Released on November 7th, 2017, Hand of Fate 2 is the first direct sequel we’ve seen to something covered here. Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing about the first game, it is also Australian dev Defiant Development’s final game – the company went defunct in July 2019. Founder Morgan Jaffit has chalked their closure up to a failure to adapt to the changing nature of the game market and the risks taken in making their games. Ultimately, it sounds like the games weren’t selling enough to recoup what they were spending on making them. This is deeply unfortunate, because the Hand of Fate games are some of the most polished and graphically impressive things we’re likely to see in this genre, and the refinements made to the game’s formula make it easy to recommend over its already enjoyable predecessor.
Premise and Gameplay
Largely being an enhancement of the first Hand of Fate’s formula, I will not go back over much of the background in my post on the first game. In brief, the Dealer, having suffered his first loss at your hands in the first game, returns to narrate your traversal through “22 paths of wisdom and despair”. As before, you navigate your way around a card-based game board, managing resources and equipment as you make choose-your-own-adventure style story decisions and fight enemies in real-time action rather than turn-based card combat. Rather than collecting and playing cards during a run, you select a pool of cards you may or may not come across during the run, affecting the equipment and scenarios you will encounter.
The biggest modification is the expansion of the concept from simply surviving a run to taking risks through exploration. The object of the original game was to endure movement around the board long enough to get to the next floor, eventually reaching and defeating a boss. Exploration is now encouraged by walling off access to the boss until certain criteria are met. There are different extents to which runs can be completed, as well. Many will deem you successful if you rout the boss, but extra rewards can be obtained for completing all the objectives.
You aren’t adventuring alone anymore, either: you can have a companion alongside you. Companions offer a variety of support, such as using ranged magic or acting as a secondary melee attacker to draw enemy attention while you focus on walloping someone else. Enemies now have different resistances and weaknesses to certain equipment, and you can even unlock further benefits from your weapons by using them a set number of times in a specific way. This helps to mitigate a problem with the previous game where equipment choice was almost always a no-brainer exercise in sticking to the weapons and armour with the highest stats.
Combat is still melee focused and feels a little more responsive this time around. Little icons appear if an enemy can be hit with a special or finishing move, which I’m grateful for because it used to be easy to forget to ever use them and just hammer the normal attack button if things got hairy. You will likely still do a lot of that anyway, but with the greater variety in enemy types, you are encouraged to at least think about changing your approach from time to time. Your character still does the thing where they will ‘slide’ toward the nearest enemy in range if you press attack but you aren’t close to anyone, as though ice skating in their direction, but it isn’t as egregiously obvious. I don’t think it does anything particularly innovative or exciting to sell you on this style of combat if you aren’t already a fan of it, but I think credit should be given that this is still a novel form of engagement for this early in the genre.
Other improvements may not be apparent unless you played the original. A big one for me was the moment I noticed that travelling over previous-visited spaces no longer consumes food, enabling exploration greatly. You can now camp at any time to restore health and trade for items, but the risk of running out of food and starving remains. On the whole, a greater amount of important decision-making is on offer at any one time, and that’s usually a good thing.
Not a whole lot new on this front, but there are two things I deem worth bringing up here. The first game had a bit of a difficulty issue whereby 85% of the campaign missions could be fairly easily blasted through on your first try if you were good enough at the action combat and were careful with your equipment, until the last two or three missions stonewalled you by making you likelier to come across bad cards that sapped your health and resources, leaving you in poor stead for the boss fight. This has been addressed by rebalancing the difficulty curve. I started getting game overs around the 5-6 mission mark, but these were rarely things that couldn’t be overcome without a little more thought about rebuilding my deck and a second try. By endgame, you are spending a good bit of time before a run choosing exactly what you hope to come across in your deck instead of just hitting the ‘Recommend’ button and hoping for good RNG, as it now makes more of a difference.
Another feature that I think may be more controversial is the addition of more purely luck-based minigames on top of the random success-failure cards from the first game (which also make a return appearance here). The most curious of these is a dice game, where you roll three dice and must beat a certain number for a positive outcome. This is novel the first time you play it, but because the only action you can take if you fail is to reroll one dice, it quickly becomes uninvolving. I can think of an easy way that this could have been improved: have the Dealer roll against you (perhaps within a certain range) and have the result of his roll hidden until you make your own, not unlike rolling against your DM in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Perhaps there was a development reason they wanted these instances to have a definite hard-set number you must pass, but as it stands, there’s little engagement to it, especially as you can’t quit partway through.
It’s hard to tell in static screenshots, but a lot of care has been taken to liven up enemy encounters and locations. Enemy typing is a lot more diverse now, and I’m happy to notice that the lighting has better direction now, meaning you can get a much better look at the models now. Your own character’s appearance and clothing is now even partly customisable. The font is less ye-olde-traditional looking, but it is much more immediately readable, which is definitely the right call to make for a text-heavy game.
The vocal performance of Anthony George Skordi as the Dealer is once again the standout here. I honestly think the HoF games would only be half of what they are without this character, and that’s very unusual for a genre that lives or dies by its gameplay mechanics. HoF2 is a great example of how a little bit of good writing goes a long way to keeping someone coming back to a game, and the Dealer’s voice samples invite you to consider the worldview of the game beyond what’s simply written on the cards. At times aloof and condescending while always waxing philosophical, he seems to equally delight and despair when you overcome his challenges. Lines like “I never understood the duel. If you’re at war, use every tool at your disposal. If you’re not, let things lie” give you a bit of a window into his mindset but he’s every bit the enigma he was in the first game. I also noticed a bit less repetition in his voice clips between runs, which greatly helps his credibility as a ringleader overseeing your whole journey.
Jeff van Dyck returns on the OST, doing a spectacular job staying within the tone and motifs of the first game while expanding on the instrumentation. Voices, wind instruments and acoustic guitars get more of a look in here. Surprisingly, some of the tracks border on Zimmeresque bombast. Defeating any encounter brings with it an almost deafening celebratory blast of synthy horns. I’m personally delighted that winning a run brings with it a new but equally exciting guitar piece while you pore over the spoils you can carry into future runs. I’m going to make a point of looking into other games purely on the basis of his scores.
It saddens me to think that this is perhaps the last we’ll see from Hand of Fate as a series. I think 2 came very close to perfecting its formula. Having said that, given how hyper-competitive the indie space is, perhaps we should be grateful it even got a sequel with this much love and refinement to begin with. There’s three packs of DLC I have yet to dive into. Quite honestly, I actually would like to keep them to one side as a treat. I know that it’s only a matter of time before I will get the itch to challenge the Dealer once again.
Cards in HoF2 are significantly more involved than their predecessor. As such, the compendium doesn’t offer up full details of a card’s dialogue or functions – those surprises are saved for the game itself. The compendium simply shows how cards can affect a run mechanically.