Hand of Fate 2 review: Lay your cards on the table

Credit: Defiant Development
Credit: Defiant Development /

Hand of Fate 2 makes improvements across the board from its predecessor while keeping your success tied to the luck of the draw.

Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC (version reviewed)
Release Date: November 7th, 2017

The mysterious Dealer has returned, cards in hand, ready to play yet another game of life or death. He menacingly stares at me from under his balaclava hood and the frustration and hatred I felt for this narrator from the first Hand of Fate came quickly rushing back. “This game has been my life for more years than I can count! I have a certain pride regarding its twists and turns,” he assures me. I see what you did there, Defiant Development – now let’s see the resulting Hand of Fate 2.

For those of you unfamiliar with the first game, Hand of Fate is a unique hybrid of a deck building card game, roguelite, and an action RPG all wrapped into one. Players craft a deck of encounter and equipment cards, which are then presented in varying arrangements  face down on the playing table. You must then traverse through these cards, revealing encounters along the way that will test your combat skills, timing, and most of all, your luck.

It’s like a lite version of a tabletop RPG, with equipment, health, food, gold, and fame points. One card might have you test your luck with dice rolls, while another might throw you into a mini-arena to fight enemies in some real-time combat. Players work to meet the current challenge objective(s) in order to unlock card tokens and progress through a series of 22 unlockable missions.

Hand of Fate 2
Credit: Defiant Development /

While Hand of Fate 2‘s core gameplay is the same as the first game, the sequel makes some much-needed improvements. The games art style and aesthetic have remained the same, but the graphics and animations this time around are much smoother and cleaner. You can now customize your character, though your options are limited to preset skin colors, genders, and basic color schemes. An improvement for sure, but still not enough to add any real character attachment or connection.

Perhaps the most notable change is in the game’s combat system. Hand of Fate uses a third-person hack-and-slash, free-flow style of combat akin to the Arkham video games. You jump from enemy to enemy, blocking and dodging attacks when prompted while building up your combo points to unleash a powerful ability. Hand of Fate 2 has added more explicit indicators for when you should be dodging versus blocking, though not always accurately.

Sometimes enemy animations get interrupted yet they attack anyways, leaving you no time to adjust. Or for whatever reason, two enemies attack at once but you can only properly respond to one of them.  I found that in some arenas, the field of view was also a bit restricting, making it hard to see where all of your enemies even are. For the most part, the combat is clean, fair, and enjoyable, but the occasional hiccup can be extremely frustrating when every hit point matters.

Hand of Fate 2
Credit: Defiant Development /

It’s not just the combat system itself that’s changed – enemy variety has also undergone some much-needed improvements. There are several different enemy types, each of which belongs to a “clan” with their own strengths and weaknesses. The big Northern brutes are susceptible to one-handed weapons, while the shield-bearing Empire soldiers are best countered by bashing them with heavy weapons. Not to mention the occasional unique “boss” encounter, forcing you to think on your toes as you learn their attack patterns. This ties into the inclusion of more weapon card variety, forcing players to think about their weapon choice both during deck building and on the tabletop.

Combat is only half the battle, though. Hand of Fate 2 has also added much more variety in its tabletop gameplay to test your luck and timing skills. Different encounters can trigger several different mini-games: dice rolling, a spinning wheel of cards, a swinging pendulum, and a “magic trick” style choose-a-card game. There’s even the occasional mini obstacle course gauntlet, complete with spikes and fireballs. With practice, players can learn how to time their selections in these mini-games to obtain ideal results. But depending on the encounter, this can sometimes be near impossible, leaving your fate up to randomness. So not only are we talking about card draw RNG, but now we have an additional layer of salt-inducing unpredictability on top of that.

Hand of Fate 2
Credit: Defiant Development /

Be sure to stay hydrated to counteract all the extra salt this game brings with it.

Luckily, the game threw us a bone with the addition of companions. Players can choose from one of four different NPCs to accompany them on their journey. These companions act as aids in combat with special abilities such as a damage-reducing shield or by stunning nearby enemies. On the tabletop, companions have abilities to help with some of these randomized mini-games. The duel-wielding warrior Colbjorn, for example, allows players to add an extra dice if they fail to reach the required dice total for an encounter. These companions all have their own mini story told through encounter cards as well, which is a neat little way to tie everything back into the core tabletop gameplay.

Speaking of story, players select their missions via a  new overworld map. While the challenges in the first Hand of Fate were displayed linearly, Hand of Fate 2 gives players more options in selecting the order they complete each mission. Each of the 22 available missions has its own unique story and objectives, adding more variety and creativity to its gameplay.  One mission has you saving villagers from an impending Northern force, slowly moving across the map, while another has you maneuvering around mountains, gathering resources to build up an imperial fort that is under siege. While the creativity and variety is welcomed, this also makes each mission feel a little too independent of each other. The campaign feels more like a bunch of bonuses missions strung together than a complete story.

Hand of Fate 2
Credit: Defiant Development /

Each mission also differs in deck requirements, rules, setup, and win condition, which just adds yet another way the campaign keeps things fresh while putting a heavier focus on deck building. The game does include an “autofill” feature to create your deck, but the algorithm seems to favor cards you recently acquired or ones that have associated tokens on them. You don’t know what a card really does until you encounter it during a mission. And while it’s definitely important to explore your deck, using too many unknown cards in a mission will not typically lead to success.

That being said, unlocking new cards can be crucial to completing a more difficult mission, which means including them in your deck. This inevitably led to replaying easier missions several times, which seemed like a more efficient (and safer) route than trying to include them in your progression attempts. While seeing the variety of each card and figuring out its little quirks was nice, the grind of replaying missions quickly felt repetitive.

Hand of Fate 2
Credit: Defiant Development /

While Hand of Fate 2 has a fair amount of nuance to its mechanics, the game (and the Dealer) do a tremendous job teaching the player how the game works. In fact, the Dealer really steals the show – his voice acting and narration is top notch. He clearly explains what is happening throughout the game, pointing out how Hand of Fate 2 has changed from the first while still throwing in the occasional taunt and snide remark. The game is constantly changing, the Dealer explains, and the user interface and user experience is tailored to make it clear to the player what those changes are.

What the game doesn’t teach you, though, is how important luck is to your success. When you die in combat, the Dealer says: “Every failure in combat can be combated by success on the table!” I would argue that Hand of Fate 2 stresses just the opposite. Ultimately, there are several layers of randomness you have to deal with to be successful on the tabletop, with deck building and risk analysis the only ways to give yourself the best change. You have more explicit control over your performance in combat, and even then, the enemies you face are likely determined by random card draws. The difficulty becomes almost more about luck than skill, which eventually leads to frustration more than enjoyment.

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As much as the graphics and animations have improved, the game is not without its fair share of glitches and hiccups either. The game inexplicably crashed several times, particularly when trying to return back to the main menu. A few times I’ve encountered some z-fighting, one time which resulted in my death during combat in a tense battle that should have been won. I’ve seen enemy models bug out and become unattackable, my companion attack dead enemies on loop, a random card getting stuck in the middle of a screen, and rare frame rate drops to the point of the game becoming nearly unplayable. I can typically deal with the occasional glitch, but when it happens at a key point in a mission that is already challenging? That becomes hard to ignore.

Ultimately, Hand of Fate 2 does everything you would expect from a sequel. It improved its graphics and added new gameplay variety while keeping its base formula and aesthetic intact. It’s a clearly superior iteration upon the idea of a hybrid hack-and-slash action game and tabletop RPG. Ultimately, though, your success can be limited by the amount of randomness that comes with this type of card game. One can certainly appreciate the unique mechanics and gameplay, just be sure to stay hydrated to counteract all the extra salt this game brings with it.

The first <em>Hand of Fate</em> creatively blended together different gaming styles together, and <em>Hand of Fate 2</em> makes improvements across the board to this formula. The art style, music, and core gameplay offers players a unique gaming experience unavailable elsewhere. Lady Luck isn’t always kind, however, and when combined with the occasional graphical issue, unwanted frustrations arise. Despite its flaws, it’s still worth the effort for those with patience and determination.. Defiant Development. . Hand of Fate 2. 6.5

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.