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Hand of Fate 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Developer: Defiant Development
Release Date: July 17, 2018

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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Switch Review - 'Hand of Fate 2'

by David Silbert on March 29, 2019 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

Hand of Fate 2 is a collectible card game where players are tested in third-person action-adventure combat, face decisions laced with consequences and make strategic choices while building their deck.

Buy Hand of Fate 2

We live in a bit of a golden age for digital card games. From competitive games like Hearthstone to single-player experiences like Slay the Spire, card-based video games have carried the torch of physical stalwarts such as Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. In many ways, digital games have already surpassed traditional ones in terms of popularity and accessibility.

Hand of Fate 2 presents yet another novel way to interact with cards in a digital format. Developed and published by Defiant Development, Hand of Fate 2 tasks players with tackling increasingly complex dungeon-crawling scenarios by way of assembling and managing a growing deck of cards.

The sequel to the 2015 original, Hand of Fate 2 initially released at the end of 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. However, in 2018, Hand of Fate 2 received a new lease on life in the form of a Nintendo Switch port, bringing its card-collecting goodness to a new, handheld audience in the process.

With its unique premise and surprisingly robust deck-building mechanic, Hand of Fate 2 is a compelling option for those hungry for a solid card-based game for their Switch. Repetitive combat and lengthy load times prevent it from being an essential experience, but Hand of Fate 2's novelty shines through in spite of its rougher edges.

Hand of Fate 2's structure takes a page from the storied history of tabletop role-playing games. Players sit at a table across from a cloaked individual known as the Dealer. After a brief introduction, the Dealer introduces players to an in-game tabletop setup. The setup includes creating a user avatar, being confronted with various random encounters, and rolling dice to complete certain actions. It's a welcome ode to stat-heavy, narrator-driven RPGs like Dungeon & Dragons and Pathfinder.

Gameplay takes place across 22 different levels, each of which is accessible via a diorama of a world map. During each mission, players navigate a board of face-down playing cards. Walking onto a card triggers its effect, which plays out in the form of a specific narrative scenario. One scenario, for instance, may have players exploring a city street; another scenario may see players engaging in a local arm-wrestling competition, while a third may have players ambushed by a group of bandits in a forest.

In most situations, scenarios offer multiple options in how to proceed, which in turn influence their overall outcome. The city street scenario, for instance, provides a choice of whether or not to defend a woman being attacked by city guards. By aiding the woman and successfully fending off her assailants, players receive some valuable supplies as spoils of the battle. Conversely, by choosing to stand idly by, players are able to avoid combat, at the cost of whatever reward they may have been granted.

Finding the optimal outcome for each scenario is important, as Hand of Fate 2 tasks players with juggling and maintaining a variety of survival-lite resources, including fame, food, health and money. Fame allows players to equip more powerful equipment that they earn. Certain scenarios, such as bandit fights, can lead to the loss of health, while eating food allows players to restore health and avoid starvation over the course of their journey. Meanwhile, money is used to do a variety of contextual-based things — including buying new weapons and armor, bribing individuals, and gambling.

If managing different gauges and stats weren't complex enough, each level in Hand of Fate 2 also presents an overarching objective that players work toward over the course of each scenario. These objectives, which range from finding and wielding a legendary weapon to preventing the assassination of a priest, vary wildly in scope and structure. Each has a different individual win condition, and each introduces distinct cards that affect the board in special ways. Whether it's trudging through a series of "Blizzard" cards that eat away at your health or cautiously navigating a board of "Wild" cards that grant you either a boon or a bane, Hand of Fate 2 provides a diverse and oftentimes unpredictable campaign.

On paper, these mechanics seem like a lot to manage. In practice, however, Hand of Fate 2 does an excellent job of doling out new rules, systems and obstacles the more you play — and in most cases, it communicates these changes organically through its storytelling. The Dealer, with his grim, foreboding narration, essentially serves to set the mood for the game while simultaneously explaining each of Hand of Fate 2's intricate layers. Meanwhile, the board itself cleverly arranges the cards on the table to provide some added "flavor" based on the story context of the level. Expect to navigate narrow figurative hallways one mission, only to find wide open fields during the next.

As you might expect, the sheer variance of experiences in Hand of Fate 2 means that each level requires its own strategy if players are to succeed. This brings us to the game's main "hook": deck building. When players complete a mission, they gain access to the majority of its scenarios in the form of collectible cards. At the beginning of the subsequent level, players review broad hints about the next objective; for instance, players may need a surplus of food to survive the winter or extra coin to bribe a group of thieves. Players then craft a deck of scenarios based on their current collection of cards to serve as the general backdrop for the mission. In effect, Hand of Fate 2 gives players the tools to tackle levels in their own way and tailor their own adventure.

This ends up being Hand of Fate 2's greatest strength. While card locations for each location are randomized — thus providing a roguelike-esque feeling of unpredictability — players have a surprising sense of user agency in Hand of Fate 2. Levels can be tackled in a number of equally viable ways, and the hunt to unlock newer and better cards provides plenty of reasons to replay previous scenarios from a new angle. It may not be as involved as crafting a deck in Hearthstone or Slay the Spire, but Hand of Fate 2 provides plenty of reasons for card-loving fans to get excited.

Unfortunately, Hand of Fate 2 is held back by one integral part of the experience: combat. While dialogue in scenarios are all text-based and play out like an RPG, combat encounters are played out in real time in the form of a beat-'em-up. The controls are simple enough: Players navigate with the left stick and can perform a block, dodge, strike or stun with one of the four face buttons. Enemies are varied, providing a fair share of resistance to the player, and the game even marks the end of each level with a boss battle.

The combat is satisfying at first, but it's too much of a chore to remain engaging. Encounters are short, simple, and lack much of the depth of the games it tries to mimic, such as Rocksteady's Arkham games and Monolith Productions' Middle-earth games. Hand of Fate 2 also loves to throw players into combat whenever it can. You can pare them down by selecting solely non-combat cards at the beginning of a level, but regardless, certain missions will have combat scenarios. In a shorter game, where pacing and gameplay fatigue is less of a concern, the combat would be serviceable, albeit rudimentary. In a game like Hand of Fate 2 that can last anywhere from 15 to 40+ hours for the average player, however, the repetition of combat is harder to overlook.

Making matters worse are Hand of Fate 2's lengthy load times. When playing through tabletop scenarios, the game runs perfectly well. However, upon landing on a combat scenario, players are whimsically warped away as the game struggles to load in a 3D battleground. These load times average anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds and occur both before and after combat. As a result, I winced whenever a combat scenario popped up, knowing I'd be in for some brutal waiting to get on with my journey. It's not a game breaker — and the game itself looks quite gorgeous once things have loaded — but it's a shame that Defiant Development couldn't trim some time here, especially considering the appeal of playing the Switch in bite-sized chunks on the go.

Despite my issues with its combat and optimization, Hand of Fate 2 provides a wonderful experience for those seeking an interesting deck-building game to add to their Switch library. There's a good bit of bang for your buck here, and with additional levels available as paid DLC, I could imagine players getting lost in Hand of Fate 2's tabletop-inspired world for countless playthroughs. Just be sure to bring an open mind and plenty of patience.

Score: 8.4/10

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