Tabletop games and video games.
They both seek to entertain and challenge, but do so in very different ways. Many of the first role-playing video games actually took their systems and settings directly from Dungeons & Dragons. As time went on, however, video game developers found that technology let them try new things. Seemingly disconnected ways of playing games could be combined into one. Mass Effect took standard RPG combat and incorporated shooter mechanics. Pokémon Let's Go! will blend the progression of old-school RPGs with phone game swipe controls.
Hand Of Fate 2 attempts to shuffle many ideas– D&D storytelling, the Batman Arkham games' combat, and the sheer randomness of card games –into one deck. The result is an ever-evolving game of chance that's as fascinating as it is frustrating.
This sequel has the same concept as the original Hand Of Fate– a mysterious mage known as The Dealer reveals cards that represent a variety of fantasy encounters. Players might be on the run from an enraged troll, tasked with rescuing a dimwitted farmer from a skeleton army, or fending off a supernatural assassin. Each card flip represents a twist or turn of these journeys, narrated much in the way a DM lays down the scene for a D&D session. One card might see adventurers ambushed by bandits, and another might lead to the hidden goblin city. Like any card game, the deck is shuffled to ensure these events unfold at random. However, players are given the opportunity to earn cards of their own, cards they can add to try and stack the deck in their favor. This choice is what gives the game its depth. Yet fate is ultimately the true master.
This choice is what gives the game its depth.
The Dealer is always on hand to repeat this point. In his defense, he apparently crawled out of the afterlife to get revenge on the guy who stole his job and hijacked the kingdom. So if anyone has a right to muse on the whims of fate, it's him. Fortunately, since he's the character players will spend the majority of the game with, his voiceover work skillfully ranges from dripping sarcasm to amused surprise. Unfortunately, you'll be hearing certain lines repeatedly. As a game based on luck, Hand Of Fate 2 subjects players to constant failure. The Dealer might be a compelling character, but one can only hear him spout the same vague warnings so many times. One chapter where defeating the end boss is entirely reliant on a 1/3rd chance card draw was my personal nemesis. The Dealer's constant advice was something to the effect of "make the impossible possible." How helpful.
Love or hate The Dealer, all that matters is what he brings to the table– the cards. Drawn in a style that seems like the fusion of a graphic novel and an old set of tarot cards, they're as evocative and symbolic as the story needs them to be. As mentioned before, the player's outcome depends on whatever card The Dealer flips over next. The only hope an aspiring hero has are the few cards they get to choose. This deck-building system is the game's attempt to make players feel powerful and smart, and for the most part it works. For instance, making use of an Encounter card that reveals several face-down cards on the table while also wearing equipment that reveals all shop cards is a great way to expose whatever The Dealer has lying in wait. Pulling off such a combo can truly make a player feel like they beat the system.
Hand Of Fate 2 adds some new games of chance to the mix. Dice rolls, pendulum swings, and even a spinning wheel can appear when a card summons them. This is one thing the sequel does better than the first game. The variety of activities alleviates some of the drudgery of repeating encounters many times over. At the same time, they can be very unwelcome. That satisfaction gained from pulling off a clever card combo can be quickly undone by a bad dice roll.
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There is one part of the game that gives players complete control over the outcome: combat. Whenever a battle occurs, players will be sucked away from the card table. The fighting is third-person, aiming to be a careful mix of attack and defense like the Batman Arkham games. Color-coded prompts warn the player when to dodge and when to parry, with opportunities for attacks sprinkled in between. Weapons consist of knives, swords, and axes, with each class being more effective against certain enemy types. At least, that's the intent. In reality, properly-timed parrying and dodging are all a player needs to succeed. Because of this, it falls short of the fluid blend of strategy and reaction speed Arkham achieved. But it's still enjoyable, and provides a nice break from cards and dice.
One unintended consequence of combat is the game's tendency to lag. The loading screen that takes you from card table to combat arena is curiously long. The animations also get strangely clunky despite being little more than cards flying into a portal. There's also a serious bug affecting the Switch version where the game will suddenly error out and close. It's not game-breaking, as the game always auto-saves to the last card that was played, but it's still tedious.
Despite these bugs, the game does lend itself well to the Nintendo Switch. As encounters are revealed and resolved in short bursts, the gameplay is perfect for both long home sessions and short bus rides. Aside from the main campaign, there's also an Endless mode that seems made to be put down and picked up frequently.
Tabletop gamers are no strangers to being at the mercy of fate. D&D characters can be erased at any time by a bad dice roll or whimsical DM. When a card game ends, the only thing to do is shuffle and start anew. That seems to be main philosophy behind Hand Of Fate 2. Players will fail due to circumstances beyond their control, and will have no choice but to start over from the beginning. Some gamers will take that as a challenge. They will stick it out until they finally defy cruel fate. Those who seek a breezy game or don't like repetition should turn elsewhere. That's not to say Hand Of Fate 2 can't be a rewarding experience. It just takes a lot of patience, and even more luck, to reap those rewards.
Hand Of Fate 2 is available on the Nintendo eShop for Switch. A review copy for the Switch was provided by Defiant Development.
3.5 out of 5 stars.