Disclosure ‐ Our thanks go out to Defiant Development for providing us with a review code for Hand of Fate 2
As I walk up the steps into a shepherds hut I am immediately stuck by the array of trinkets and curiosities that riddle the wall and table in front of me. Sitting down I pass to the seer opposite me a small pile of cards. Taking these, he shuffles and lays them down between us. This is my life. It is the tale of how I got here and walked up these stairs. This is my story.
Hand of Fate 2 is the follow-up title by Australian developers Defiant Development. Back in the days of fire, dial-up internet and chariot racing (also known as 2013), Defiant Development released a game that snuck up on the world. Hand of Fate (#1) was a title that took the standard RPG elements of the day, upped it a notch and made it much more flexible and digestible. Playing through a deck of cards, you fight and negotiate your way through to the end of each scenario. Each run resets the player to a baseline level, but the progress gained by completing each is cumulative; the more you unlock, the better cards you can place in your deck and, in turn, the faster you will get stronger.
The flavour this game oozes is just wonderful. By wholeheartedly embracing the fortune teller aesthetics, it really captures the creativity of the player. Deaths become an opportunity to reflect alternative pasts (after all, you are sitting here in this carriage, so you cannot have died) and recognise the type of person you are. The subtlety of this mechanic emphasises a creation of character far beyond that of standard RPG’s. It is not a game about numbers, stats, and items. It is about learning the actions you took to get you to this place, it is a reflection on the choices you made that make you a force for either good or evil in the world.
Hand of Fate 2, much like Hand of Fate, places a lot of emphasis on player skill. Indeed, the start of each scenario will always have you skilled and itemised to the same baseline level, and foes are never beyond your power. Taking them down will require a careful balancing act of speed and life. How much pain are you willing to take? Your starting 100 life quickly forces you to recognise that it is one of your most important resources. Sometimes you will be better off spending and gaining life, other times you might be better off looking at your other resourses and spending those.
Alongside your life, you also have gold, food and fame. Each square you explore costs one food and regenerates a small amount of life. However, if you run out of food you can be in for bad times. If you move with no available stocks of food then you start to starve, losing life each turn until you work out a way to replenish your rations. This can be done via cards on the table, spending gold at camp or sometimes the best move is simply to just go hungry. Remember, your life is a resource too.
At its heart, Hand of Fate 2 is still an RPG. There is combat and there is itemisation. Combat is driven by a few simple actions; dodging, blocking and some special abilities, along with a large range of items you will find yourself using time and time again, both in and out of encounters.
The simplicity of Hand of Fate 2‘s combat is quite deceptive. Defiant Development managed to strike the perfect balance between complex and yet intuitive fights. For example, positioning yourself correctly is strongly rewarded, so the way the maps change vary your movement around the fight. Rather than increasing the number of ways to move, instead, they added depth by varying the maps and the behaviour of the enemies.
It is really these enemies that reward changing your own behaviour. Some foes move fast and others slow, some have range attacks and some have abilities that inhibit your movement. The mix of dodgeable and blockable attacks keeps you on your feet, analysing each battle for the best approach. Most scenarios are tied together with a theme, which will often include a common type of enemy that is more present across the board. Naturally, the type of foe will dictate items that you may choose to use. For example, axes are weaker against thieves than other weapon types.
Furthermore, the diversity of enemies is quite satisfying. Whilst there are always a couple of types in a single encounter, occasionally you will just see a mass of bodies piling towards you, each longing for your blood. It is both interesting and convenient that only one will ever attack you at a time (something which I am immensely grateful for as I would have been skinned alive a few more times otherwise).
This is not a game that is just about fighting, although that will feel like the single action that takes up a majority of your time. The remaining gameplay is spent completing events in a choose-your-own-adventure style narrative. Moving onto a card reveals a short description of what you see and what your choices will be. Sometimes it will lead you down a path of combat, other times it will lead you down a more peaceful path. You approach a house that is on fire, how many times will you dare enter to save all the occupants?
In order to conduct each of these challenges, you are supported by a couple of additional mechanics. For example, there is dice rolling, a wheel of fortune spinny wheel, a “pick a card, any card” and shooty lasers. These will all be used to help determine whether you succeed, and by how much. This means that failing happens often (about half the actions that determine success are randomly generated events) and you will pay the associated price. These prices include loss of life, food, gold or a new combat encounter. Succeeding (and some fails) will reward you with items, gold, food or health. Passing is virtually always good, failing is not always terrible.
First released on the 8th of November for the PC and PS4, and on the 1st of December for Xbox, Hand of Fate 2 is now available for all to enjoy. Priced competitively at $30 this is a great pick up and play title. Unlike regular RPG’s, which have you traipsing for hours on meaningless side quests, the Hand of Fate 2 aims to provide quality entertainment in either short or long bursts. Each scenario will take between about 30 minutes to an hour to complete; perfect for a short after school/work break before jumping onto dinner.