Chance and chaos can effectively imbue drama into a role-playing game, but Hand of Fate 2 approaches these aspects with utmost vigor, to ultimately uneven results. Mixing up gameplay types in a way that feels a little like Dungeons & Dragons meets a single-player run of Mario Party, it also invokes a combat system quite reminiscent of Rocksteady’s Arkham series. It’s difficult to summarize its resultant flow of combat with timing-based games of luck as particularly well-rounded, but there’s definitely a unique experience available to the most stubbornly patient gamers.
For anyone who never played the original Hand of Fate, try to imagine a high-concept combination of a collectible card game, DM-led tabletop RPG, and arena brawler. In practice, this results in a hybrid experience somewhat similar to roguelike games, especially in its randomization philosophies; as players navigate a path of cards through story chapters (each of which contain unique narratives and encounter cards), they accrue their own cards, which can then be shuffled into later chapters. Doing so adds familiar possibilities to hopefully soften the unpredictable dangers of the draw. In other words, if a chapter features hazardous ice-themed encounters like health-draining blizzards and Nordic-themed berzerker enemies, the player can stack the deck with their own desirable outcomes, ensuring that they may also have the chance to run into a healing forest glade or a generous goblin to protect from enemies.
Of course, that depends on which cards are drawn, which means stumbling through dangerous scenarios always hoping to turn over a shopkeeper’s card while you still have the gold to spend on it. In most cases, the system works, but with each chapter taking 30 minutes to an hour to thoroughly complete — and with varying terms for completion, inclusive of soft-failure — a bad run feels especially noxious, with all your favorite items and weapons cruelly trapped behind a barrier of bad luck.
Games like Spelunky and Risk of Rain can thrive under the weight of RNG, because player skill separates a few badly rolled levels from the windfalls available to those who persevere. Hand of Fate 2 has a harder time seducing the bad-luck player, who will endure scant resources and dwindling health as they await their better cards. There’s nothing more disappointing in a run than to stumble into a shop in the first few steps, unable to purchase anything, and unable to return to the shop with full pockets.
Balancing the predictable with the unpredictable still represents the bulk of the overlying meta-game in Hand of Fate 2, but achieving control over these systems often amounts to a fool’s errand. It’s underlined further by the return of the enigmatic and charismatic Dealer, an omnipresent and omniscient NPC who deals out the cards and games and continuously comments on your successes and failures. In the original Hand of Fate, The Dealer was significantly more toxic and aggressive, a condescending personality who seemed to delight in the player’s stumbles. Hand of Fate 2’s Dealer, on the other hand, often approaches an attitude that might even be considered supportive, at times, though he’s also been changed and damaged by previous events. Anthony Skordi returns to voice the character in another enthusiastic performance, but for players who tire of his smug torment, the bad dice rolls feel all the more infuriating.
Dealer, cards, player, randomization, combat — so what is new, this time around? Well, companions are a noteworthy addition, being character cards encountered during the main quest line who provide valuable boosts and abilities in the combat portions, and contain their own side quests which lead to further unlocks. The dice mechanic is new, and also purely luck-driven, though some powerful cards and equipment let players thumb the scale in their favor, and feel all-but-required as a result.
The combat returns to the sequel intact, but remains much more clumsy than Arkham Asylum. Color-coded call-outs offer the ability to parry or dodge an attack, but weapon selection crucially depends on enemy type, and players will frequently find themselves absent of the right tool for the right job, without the right card. Uneven AI means that certain enemies, such as the zombie-like Corrupted, end up easier to fight than others; epic chapter-ending battles can feel trivial or impossible, and the challenge feels unrelated to player skill.
There are a few strange bugs in the Switch version which do need to be mentioned, however. For one, there are occasional game-locking freezes, including a replicatable bug that froze the game entirely during chapter selection several times during testing (this might be considered a game-breaking bug, but note that it never seemed to happen in the middle of a chapter or resulted in any lost save data). Additionally, visual hiccups and stutters always accompany the start of a combat section, rendering the ostentatiously animated loading screens curiously clunky.
The overall graphic design of Hand of Fate 2 seems like a slightly refined serving of the original, and while it looks decent on the Switch, the attention to detail is uneven. This means that the 3D character designs in combat remain slightly bland and goofy — almost like a Fable knockoff — although the card art is lovely, and The Dealer remains effective and full of characterful animations, consistently emotive in spite of the mask which covers the lower part of his face.
While going through Hand of Fate 2’s 22 main chapters, all of which are based on the high arcana of the tarot, is the first playable route, the game eventually unlocks its Endless mode, an unfurling series of randomized campaigns that expand on the chaos of the main quest. Dispensing with structured chapters, Endless mode once again fulfills certain aspects and promises of Hand of Fate’s potential, and it’s a thoughtful concept which feels even more lethal and involved with the sequel’s new tricks.
There’s a certain sense of confidence in the game this time around, and its various ingredients seem less half-baked than they did in the original, with an ornate and satisfying story with surprises, betrayals, and even elaborate character development for the player’s allies. Still, when a one-hour long session of gameplay is interrupted by three bad dice rolls, it’s difficult to care about the quality of the prose. Patient RPG fans with a tolerance for lady luck might want to check out Hand of Fate 2 on the Nintendo Switch.
Hand of Fate 2 is available now for the Nintendo Switch. Defiant Development provided a copy for review.