2017 has been an unquestionably excellent year for video games; one of the best in recent memory, really, thanks to the launch of the Nintendo Switch and the release of numerous high-quality titles besides. One would think that we don’t need any more great games. A giving year continues giving, though: Hand of Fate 2 is a superb sequel to the original card game/action-RPG/brawler/what-have-you that was popular here on Popzara back in 2015.
You sit across the table from a mysterious, cloaked Dealer, playing an esoteric Game of cards, dice, swords and sorcery. How you got here is unknown; the purpose of the game even more so. What you do know is what the Dealer tells you – that these cards and the stories behind them are all part of your own fragmented history. By playing the Game, you hope to reassemble what was lost (or what was, perhaps, taken from you) though the prize you hope to win is as enigmatic as the circumstances that have led you to the table. In any case, the Dealer isn’t going to give up without a fight, so let’s hope the dice are feeling generous.
We’ve seen some sequels, like Destiny 2, that make minor refinements to an already-solid concept to good effect but fail to stray far enough from the original formula to feel like new games in their own right. Hand of Fate 2 takes a similar tack but goes for more significant enhancements. For instance, unlike the first game’s hero your character is now customizable; you can choose from a male or female character, pick your skin tone and hairstyle, the works. Don’t expect Bethesda levels of slider fun, but being able to leave your own mark on your hero is nice.
In addition, a fair amount of refinement has been made to the Game itself. Perhaps the most obvious is the addition of Fame. This is a new resource that’s typically gained when winning battles or achieving favorable outcomes from cards. It serves as a gating mechanic for gear and card outcomes; while in the first Hand of Fate you were capable of using pretty much anything as soon as you found it, here much of the best kit is locked behind Fame requirements. You can hang onto Fame-locked items, but you can’t use them until you meet the required level of Fame. This encourages a sort of “curve” when it comes to deck-building, as you typically see in TCGs, as a deck fully loaded with mighty weapons of the Gods won’t be of much use if you can’t survive long enough to gain the Fame needed to use them.
Additionally, the structure of the Game has been shaken up. Your adventures are significantly more varied in Hand of Fate 2, ranging from collecting Blessings to impress a priestess to seeking out a traitor in the ranks of an assassin’s guild. You’ll still be moving a piece around the board and dealing with the results of cards, but now you’ll have a little more to think about when you do it along with paying closer attention to how you build your deck. In the former case, for instance, it’s unlikely you’ll obtain enough Blessings without using a deck built around accumulating them. Further, adventures typically have side objectives that will grant greater bonuses (in the form of new cards) if you can manage them.
Even the ways in which you deal with cards have seen some retouching. The original game dealt with chance by shuffling up a hand of SUCCESS and FAILURE cards, encouraging you to keep an eye on them in order to aim for the best results. Hand of Fate 2 adds in several new systems for determining your fate – dice-rolling, a swinging pendulum and a rotating wheel of cards. Each of these has their own quirks and can be affected by different factors; the new Companions serve as one of these factors, as along with helping you in combat and affecting how certain cards play out, they can also provide bonuses in various challenges. Finally, combat itself has seen several changes, including the addition of new weapon classes like two-handed melee weapons and dual wielding. You’re still playing a fantasy take on Batman: Arkham, but the changes help keep battle (which was the first game’s weakest point by far) feeling fresh.
If it wasn’t clear, Hand of Fate 2 goes far beyond the previous title when it comes to fleshing out its concept and taking it in new and unusual directions. As in the first game, there’s a definite sense that the Game exists as a real thing, a diversion in which you’re unfamiliar with the rules so you’re learning it as you go. The Dealer sits at his end of the table and makes wry comments on your progress, goading you to keep pushing further. It’s a solid idea that’s pulled off exceptionally well and bolstered by the way the game looks and sounds great, particularly when it comes to the Dealer’s voice acting and commentary.
Modern game design revolves largely around “content” as a commodity; it must be rationed out just so, with the provision of a cohesive game experience considered secondary to saving enough content for a sequel or DLC. Hand of Fate 2 is interesting, both as a sequel in 2017 that packs enough new ideas and as a reimagining of the original game’s concepts to feel like a whole new experience. That’s laudable. The solid gameplay and drastically improved combat combined with a memorable antagonist in the form of the Dealer help make Hand of Fate 2 a must-play, particularly for fans of the original game.