The original Hand of Fate was a wonderful mash-up of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, deck-building, and simple but satisfying hack-and-slash combat. With the enigmatic Dealer dishing out a generous helping of snark alongside his skeleton warriors and crippling curses, the game nailed the appeal of playing D&D with a hostile Dungeon Master, compelling you to play just one more round so you can rub the smug bastard’s face in his eventual defeat. Repetitive combat and an over-reliance on luck to get through the later campaigns kept Hand of Fate from being all it could have been, but Defiant Development hopes to fix that with Hand of Fate 2. After speaking with the team and playing through the PAX demo, I’m happy to say the studio looks to be on the right track.
At first glance, Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t look a whole lot different from its predecessor. While the graphics are a little sharper and the art style is more diverse, the general framework is the same: you travel across maps made of random event cards, battles take place in small, discrete arenas, and even the Dealer is back to exact his revenge after losing at the end of the first game. Underneath the familiar trappings, though, the core systems have been significantly reworked to add a level of variety and polish missing in Hand of Fate’s debut.
This time around, you take on the role of a female adventurer, one who–shock horror–dons more than just a loincloth and brassiere before charging into battle. Combat has seen considerable tuning, with attacks feeling snappier and dodges more responsive. The general pace of fights has increased too, aided by the addition of new weapons tailored to a variety of combat styles. I tried out a pair of swift daggers and danced rings around my enemies, darting neatly beneath the lumbering swipes of a pack of beefy barbarians. Later in the demo, I picked up a fiery two-handed hammer, and its heavy swings forced me to adopt a far more patient tact. Compared to the homogeneity of weapons in the first game, the different approaches available in Hand of Fate 2 help make your adventurer feel like your adventurer, rather than a generic pawn with the same sword and shield for the entire game.
Battles are no longer quite so lonely, either. Throughout the game, you’ll have the chance to recruit companions to fight alongside you. In the demo, I had the capricious Trickster on my side, distracting the enemy with illusions and ranged attacks while I ran in for the kill. It might not be the most revelatory of gameplay mechanics, but it adds an air of camaraderie that fits well with the D&D trappings.
Where its predecessor told a linear story through a sequence of campaigns, Hand of Fate 2 opts for a branching narrative with multiple goals to work towards at any one time. Story missions and side quests are scattered across a world map, their non-linear layout promising to mitigate the difficulty spikes that the last game suffered. The concept of Fame adds another layer of progression to the game, restricting the best weapons and items to adventurers of sufficient renown. Earning Fame requires helping out strangers and completing side quests, a loop that aims to avoid the problem Hand of Fate’s late game suffered, where striking off the beaten path only punished you with curse after crippling curse.
Speaking of punishments, the single greatest change in Hand of Fate 2 is the new chance system. In the first game, success in non-battle encounters was determined by playing a memory mini-game where Success and Failure cards were shown face-up, then shuffled together for you to pick from. At its lowest difficulty, following the position of the Success card/s was simple enough, but once the speed ramped up, it was all pot luck. This got incredibly frustrating, especially when side quests hinged on you picking correctly, and bad luck meant you had to restart the entire campaign.
In Hand of Fate 2, the memory game is gone. In its stead, I encountered two different chance systems: one, a straight-up dice roll with the ability to re-roll select dice for a better score; and two, a roulette wheel of Success and Failure cards. Both felt like I had more control over my fate, and while neither is perfect, I’m just happy to be rid of that damn shuffle game.
As a fan of the first Hand of Fate, I’m glad to see Defiant Development addressing its criticisms and broadening its scope for the sequel. Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t have a specific release date yet, but the team hopes to hit early 2017 for PC and Xbox One.