing card.
Like its predecessor, Hand of Fate 2 revolves around playing against the mysterious Dealer, possibly the nastiest dungeon master south of the north pole. His sinister game of cards plays out on a simple table in front of you. As you take your turns, you move about the cards, turning them face-up and playing their encounters. Some are good, like getting some extra food or equipment to help you on your journey. Some are bad, like being attacked by bandits or suffering an injury. And like the first game, a lot of them are chance-based, or some mixture of skill and chance. Pay attention to how cards are being shuffled, or watch a roulette wheel closely, and you might just come out ahead.
One of my favourite changes in Hand of Fate 2 is the variety. This occurs both in and out of combat. Outside of combat, you have much more games of chance to test your luck against. You have the standard four shuffled cards from the first game, a dice roll, and a roulette wheel of cards, among others. You can’t choose which one you’re getting, but it’s really nice to not be playing the same one over and over. Inside combat, weapon types carry a lot more weight than they did in the first game. Heavy, hard-hitting hammers and axes are great for those pesky, muscle-bound Northerners, but you might want to grab some daggers if up against speedy, attack-dodging thieves. Weapons also have a special ability that can be activated once a certain hit chain is reached. While not extremely powerful, usually doing something like knocking down an enemy or doing slightly more damage, they’re always still helpful. If you can hit an enemy for 25% more damage, why not do it? It won’t single-handedly win a battle, but it will sure help. Some weapons, usually weaker ones, will give you a token if you use the ability enough, generally granting you an upgraded weapon. It’s a really great way to get you to play in a way you might not otherwise have, using a weapon you’d normally ignore to grab its token, or attacking an armoured enemy to build up your hit count without killing them.
And that brings us to tokens. Ah yes, tokens. One of the most exciting parts of the game, at least for me. The booster packs of the game, getting tokens by completing challenges and winning encounters will add more cards to your deck. Not only is it exhilarating to open one, you can use the cards inside to help you along your journey. If you fail a quest but managed to secure a token by say, protecting some farmers from skeletons in the process, one of the cards inside might help you finish next time. Cards are, of course, very important in this deck-building game. You can let the game build a deck for you, but I don’t suggest it. Or at least, I half suggest it. While it’s a lot easier to build a deck from scratch than it is in a game like Pokemon TCG or Magic: The Gathering, it’s still a good idea to work with an edited pre-made deck, especially as you learn. Auto-generate a deck, and play a round or two with it. Is one of the cards completely useless for your play style? Ditch it, and put in something that works better for you. It’s not so much that the automatic decks are bad, it’s that they might not fit your style. And as with any trading card game, it’s really exhilarating to win with a deck you built yourself, especially one you fought hard to obtain cards for.
Speaking of fighting, we mustn’t forget the other major aspect of the Hand of Fate games: combat. Facing off against against multiple enemies in a small area with only your weapon and your wits, you’ll have to dodge, counter, and strike at just the right time to emerge victorious. This time around, however, you’ll have help. Sometimes you’ll get a handful of soldiers or farmers to help you defend their lands from an encroaching evil. And most of the time, you’ll have your very own companion to help you along. Unlike weapons, you can only choose one per quest, but the choice is still important. Each has unique abilities that will help in certain situations. Malaclypse, the first companion you get access to, is a magician that shoots homing fireballs and can give you a magic shield. Outside of combat, he’ll let you re-spin the roulette chance card if you were unhappy with the outcome. It’s also really great that companions and allies aren’t really going to save you. They’ll help, for sure, but you’re still going to be the one winning the battles, and the battles are still challenging.
Getting back to variety for a minute, Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t so much have the “levels” of its predecessor so much as it has “quests”, which I mentioned before. Instead of just wandering around a dungeon to kill a boss, you’re actually trying to do something. One quest, for example, tasks you with clearing out the zombie-like corrupted from a city while locating and saving citizens. There’s a lot of walking in this one, the map isn’t fully laid out at the start, so you have to explore and move about a lot. If you’ve played the first game, you know what a lot of moving means: each card you move on to (in Hand of Fate 2 it’s only unrevealed cards) will cause you to consume one food. Hit zero food, and you’ll start taking damage due to starvation with each movement. As you move through the city, trying to save people and sometimes running into dead ends, you’ll consume a lot of food. The best way to get it back is to “make camp” in the city. There, you can buy and eat food to restore your health, a huge improvement from the wandering back and forth between two cards to eat that was present in the first game. Food is a lot cheaper than in other quests (you can make camp anywhere), the army selling it for one gold per food, rather than the 3-4 it usually costs, depending on how much you buy at a time. Still, you need that food, and you need gold to get it, and you might just have to sell a piece of equipment you want to get that gold. It’s a great risk/reward scenario, especially when you’re running low on food and gold, and the best thing might just be to book it towards the end of the quest, leaving any remaining citizens to their fate.
Now it’s time to talk about some things I dislike, most of which are combat-related. The biggest one would have to be invincibility frames, which happen when you activate a weapons ability or use a finisher on a downed enemy. Both are pretty slow, as you plunge an axe into a bad guy’s back or become a tornado of daggers. It feels cheesy to me that for a couple seconds you can’t be harmed, especially with the risk/reward in other parts of the game. Attacking a downed enemy is all reward, I want there to be a chance that their friend will hit me while I’m doing some grandiose killing blow. My other big beef is quite similar, this time dealing with getting trapped. Some enemies can use things like bolas or magic to trap you in place, forcing you to struggle to break free. The thing is, the enemies kind of just stand there while you’re stuck, making no real effort to attack their now vulnerable foe. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t do anything you’re going to die, but if you break free quickly you’ll probably not get hit once in the time you were trapped. The only big pain about being trapped is that you can’t attack, and since there’s usually not a time limit for combat, that’s really no big deal. I’d also like to point out that I suuuuuck at the combat in this game. These slightly cheesy things help me stay alive, and I’m still annoyed by them. My final issue, and this is a carry-over from the first game, is that the Dealer talks a lot, usually mocking you or giving snide praise. This isn’t bad in itself, because he’s amazing, but it can get annoying when you have to wait for him to shut up so you can read about the upcoming quest.
Hand of Fate 2 is an excellent game. If you liked the first one, you’re going to like this one. If you never played the first one but like beat-’em-ups or deck builders, it’s also a great one to try out. It’s not without its flaws, mostly in combat, but they’re few and far between. It’s a well-polished game that improves upon the original in almost every way, and is something I think anyone interested should look into, even if it’s just watching a let’s play. The game releases November 7 on PS4, PC, Mac, and Linux, and on Xbox One December 1.