It’s been a couple of hundred years since the Dealer from the original Hand of Fate was exiled to the beyond and he’s still holding a grudge. That was humiliating, and the deck was stacked with less than ideal timing in the block and parry mechanics and overpowered enemies to fight. How did this happen? After some finagling, the dealer returns, only to discover that he isn’t as powerful as he used to be. He needs a champion to take down the hero from the first game…
The resounding popularity of the original title out of Australian developer Defiant Development was one for the books. Players progressed across randomly drawn encounters dictated by cards, making choices that affected the game’s outcome, all while trying to grow strong enough to survive the final encounter. Still, despite its success, Defiant wasn’t entirely pleased with the final product. Acting as their own harshest critic, they are pulling out a new deck, making sure that the cards are extra glossy this time in Hand of Fate 2.
This time around, the player controls a female protagonist as she works with the Dealer to improve and prepare to fight the original game’s hero. Most of the base mechanics for traveling across the boards remain the same, with random encounters and equipment popping up. There is just so much more of it. A wide variety of new decisions to make, chance spins to roll, and other boons (or set backs) are all hiding underneath the face down cards. The randomness and games of chance pull off the feel of tabletop role playing better than many titles designed with a more pure experience in mind.
What Defiant seems to be particularly proud of, though, lies in the reworked combat system. The action has been slowed down a bit to give the brutality a meatier feel. The crunch of a two handed mace on a bandit’s skull is palpable. Doing just this makes the combat feel so much more satisfying. Along with this, the timing windows for parries and dodges have been reworked. Even using a slower weapon, I was able to keep the crowds under control, pushing the aggressors off balance when needs be and dodging out of the way. The improvement shows in every aspect of the game, and already elevates the experience over the last one even in this non-final form.
Another big addition is the inclusion of companions. My play through the PAX demo had me with a bard. He was a good bard, with a honeyed throat and strings to make the gods weep. I say this because he pulled me out of danger more times than I can count with his shield buffs and harrying of the foes when I made a mistake.
The benefits found with the companions look to open up the available strategies for combat as well as the card game itself. Just as in the original, there are times when the outcome of a decision is decided by a game of chance. Most of the ones I encountered in the demo came in the form of a spinning wheel of cards. If I were to receive a failing result, the bard companion would allow me to take one more chance. Again, this is only one of the available companions possible.
In total, Defiant is well on track to capitalize on what worked in the first game while vastly improving the things that didn’t come out quite how they would have liked. They are proud of the original, and it was an accomplishment, but now they are ready to take it to a whole new level of excellence. I’m excited, so much so that I have begun working in earnest to catch up on the original just so I can appreciate the full experience when the sequel releases later this year.