Hand of Fate 2 Review
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thought and opinions expressed in the review are the writers own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in anyway.
2015 was a great year for the video game industry. We had a number of colossal titles that remain relevant to this day, from The Witcher 3 to Bloodborne. It was also a great year for indie developers with Undertale leading the parade closely followed by Her Story. Fulfilling the desires of niche audiences, Axiom Verge, Party Hard, and Hand of Fate quickly became recognizable titles for their own accomplishments. Hand of Fate is a peculiar case, however, as it attempts a different take on the dungeon crawling genre. Instead of generating an entire dungeon at random, Hand of Fate allows players to choose their own adventures by building decks of cards what they will encounter. Two years later, its sequel, Hand of Fate 2, builds upon that premise with a slew of additions that, depending on the player, will either augment the experience or remind them how great the previous one was.
At first, Hand of Fate 2 is quite familiar to those who played the first. A mysterious hero is greeted with a game put together by a mysterious dealer. The game—a board game where a deck of cards determines the path—is supposed to play with the hero’s fate, to enlighten their destiny and provide a unique journey. The first adventure manages to bring back that familiarity, but Hand of Fate 2 quickly distinguishes itself towards the end of the introductory journey. The player gets to customize their hero, even being able to make them a woman. While character customization is very limited, it’s there. Then, after we’re introduced to a world map of sorts, both the game we’re playing and the game the hero is playing branch out.
One thing I found interesting about Hand of Fate was its premise of providing a unique adventure depending on the deck you build. While the sequel maintains that idea for a short while, it fades as soon as subsequent campaigns are introduced.
For better or for worse, Hand of Fate 2 has a lot more storytelling. Each adventure serves as a micro-campaign with their own established stories and objectives. Whereas the first installment had a unique experience with a fixed boss battle at the end of the path, HAnd of Fate 2 has everything neatly put together so that two players won’t experience different stories. Yes, the decks still dictate the encounters, yet this gimmick doesn’t feel as engaging when the narrative starts, develops, and ends in the same manner for everyone. Encounters don’t feel as unique either, especially during adventures such as The Emperor or The Lovers. On The Emperor, the hero is tasked with retrieving a collection of cursed relics. The beginning of this adventure always uses the same introduction card, the same board layout, and the same card distribution.
After agreeing to the ask, the next area expands to represent wild plains. The layout is the same no matter how you build your deck and there’s a fixed collection of cards determined by the adventure itself. The relics are scattered throughout the map, which is brought to life by a mix of the wildlands collection and the player’s own deck. However, the relics are always the same and their initial positions are also pre-determined. The requirements to acquire the relics will always be the same and the outcomes are thus, limited. Upon acquiring all three, the hero is led to a tower—placed on the same map—where the fourth relic awaits. It’s interesting that the stories told in each adventure are remarkable, but at the same time I can’t help but feel like they detract from what made the first title worthwhile.
I haven’t played the first Hand of Fate in a very long time, but I remember having vague objectives overshadowed by the semi-randomly generated adventures. While I appreciate Hand of Fate 2’s attempt at an involved narrative, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans were thrown off by this aspect. It does, however, introduce other interesting features that make Hand of Fate 2 all the more unique and arguably an improvement over the previous game.
At the beginning, the hero is looking for bandits who stole something of theirs. The leader of the band happens to be a bard/mage who immediately becomes a companion. In later adventures, this companion will be available during combat and situations where his special trait activates. He will also be an integral part of same journeys, providing unique dialogue. His own encounter cards can only be put on a deck as long as he’s selected as a companion and much like the rest of the game, the sidequests are far more involved than the first game.
Another addition I found quite interesting is the fame system and objectives specific to each adventure. Fame will rise when you complete encounters, the amount depending on how well the encounter goes. This system is used as a requirement to equip specific items or to progress. For instance, back to The Emperor, one of the relics lies in wait in a small town. The person guarding it will only let you have it if you acquire a specific amount of fame, after which they will kneel and thank the heavens for your coming. Taking it by force is also an option, although I didn’t care for it during my attempts.
As much as the dealer brings interesting things to the table this time around, he also focuses too much on two aspects that negatively impacted my experience. First is the luck factor. I get its—it’s a board game. Luck is what makes Monopoly or even Mario Party so appealing. The ensuing rage when a roll went terribly wrong is one of the things I found so fun about 100% Orange Juice. However, those games are fun because we play them with friends. No one sits down to play Monopoly or even Clue with one other person who narrates their exploits on King Cross Station or how exactly Professor Plum used the lead pipe in the ballroom. It isn’t necessarily fun to gamble this much with the computer when the stories told through the cards would be much more fun with a group of friends.
Since every adventure is also fundamentally the same, leaving progress to luck means retrying isn’t that appealing. It’s rather frustrating to attempt a journey for the third time and fail on the same spots as before because you didn’t get a good dice roll, or because from the cards you had to pick, only one of them would lead to success. There are one or two mini-games based solely on skill, but for the most part, the dealer will be using dice and cards instead of anything the player can succeed based on how good they are.
Which leads us to combat, the other aspect that has me frustrated. Again, I get it. It’s a video game about a nameless hero on an “epic” journey, so combat is an essential part of the package. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be an excuse for starting a fight every time someone sneezes. The first game also had a focus on those two aspects [gambling and fighting], but they weren’t as enforced as in Hand of Fate 2. Every other encounter has a luck-based challenge, with some adventures relying entirely on the mechanic while the rest of the encounters are arena fights.
Much like the extreme luck factors, this feels unnecessary in a game about choice and consequence and choosing your own path. If you want to avoid a brawl, you have to rely on luck to either be gentle with the dice rolls or the board placement, because some combat-based encounters won’t even give you a chance to avoid them.
Perhaps I’m just one of those awful game journalists who should retire for being so bad at games, but I’m also not a fan of how battles throw an overwhelming number of enemies at you and little to no gear meant to assist with crowd control. The companions aren’t of much help and although some encounters will have a generous amount of generic NPCs such as farmers and soldiers to join the fray, they’re as much help as an expensive pot of Häagen-Dazs during a snowstorm.
Where are the interesting outcomes of the first game, or the challenge rooms that have you avoiding traps in order to reach a treasure? Why are dice rolls so difficult and failure cards so prominent even early on? And what the hell is up with that cartographer card and it’s unreachable token?
- A more involved narrative
- Some additions such as companions and the fame system are interesting moves
- Some degree of character customization, including a female hero
- Great soundtrack
- Interesting design evolution
- The involved narrative might be disappointing due to its linearity
- Adventures reliant on luck are frustrating and may require multiple attempts for a satisfactory outcome
- A focus on luck also means many choices and their consequences depend on a good dice roll rather than player judgment
- An unnecessary focus on combat and crowds of enemies
- Lacks the focus that made its predecessor so interesting