by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
The cards fall again
I rolled the dice, and I came up short. The maiden who I thought was in distress was simply a charlatan, luring me into a trap. She stabbed at me with the knife she had concealed in her corset and whistled to her henchmen, who immediately sprang forth from the trees. My companion and I were outnumbered, but we were prepared. This, unfortunately, was not an isolated experience. I’m definitely a sucker for a pretty face and the possibility that the distressed damsel would be forever grateful. But only two towns ago, something similar happened. I won’t be falling for that again.
Her beady-eyed companions sprang into action in the hope of securing our meagre valuables, but myself, with my speed and trusty swords, and my mage companion, Malaclypse were up to the task. We quickly cut a swathe through the henchmen and got a nice reward for our efforts. It wasn’t the reward we initially wanted, but gold and food will suffice.
Like the original, Hand of Fate 2 is a combination of a deck-building game and action-adventure game. The card game portion requires some strategy and luck, whilst the action portion requires skill with a virtual blade. The general mechanics of the game have remained the same, but the team at Defiant Development have added a heap of new features and improvements that enhance the original.
Stacking the deck
For those unfamiliar with the original, the game begins with the selection of your deck of cards. Cards are sorted into four categories including companions (if you have more than one), weapons and equipment, encounter cards and a special card that provides an extra starting bonus (such as extra food or an extra weapon). Once the deck has been selected, these cards, along with other cards the dealer adds, are shuffled and arranged on the table and will form the map. Some of the effects of the encounter cards will be known, whilst new cards added to the deck will be unknown until they are turned over on the table. Each card turned over acts as a step along the journey through the map.
The shady looking dealer, a combination of gypsy fortune teller and Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master lays out the cards and it is up to you how you navigate the map, moving from one card to an adjacent card, each card representing an encounter of some sort. Encounters could include a dice game, a chance card game or could end in a combat sequence.
One area that Hand of Fate 2 excels in is the combat, with smooth, simple controls allowing for an even fight. Combat takes place in real-time in a third-person view on battle grounds that are somewhat confined, but still open enough with room to move about and evade enemy units. Players can choose to bring a range of weapons to the fight. Dual-wielded knives provide for a quick slash, whilst heavy two-handed hammers are slow but pack a punch. And the standard sword and shield combination is also available. Enemies come in a range of styles, and, like your character, can come with slow wielding powerful weapons, whilst others are more agile but do less damage. There are also ranged units that stand back and fire various weapons from a distance. But even up close, these ranged units can provide a challenge. Battles can have as little as three or four enemy units or as many as a dozen, including some great boss characters.
Luckily, the weight of numbers can be reduced somewhat by companions. After gaining their trust, companions can offer to join your band. Companions are a great new feature to Hand of Fate and offer the player a range of choices prior to entering a battle. As mentioned in the intro, Malaclypse offers some mage-like abilities to the combat portion of the game, firing off fireballs whilst also being able to cast a short-term protective barrier around you. Other characters, such as Colbjorn, are more powerful, but do not provide the same protection as Malaclypse. Determining which supporting character you bring into the contest is often a personal choice based on your play style on the battlefield. As well as the companions, on certain occasions local militia can be recruited to your cause, allowing you to concentrate on the more powerful enemies whilst other foes are distracted. And, at other times, characters will enter the battle that need to be protected. In these encounters, there is the need to move about and take on foes, but the need to keep the companion safe often determines the tactics in battle. This variation in battles definitely prevents the game from becoming a grind.
Visually, Hand of Fate 2 is only a slight improvement on its predecessor. This is not an indictment on the game, though, as the visuals of the original were great. Much of the play centres around the darkened, mysterious setting of the dealer’s table. The set is full of browns and blacks that give an air of deception. This is in stark contrast to the vibrant and colourful settings of the action sequences. And there is enough variation in locations to make it feel like you're not rehashing over old ground. Characters, too, are clear and easy to define, allowing a strategy to be set up for the various enemy styles. The only issue I had is with the camera that follows the player around the battlefield - if you move too far to the back of the battlefield, it is difficult to determine where enemies are, or indeed where your companions are and what they are doing. This could have been due to my play style of moving around as often as I could, evading enemy attacks as much as possible.
The audio is superb. The haunting music during the table scenes increases the mysterious nature of the gypsy-like dealer, his deep voice often mocking if you fail a particular encounter. His banter is actually quite good, always entertaining, even when he is telling you how bad you are. He talks you through your choices and how you seem to be choosing the same cards in your deck, the sound of thunder often booming in the background. And once you join the battle arena, the sounds of battle bring the combat to life.
Luck... or lack thereof
Being that much of the game is determined by the roll of the dice or the turn of a card, luck plays an important role in the outcome of encounters. And although I have enjoyed Hand of Fate 2, there are times when I’ve been frustrated at the roll of the dice or the fall of the cards. Generally, one or two consecutive unlucky results can be dealt with easily enough, but three or four can be disastrous, especially when funds and food are depleting rapidly. And continual hits on your health, through no fault of your own, is damn annoying. Poor performance on the battlefield is one thing, but death through bad luck is another thing completely.
Rolling the dice
Hand of Fate 2 retains the same basic gameplay of the original, but the new additions to the game make it a vastly improved product. Yes, I still have an issue with luck determining the outcome of much of the game, but this falls both ways - good and bad. It's just that the bad rolls are much more frustrating. But this is the only real issue I have with Hand of Fate 2. The visuals set a wonderful tone, as do the music and dialogue, but the smooth combat and the addition of the companions make battles feel fairer and more complete, whilst also providing support to the enjoyable storylines. Now if I could just find a damsel in distress that wasn't out to kill me, I'd be happy.
Smooth combat controls and great new features
Luck still plays a large part in the outcome of encounters