Explaining exactly what Hand of Fate 2 is all about isn't as easy as you might think. Too frequently when developers try to do too much and sit in more than one genre, it goes terribly wrong, and games can end up being a Jack of all trades and a master of none. At its core, it's a fantasy adventure that combines card games, action and RPG elements. To be honest, this game does it all, with bells on.
You take the role of a hero on a quest, led by a dungeon master type character who looks like the lovechild of Merchant from Resident Evil 4 and Emperor Palpatine. As you take on the 22 missions found on the board, you progress further towards the final battle. At the very start, you're dealt some random cards, however, before heading onto subsequent adventures, you must first build a deck using a selection of cards obtained during previous outings.
The cards include encounters, companions, and equipment. Once chosen they're played face-down on the board. When choosing you can try to avoid as much conflict as possible by selecting cards such as competitions and visiting the shop. However, the dealer also has some cards up his sleeve as well, or that are mission-dependent, and these are mixed among yours on the table, so even if you want to avoid a fight you'll still need to prepare for action.
The fighting itself is pretty simple, but don't mistake that as a negative. Along with a sidekick, such as the trickster or the wanderer, you and your companion charge into battle, sometimes alongside friendly soldiers, and take on baddies such as skeletons, thieves, and even goblins. Block and attack buttons are pretty much your staples. There are onscreen icons which tell you when an attack is incoming and when to dodge, which makes it feel a little bit like the Batman: Arkham combat system.
If you build up enough hits you can launch a special attack. There's even a couple of finishing moves to boot. It's all framed from a third-person perspective and the action takes place in a variety of different locations, like tundra and forests, with even a few cliffs for your foes to plummet from. The graphics during both the combat sections and when sitting at the card table are great, and there's creepy music to set the tone, like some of the less dramatic music from Skyrim.
Your comrade-at-arms lends a hand during battle. Ffor example, one of them charges and stuns your opponents, while another gives you a shield. You will fight to the death, either yours or your opponents, before moving on. If you die, however, you will also fail the quest your currently playing through. That makes your choice of sidekick a pretty important part of the process right from the very start.
It's not only during combat that your sidekick can help. The Wanderer can give you an extra die if you fall short on a roll, for example. Be warned, however, as he will sit out of the next few turns which may be detrimental during a subsequent battle. Maybe dice lending is pretty strenuous work? You need to decide what is more important - a challenge or a fight - because you never know what's just around the corner.
The map is basically made up of facedown cards that are randomly dealt out every time, giving this game a roguelike aspect. You don't know when you'll pick up the good gear you put into your deck or come across a rather taxing challenge. Some of the cards contain tokens which if collected, on successful completion of the mission, will open up new cards for the next quest.
There is so much going on in this game, and most of it will keep you entertained and enthralled for hours. Along with the events, quests, and companions, you're tasked with competing in dice games, spinning wheels of fortune, and taking on a skill-based pendulum task which involves pressing buttons at the right time. The mix ensures that the game is fun, interesting, and always engaging.
The 22 quests are nicely varied. Quite often you have to find and kill a boss, but along the way, you may have to protect a farmer and keep him safe while he searches different locations for his lost love, or discover which one of three characters are planning an assassination. Not knowing what's coming up and when, makes the game a real pleasure to play and, as they say, variety is the spice of life.
The only downside could be the learning curve. You need to know which cards are best before you head on your quests. For example, there are three different weapon classes (heavy, one-handed and two-handed), and certain foes you fight will be better at dodging heavy weapons. Also, while you walk around the map, you consume food. If you run out then you begin to starve. Your life ticks away, which combined with the threat of battles and random events like blizzards, adds a sense of tension, but it also means your quest can end rather disappointingly. We were playing one mission, had survived multiple battles, only to starve to death just before the end. One word: frustrating. We like the idea of living in a meritocracy, and we don't like relying on luck. Hate of Fate 2 relies heavily on it, and a few bad draws will leave your current quest in ruins. This can also mean that an hour of your life was for nothing.
Beyond a couple of niggles, we thought that Defiant's mash-up of ideas ended up being both engaging and entertaining, and the variety of experiences it offerse will keep you playing for many hours. If you like card games, simple battlers or fantasy role-play, then you really need to consider taking a closer look at Hand of Fate 2. The tasks and individual stories are involving and the graphics and sound set the tempo perfectly. Yes, it can be a bit frustrating and the difficulty curve and luck-driven gameplay may be a bit too much for some, but we thoroughly enjoyed its challenge. Now, with the game out on Switch, it really is a great time to try something that feels quite unique, and if you're on PC, PS4, or Xbox, it's worth going back if you missed it the first time around.