I’ve played a lot of games over the years. A lot. I’ve jumped my way across numerous platformers, sniped my way through plenty of shooters, reached pole position in many racers and tested my brain (and often failed) in a steady stream of puzzlers. And after experiencing so many different genres, coming across something truly unique in the gaming world grows increasingly tough. It’s for this very reason that I fell in love with Defiant Development’s Hand of Fate 2, a game so unlike anything I’ve played even after all these years under my belt.
I’ll be honest; Hand of Fate 2 wasn’t exactly a game on my radar – the quickly mounting pile of Switch titles on the eShop making choosing where to invest your time a tough choice. Furthermore, the idea of a card game at first seemed like a far less appealing prospect than say a NEO GEO Pocket inspired fighter or trying out Ray and Mighty in Sonic Mania’s latest expansion. How wrong I was.
Hand of Fate 2 is an unexpected blend of action RPG and card based choose your own adventure – the game orchestrated by a mysterious hooded figure known only as the Dealer. Spread across twenty plus unique challenges each plays out like its own mini-story tasking you with a range of objectives including gathering enough clues to identify an assassin from three possible suspects (an ingenious scenario where you feel like a detective) or gathering relics. How each challenge plays out is determined by the cards dealt out from the deck thus sending you through an unpredictable journey full of battles and tough choices.
The outcomes from these choices more often than not have an impact on your resources for better or worse. Gold is your means of purchasing items or even bribing others. Health, as you’d expect, is most important every hit taken in battle nervously edging you closer to a game over. Fame much like gold can grant access to more powerful weapons or locations. Finally, apples keep you from starving, each overturned card knocking one from your total. Run out and your health will then suffer. Keeping track of all four is important and a true challenge in itself.
As you move your playing piece around the cards laid out on the table, one by one you’ll be treated to a little story-telling and the encounter you will have to then face. These play out in a huge range of ways often requiring you to make difficult choices that can either benefit you on your journey or blow up in your face. The ‘Distressed Damsel’ card, for example, has the player choose whether to help the lady in need or simply move on. The former option has the chance to yield a reward but could also merely be an ambush waiting to happen. The ‘Temple Prayers’ card is a handy draw, allowing the player the chance to purchase a Blessing Card that can offer useful perks. The card ‘Pickpocket’ meanwhile is a great opportunity to net some additional coin at the risk of taking damage if you’re caught.
Some cards will instantly offer a predetermined result while some include games of chance. The aforementioned ‘Pickpocket’ card, for example, requires you to pick one of four face-down cards, some awarding gold and one or more slashing away at your health. Other ‘mini-games’ include a spinning wheel of cards, rolling dice in order to get a high enough total or stopping a swinging pendulum exactly on a certain point. It’s these moments that can prove both the most frustrating and exciting of the entire game. A poor roll of the dice can potentially ruin your run at a challenge – a vexing feeling and one that had me step back and take a break afterwards. On the flip side though, the sense of relief if you nail one of these tasks successfully is both exhilarating and edge of your seat stuff.
You’re not limited to the Dealer’s nasty tricks, however, each challenge you attack allowing you to shuffle a certain number of your own cards into his deck in order to swing things in your favour. As you progress through the game your collection will continue to grow while accomplishing milestones attached to certain cards will also reward you with further additions to your arsenal. Making sure you choose the cards best suited to the challenge ahead is not only great fun to organise but also vital, especially in the latter half of the game.
Your cards are split into four different types. Equipment cards consist of weaponry, armour and rings each offering stat or bonus effect boosts to aid you in battle. Supply Cards allow you to start right away with certain advantages such as a few extra apples or more powerful weapon. Encounter Cards meanwhile act similarly to those the Dealer hands out in the challenge, based on locations and pitting you in situations that can either help or hinder. Finally, Companion Cards (of which you can select only one) are individuals who lend a hand in battle each with their own attacks, story-tied cards and bonuses.
We’ve spoken so much about the card-based adventure feature of the game but there’s an action-RPG element woven into Hand of Fate 2 as well. While getting into fights is advised against there are times where it’s unavoidable and each encounter once more is determined by the cards dealt. Sometimes you might get lucky and need to contend with some fairly brainless Inflicted while others it might be guards with rifles and swords.
Combat is not too dissimilar to the famed Batman Arkham series, swings of sword and axes and counters having a real flow to them as you bounce between enemies with ease. Variation is okay throwing a mix of ranged and close-quarters foes your way with boss battles hiding a few tricks up their sleeves too. In short bursts duking it out against a swarm of villains doing everything you can to avoid taking damage can be tense and fun. It’s when battles pop up more frequently though that the cracks start to show, the lack of complexity in combat highlighted. With a little more in the way of attack options and even combos, the fighting could have been elevated from merely fine to great.
It’s funny, in a game that’s part card adventure and part arena combat, it’s the former that I found myself absorbed in far more. That’s not to say the combat isn’t fun, it’s just that compared with the depth and richness of the game’s cards and the tales they tell, I found fighting a little light and simple in comparison.
The presentation of the game is overall fantastic. The artwork on the cards are great and the environments you fight in varied and detailed, but clearly, it’s The Dealer himself who is the real highlight his creepy presence, manipulation of the cards and excellent voice work complimenting the action on the board nicely. Unfortunately, the load times between the Dealer’s carriage and physical battles are a little on the long side, an issue highlighted if you find yourself in a particularly combat heavy challenge. I did notice some moments of slowdown too during fights, especially with larger groups of enemies on screen. Hopefully, this can be smoothed out in a future update.
Hand of Fate 2’s seamless blend of card-based adventuring and action RPG battles help craft a truly one of a kind experience that’s managed to surprise me in all the right ways. Exciting, unpredictable, often nail-biting, sometimes frustrating but always absorbing, Defiant Development’s distinct take on an action based RPG is a true standout on Switch and well worth checking out.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Defiant Development