So after the first Hand of Fate, you could bet I was excited for a sequel. There was a lot of things I loved about the first installment, and with a sequel, they could go even further with the first game’s concept, make it more intriguing with more of everything, while still providing the same amount of beautiful details. I actually pre-ordered this game, and when I got my hands on it, I absolutely disliked it. There where so many nitpicks I had with this installment compared to the first game, I did not feel compelled to play it for more than a couple of hours before I gave up. Though after letting it gain some patches and updates, I figured maybe I was just stubborn and focused on how different it was from the first game, instead of looking into how Hand of Fate 2 was in its own right. With this in mind, I was ready to go in for another session.
“Okay, just let me get to the good part already”
You meet the dealer once again in a small wagon, who is testing you in different scenarios. Each session he deals out cards, provides a small tale where you, as the hero, must help out. It can be finding clues for solving a mystery, helping a man find his true love, or simply become powerful enough to wield a magical weapon. Some of these provide optional elements, such as gaining a certain amount of fame, which are neat ideas and an interesting way to provide a connection with the world you are venturing through.
However, the problems actually come from this very setup. Firstly, this is a roguelight, meaning that these stories will be retold many times thanks to the danger of death. Because of how repetitive this can become and due to a few types of cards being specifically made for the story, you stop caring about these scenarios. They also have an uneven balance in approach, as they are never fleshed out enough to be interesting, and not simple enough for you to be able to get a move on.
What makes this tedious yet intriguing setup worse, is the fact that nothing makes it feel like this is your adventure. The focus lies on the world around you or the companion you take along, and when they become shallow or repetitive, the fact that you are simply a pawn to get the story moving further, makes you rather disconnected to the world. This is an impressive feat considering the fact that you are the one deciding what will happen onwards, as you only choose for others, and not necessarily for your sake.
It is kinda like having a poor DM who wants to tell a story, but hasn’t made any interesting scenarios where you are a valuable character or make events unique. It just turns the game into a flat monologue. I can at least say that I love the sarcastic and mean-spirited dealer, who mocks you on every step you take, which does make the few moments he compliments you oh so valuable. Unfortunately, that is really the best praise I can give this story.
Story Score: 2/10
Variety in the wrong areas
After you have picked the way you urinate and a few customization options, you set out to take on the dealer’s challenges. Like in the previous game, he will deal out cards that will set you on a path, where you choose where to move and what actions to take based on the cards. Besides different equipment for defensive attires and weapons, which I will come back to later, you have a health-bar, food that must be consumed for each new step to not lose health, and coins for making purchases. New to this game is “fame” which is needed to wield certain weapons and is gained by accomplishing certain events. Unlike the first game where you got a harder challenge for each finished run, in this game you get different scenarios and unlock more as you finish others.
On one hand, this is a great idea for providing more ways to play and different challenges where you have to do a secondary objective, like taking care of a companion or save villagers by finding cards where they are hiding. Sadly, these come of as fillers and fetch-quests, and are never engaging due to this. It actually rather restricts the way you can play and comes of as terrible escort-missions or filler-collectibles that are never satisfying to go after. These sessions are also thematically played out, meaning that many scenarios will repeat within the same game and it becomes monotonous. This is an impressive feat considering that any session does not take more than half an hour to finish, but due to death being common and how few varied cards are presented, it gets quickly tedious and unappealing.
Though the core setup is still solid and there is some variety to the journey, even if they are limited. There can be cards representing shops, watchtowers, arm-wrestling-matches, and more, and to make the journey challenging or reward you subtly, you will also experience blessings and curses that can affect you in different manners, like gaining or losing coins due to specific events. Although, these event-cards are a mixed bag, as some will require dice-rolls or a QTE with rotating cards. These feel like poor inclusions, as these are too simple to be engaging or heavily luck-based. Because of this, I rather look forward to the shuffling of cards as they feel like a fitting inclusion and, with a keen eye, you might make out which card is the one to go for. As another detail that frustrates me, is that the first option in shops is “leave”, which is easy to accidentally choose.
I am at least happy that you can take a couple of cards with you to shuffle in with the dealer’s choices, such as scenarios and equipment you might encounter. You see, whenever you die or win a session, tokens you gathered by achieving certain missions will grant you new sets of cards to use, to make each adventure slightly more interesting or easier. However, this is a severely limited amount you can input so you can’t really affect the game in any meaningful way, and it is then easier to resort to letting the game auto-fill these blanks, which it gladly does for providing an adequate setup. It is understandable to not make the setup unchallenging, but it would have been better with more diverse challenges with both your and the dealer’s card mixed, making you have a clear input in this roguelight.
Some scenarios will have you engaged in playing as the character, with one of two scenarios being dungeons with plenty of traps. These are a nice callback to the last game, where you have to simply avoid traps and be careful, while also not dwindle too long otherwise spikes, fire or other hazards might kill you. These are fun breaks, though the combat is what you will be engaging in first and foremost. Before getting into the actual fighting though, I want to look at what you will be getting before you venture into fights. Each equipment can be something intriguing, be it a ring with more defense against fire, armor that can inflict status on enemies that hit you, and more diverse setups. You can equip these, as well as gauntlets and helmets, but the biggest change Hand of Fate 2 brings, is within the types of weapons it provides.
You can now use either a two-handed weapon, dual wield shorter ones, or be armed with a one-handed weapon in one hand and a shield in the other. This is to add some diverse ways of fighting, but only the shield really provides a clear difference by giving an ability to deflect certain missile-weapons. Other than that, it only comes down to two-handed being slower, but stronger and vice versa for the dual-setup. It is lazy and feels like a pointless inclusion, despite that the game tries to make certain enemies weak to specific types. I do enjoy however that the weapons come with a special-attack that must be charged by making continuous hits without taking damage and that you can gather secondary, limited weapons, such as grenades. These provide nice planning on not just what types of weapons you want to take with you, but also when to use them
Combat works similar to the previous game, but there are problems here too. For the sake of being positive, I am happy that the combat is still simplified, by making one button attack, triangle for countering, circle to stun enemies, and X to evade. This is a setup I like and enemies are easy to read for quick reactions. At least, they would be if the counter-button would work, but it is always unreliable and 30% of the time, I find myself hit despite clearly pushing the button. This is an annoyance, but not a dealbreaker as I never died because of it. There are also some new features that I do enjoy about the combat, such as the weapon-abilities and that you can perform finishers if an enemy is tired before he gets up.
Though the awkward counter-move is far from the only problem I have. While you will be fighting a good variety of enemies, they aren’t necessarily different in how they fight and can come of as reskins, which makes the combat very repetitive and dull. There are some that stand out, but these are few compared to the many human creatures that are incredibly similar. Then we have the shallow implementation of traps and ranged weapons that can only affect an opponent and not the general warriors.
This is certainly an argument for why I prefer the first game, but whenever you make an enemy into an ally for the sake of fighting for you, you can’t kill them despite that you have to for moving on. It really comes of as shallow programming than anything else. I suppose this was done since you now can fight alongside other combatants if an event requires it or with a companion if the session lets you, but these NPCs are next to worthless as they don’t attack effectively and are slow. Even if your companion can provide boosts or some supportive magic, they are such a wasted inclusion. It is more fun to fight alone and feel the actual challenge.
This lack of engaging combat and interesting scenarios are due to the focused variety being placed in the wrong areas. Instead of creating more interesting event-cards, they have side-missions that are tedious, and by not focusing all the way through to make the actual combat engaging, they instead add terrible AI-companions and uninteresting enemy-diversity. It all feels like a missed opportunity, and while there are some lovely ideas to make it memorable in what it wants to be, it does not achieve its goals.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
The importance of brutal animations
I will first compliment Hand of Fate 2 by saying it definitely does not lack variety in either locations to witness or enemy-design. You will traverse through different parts of this fantasy world, such as villages in flames, snow-covered fields, or beaches with a harsh sunset. All can be filled with magical creatures or humanoid ones that have more in common with traditional D&D-classes, like thief or warrior. Many of them do share similar stances and animations, though the design and attacks are different enough visually to tell them apart.
Sadly, while the game does not skip on quantity, it does lose a lot in quality for the sake of it. My favorite example of this is that the cards are not used visually to provide equipment or make enemies appear in scenarios. Instead, you simply start fights and it is quite the lackluster introduction. This also goes for the combat itself, as every limb feels like a loose doll-arm, giving no animated feedback on how strong attacks are. It is rather more similar to cartoony-slapsticks, but oddly enough, the animations are too stiff to be entertaining as well. If this description does not help, imagine if the Havok-engine were much poorer than what it is today. This goes for any kind of animation, making plenty of scenarios awkward.
It is a huge shame, as the game actually starts out well, with the dealer resorting to a wagon for his current home, and it is a smart way of adding a lot of details inside. It is cluttered with books, flasks, and more, providing a great amount of detail, but also showing the dealer’s decay in power. His voice will also be the one you will hear 90% throughout the game, and I love how the voice-actor does a fantastic job at giving him an uncomfortable, yet inviting vibe by taking you on a dangerous journey you are curious on. This is not due to what he says, but by how calm and strict he is in his voice work. The rest of the cast does solid work, but are kept to the shadow, which allows the dealer to step forward.
The music, on the other hand, is still wonderful. Jeff van Dyck returns to score this game, and it is calm, with strong instruments yet again, providing an unsettling, yet powerful score that always gets you in the mood for “just one more game”. What is quite neat, is while there are added musical instruments like vocals, Jeff Van Dyck provides an interesting and neat focus on guitar to “evolve” the music. We start of with earlier adaptations like Lute and Mandolin, to the acoustic and el-guitar. It is atmospheric, intriguing, yet echoes the sense of danger, fitting perfectly with the dealer’s voice and settings he provides.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Gaining more cards without addiction
This is sadly a great example of how much better the endgame content is, compared to other parts. You will quickly unlock endless-mode, and while it is tedious to do side-stories here as well, they are clearly optional in this mode and cards are random, providing a fresh experience and more excitement for what might come. Unfortunately, you have a lot of the same problems with the combat and other scenarios, and you will have to unlock cards from the main game in order to find some enjoyment. There is also an optional aspect of getting shards throughout the main game, but it does little and both endings you can gather by finishing the game, are quite anticlimactic and just end this adventure. Some might say the end-part is worth getting to, but when you need to play all 22 sessions, which can take about 10 hours before the game gets good, that is not a valid point in my eyes. Not even gaining customization for your avatar’s look helps here.
Extra Score: 2/10
I hate to be so harsh with a sequel that clearly shows so much potential, but Hand of Fate 2 does not focus on what made the first game so great and expand upon its ideas, and instead tries to add in variety for the sake of it. It completely misses the mark, and while there are aspects that I did enjoy, It always comes with one more poorly fleshed out idea after the other. As a stand-alone as well, I can’t say I had much fun with this entry. If you really need variety without any reason, Hand of Fate 2 might indulge you, but it is a far cry from something memorable or replayable.