Hand of Fate 2 reminds me of the excitement I had playing a tabletop adventure back in the day. With every card flip, you never know if you are about to be richly rewarded with loot, square off in exhilarating real-time combat, or be faced with a tough decision that will effect the rest of your journey. Everything from hit points to weapons to encounters you face are represented by cards, and half the shuffled deck is chosen by you, and half by The Dealer, every time you play Hand of Fate 2 is a unique experience.
Before we dive into the mechanics of Hand of Fate 2, let us pause and acknowledge what elevates this action roleplaying game from good to great. The Dealer is a mysterious character, burned and scarred from the events in the first Hand of Fate game. He is narrator, guide, mentor, and sometimes antagonist as he deals the cards that will decide your fate. Although he has a warm tone in the beginning, you cannot trust his motives… Brilliantly voiced by Anthony Skordi, The Dealer enhances every event in the game with his rich gravelly narration. Other games like Bastion have had great narrators, but Skordi’s work here supplements the player’s imagination any helps create a rich experience every step of the way. Just give a listen:
After choosing your character’s gender and appearance, your small beginning stack of cards is mixed with the dealer’s, shuffled, and your first adventure begins. The Dealer lays out cards to the side representing your health, food, and gold, places markers in a bowl that represent a reward for completing the adventure, and finally spreads a few cards in a shape representing your path. As you move your character marker from one card to the next, The Dealer will comment on what card is revealed beneath, and you also consume one food which restores your health from previous battles. Each card has simple but iconic artwork reminiscent of Tarot cards and along with the description on screen and The Dealer’s comments, you get a rich description of the encounter before you. You may have revealed a group of bandits out to get you, or a travelling merchant offering wares in exchange for your gold, or even occasionally a benevolent fairy or fellow traveler who gives you something to help you on your way.
Some of these encounters can go several ways depending on your choices, or a blind draw between 5 cards representing good or disastrous consequences. Is that little girl really lost in the woods, or is she leading you into a trap? Each card flip as you move can bring you good or bad fortune, adding or taking from your health, gold, and food. Sometimes you will earn items like weapons or armor, which are represented by cards that remain in front of you. Blessings are also earned or given, and these cards grant you combat buffs, or better odds in your dice rolls or card draws. If you complete several levels of “maps” of the laid out cards, you typically will face a stronger enemy or group of enemies at the final card. If you survive, you earn several new cards that you can mix into your deck in further adventures. This is how you unlock new armor and weapons, as well as adding the chance for benevolent encounters on your next trip.
Storytelling is great, but we came here to play games, not just listen to a story, right? Don’t worry, there is plenty of combat, and it’s fun. Each battle takes place on the type of terrain you find yourself in the story. If you were crossing a bridge, the fight is on a bridge. The cards you drew transform in an animation into the number of foes you drew, and your armor and weapon cards similarly transform and descend on your character. Now it’s time to square off against your foes! Depending on the scenario, you may have help from townfolk or soldiers, but they can also be a liability if you need to keep a certain number of them alive. You will almost always be joined by your Companion who you pick at the outset of your journey. New Companions are unlocked as you progress through the map, and each Companion has a different special ability that will be helpful in certain circumstances.
You have four basic choices as you fight, each mapped to the main ABXY or Circle Square Triangle X. There is attack of course, but also bash, which breaks the defense of a shielded foe. Dodge is useful, especially when an enemy flashes red indicating an unblockable heavy or ranged attack. And you better press block quickly when an enemy flashes green, or you will also suffer heavy damage. There are also special attacks, companion powers, and finishing moves that are occasionally available with the shoulder buttons. Most battles only last a few minutes, but they are fun, fast paced, and inject action into the game.
I have heard Hand of Fate 2 characterized as “an action role-playing video game with roguelike and deck-building elements”. While this description is accurate, it misses the point. The Mona Lisa could be called a series of brushstrokes arranged on a canvas. Hand of Fate 2 is a new adventure every time you play, brought to life by your imagination stirred by the iconic card design, the rich narration, and combat. The map is brimming with challenges to experience, but each one is short enough to enjoy in a single sitting, so you can sit down and enjoy an adventure even with a busy schedule. If you enjoy rich storytelling with an element of risk and danger, along with some fast paced engaging combat, Hand of Fate 2 is a great game to add to your collection.