Defiant Development is an indie studio based in Brisbane, Australia. In recent years, they’ve released multiple titles which have garnered popularity for PC, mobile platforms and consoles. One of their acclaimed hits released in 2015 by the name of Hand of Fate and was doing good things and ended up getting its sequel, Hand of Fate 2 which has also received improvements as well. The nature of this game is best suited to the Nintendo Switch’s duality of play styles making it a perfect fit for the system. Drawing cards is a large part of Hand of Fate 2, but it’s the dungeon-crawling, skull-bashing, immersive narrative and random elements which will be the factors that draw you into it. This game of life or death is addicting many, many times over.
As far as tabletop fantasy games are concerned, Hand of Fate 2 simply nails it. If you are familiar with the long-running Dungeons & Dragons brand, or “D&D” if you’re in-the-know just hearing about it from any one player who gushes about it, then you have the basic gist of what to expect. The Hand of Fate series does set itself apart and the 2nd installment brings what’s loved from the first game while adding more gameplay elements to the mix and improving on what’s already there. One can customize their character by choosing either male or female, outfits, hair style & hair color, and any of the 4 races (you’ll fit in, don’t worry). Interestingly, every single one of these options may be changed throughout your campaign. Players also need not worry about playing through the first game in order to understand what’s happening in HoF2, but it does provide a bit of context. You are essentially a new player to the game and it does a great job of letting you understand that without any worry.
One important character carried over from the first game into Hand of Fate 2 plays a key role in not only in how you play the game, but also the driving force behind the narrative and his name is simply The Dealer. In a 100 year slumber, he has returned to the same realm as your own and takes you in as his apprentice as you two create a story together moving forward. In fact, The Dealer adds a substantial amount of immersion to the entire playthrough. Hand of Fate 2 creates a setting where even though it is a single player experience, you feel that you are in the company of a companion of some sort. The Dealer is not a static and random character whose game you are playing. His role plays a significant part in the overall story. Although somewhat confusing and taking a bit of warming up to his character, The Dealer – who’s appearance is a bit like the merchant from Resident Evil 4 and carries that same mysterious aura (what’s his background?) – is difficult not to like. Voiced by actor Anthony Skordi, the storytelling along with his insights to your journey, and some snarky remarks as well, are all very enjoyable. It never feels like you are on your adventure by yourself; a perfect segue leading up to one of the new additions: companions.
At the heart of it all, Hand of Fate 2 is a pure RPG in the form of a dungeon crawler governed by the fate of the cards in your deck against the deck of The Dealer’s. In a series of challenges, The Dealer combines both decks and places them face-down on the table in a particular layout. Players are then able to move their board piece in any direction where cards are placed to flip it over to unveil the encounter. Though you begin with a minimal set of cards, completing each challenge – which are just chapters – grants you more cards added to your overall deck which can then in turn be used for the same challenge & any of the following and previous challenges which you select via modeled map in-game. Building a deck for challenges requires the player to draw from a pool of cards within 4 categories: Companion, Encounters, Equipment, and Supplies.
There are 22 challenges altogether and each one is its own contained story within the overall main story. These stories are interesting on their own and The Dealer around to chime in during the events only make them more compelling to see through. Companion cards are a new and welcomed addition to the series especially since they serve more than one function. They assist you during battle sequences, but they also have their own storyline further expanding onto the various stories you’ll experience already. However, that choice is mostly up to the player as a companion’s story are told through their own set of cards.
Encounter cards are events which take place on the board. Every card landed on is known as an encounter, pulling from both The Dealer’s deck and randomly from the build you’ve chosen for that challenge. Encounters can be a small task or they can be a larger plot-related sequence for a companion. Equipment cards include any type of gear, from different types of weapons, armor, clothing, shields, rings and more. Supplies cards are extra items added to your inventory usually given to players at the beginning of a challenge.
Before beginning each challenge, the game will make note of a few things to expect to better prepare you. Taking these into consideration should help the player choose their cards wisely. For example, if the challenge warns you that gaining food might be what it takes to be in your favor, then making sure you have encounter cards which may supply food to the player is just what you need. In fact, no matter how good of a hand you have, every action is accounted for. In the bottom left corner of the screen are cards which depict 4 crucial status elements for your character: Health, Food, Gold, and Fame. Every move on a new card automatically consumes 1 Food, which recovers 5 health in the process. If your character has full health, well tough luck because your character is still hungry. If you’ve completely ran out of food, your health will deplete by 10 points on every new card. Players don’t need to worry to move across every card that’s already been unveiled as they can do so freely without any penalty. Luckily, in most cases, players can make camp by pressing X between moves. Here, players can review their progress, cook food if they have any, buy/sell supplies, etc.
Players can spend their gold on food to circumvent actually starving to death, or maybe even donating gold and doing a prayer for blessing cards since they allow you to have advantages in passive ways for the long run. Or perhaps players just want to spend it on new gear since players will always begin with the default, basic sets. Most gear that shows up are pulled straight from your Equipment deck and there’s also no guarantee that players will come across them or even obtain them when they do. Either you do not have enough gold to purchase them or your Fame simply isn’t high enough to equip them. They may still be given to the player and from there selling it for gold may be a viable option. Players may receive an item with good stats towards the end of a challenge or they may receive it very early, but since their Fame is quite low and that item might not pop up again, it’s just the luck of the draw. Fame is earned by doing good deeds and successfully completing certain encounters. Challenges also change up how the game is played. For instance, in the chapter shown above players must recover 4 stolen relics for the Emperor. They can succeed in doing so, but each relic also gives the player a curse. Each challenge also has varying stipulations to completing them. In the same challenge, should any of the 4 relics become damaged, players will have failed to keep them safe, but still succeed in earning all 4 which will grant the player a Silver ranking. Completing all tasks proper will earn players a Gold rank. The more and better you complete objectives, the more and better rewards you receive.
RNG in Hand of Fate 2 is about as real as it gets. Hand of Fate 2 is as fair as life. Do with that information as you will. Many times it may seem like you’re in such a leading position that it all comes crashing down due to the overall randomness it throws at you. One must accept this random nature in digital form as they would with an actual physical board game or a certain emotion called rage will creep closer and closer. What you see is what you get. What may feel like bad luck in certain moments is actually part of this game’s strength. It’s always a surprise. New stories, new encounters, new items, new mini-games! Sometimes your fate lies in the mini-games in “Chance” and the results are 1 of 4: Huge Success, Success, Failure, or Huge Failure. If the odds are in your favor, you may earn new items, gold, food, and more. If they aren’t, you may lose those possessions instead. Players may find themselves in a 4-card shuffle mini-game where they need to pick a successful card. The Dealer may even spin the cards, while facing upwards, around in a wheel like roulette and players have to stop it on a winning card. There’s another pendulum type mini-game which players must time when to stop its swing and hope it lands on a specific colored node which also move at their own rate, where the Failure nodes are blocking your path and the Success nodes are underneath them. Then there’s the classic rolling of the dice to hit a certain number. Within all of these mini-games, certain equipment may even help you beat the odds. Some encounters even truly make you crawl dungeons navigating through Prince of Persia-esque traps for treasure. These moments help break the pace and add variety that add to world-building. It’s nothing major as these are shorter segments since this is still a tabletop game, but it goes a long way that’s appreciable.
Being successful may also knock out a few enemy cards while failing a mini-game may add enemies instead. Failing will mostly guarantee a fight about to break out, but battles occur naturally through regular progression anyway and your companion will join you this time around. Malaclypse, for example, is proficient in magic and can create a spell barrier which will block a single attack and create a damaging area of effect. There are various weapons to equip, such as heavy two-handed hammers best suited against armored enemies to lighter weapons which are better suited against agile enemies. All weapon types are still effective against all other enemy types, however, but it’s your general actions which matters most. Thankfully, the combat is responsive and fun. The animations can be a little jank, but there’s a certain fluidity to the flow which feels nice.
The combat is best described as Batman’s Arkham series with medieval weaponry. Players can attack by pressing Y, defend (or parry) by pressing X, dodge by pressing B, and bash by pressing A. Each has their advantage. Bashing against shielded or armored enemies allows players to damage them much more easily. Attack indicators are shown on screen to help to player read enemy actions more easily. A red direction indicator will hint players to dodge while a green direction indicator will hint players to defend. Some weapons even allow players to riposte to inflict extra damage, which is done by attacking immediately after performing a parry. Pressing L will have your companion perform their special ability. Pressing ZL will perform a finisher on an enemy who is in a certain weakened state. Pressing R will use an artefect. These can range from health potions to throwable explosives which you can aim with as time slows down. Certain weapons also have different abilities and are activated by pressing ZR. When players have reach a certain number of hits consecutively without taking damage, they are able to use this maneuver.
There are two types of pieces on certain cards: Shards and Tokens. If you’ve managed to complete a Token card correctly, you will earn that Token at the end of the challenge and breaking it open will reveal new cards added to your deck. Completing a Shard card correctly will grant you that shard. Every 5 shards collected will turn it into a token. Many failures are inevitable, but when you do come out on top these rewards feel great. It’s like opening loot crates that don’t cost the player a single penny. And there’s always something new. The art on the cards themselves are quite nice as well, detailing the scenario of the encounter. Keep in mind that some of these are difficult and the challenges later in the game becomes increasingly so as well. “Serenity now. Insanity later.”
There’s a fine nuance to Hand of Fate 2. As you play with The Dealer in a caravan, you see the scene in the background windows roll by which makes it feel like you’re constantly moving. You hear the horses gaits, neighs and the sounds of nature. At times it’s night, other times there’s sunlight, or even thunderstorms. Little gestures given by The Dealer as the candle light flickers and potions sway as they hang from a rack do enough to make you feel like you’re going somewhere, even if that somewhere is unknown to you. There’s a certain calmness to Hand of Fate 2 while being brutal at times. I felt relaxed listening to the entrancing soundtrack by Jeff van Dyck and his close ones to provide the correct atmosphere using mandolins, lutes, guitars, dulcimers, deep winds, synths and soothing vocals that the Switch’s audio output in handheld mode is quiet and does not do it justice. There’s different tones perfectly fitted for each moment in the game, from uplifting in successfully completing a challenge and being rewarded, to the jolliness of making camp and to serious moments that feel mysterious. In fact, I refused to make the next selection in order to listen to the music and The Dealer commented on how he was waiting for me. The Dealer also makes funny remarks such as pointing out how I must like a certain card because I kept choosing it for my deck (I need that shard, damn it!).
There’s plenty that Hand of Fate 2 does well. The graphics aren’t winning awards, but the style does vary in themes, from snowy areas, to dungeons, forests, alleyways and the like. There’s even HD rumble usage. Nothing precise when relating to real life objects, such as dice, but you do feel the strength of your throw gradually increasing the further you move its position away from where it currently is. Earning shards or tokens from cards will still be given to you even if you fail the challenge. Players may change button configuration to their liking. For people like me, being able to change colors for the mini-games, for example, make it much easier for me to see. I appreciate that. The game runs at a stable 30fps and I haven’t encountered any frame drops. The only loading screens after the title screen are ones before combat takes place. These differ on many factors. They can be from 5 seconds to 20 seconds depending on your battle situation. There are a few minor gripes, however. While there is an overarching story, there’s not too much impact. The individual challenges and encounters shine in that department. Characters and enemies make grunts and yells, but the only real voice over is The Dealer. Perhaps maybe not full-blown voice acting, but maybe grunts and 1 liners for individuals you meet in encounters would add a bit of flair to the game’s text-heavy nature. The surrounding elements are already immersive. Also a little more player customization, such as facial features and different voices could do more for it. What’s there isn’t bad, though. It gets the job done, but overtime pays a little more.