"Hand of Fate 2 is simultaneously overly structured and lacking in personality."
One of my personal hidden gems of 2015 was Hand of Fate. Boy howdy, now that is a unique, engaging adventure against a maniacal dungeon master. While rough around the edges in terms of presentation, Hand of Fate breathed life into a genre bogged down by mildly tweaked mechanics with otherwise samey design. While the combat was nothing entirely fresh, the execution and strategy that went into preparing for battles — wow! At face value initially, Hand of Fate 2 offers much of the same; however, not only does it falter in terms of execution, design, and character, but it also gives up what made its predecessor amazing in the first place: the dungeon master.
Okay, so the dungeon master still technically exists in some form. While not the same person, he's clearly a callback to the original title in the series, which by itself causes me concern as it seems like a lazy use of a mascot. What's worse, though, is that this dungeon master takes a back seat to the campaign. The first Hand of Fate relied heavily on the antagonistic, playful nature of the dungeon master, and the cards served more as a catalyst for dialogue. Here, the opposite is true, and the reason that's a huge disappointment is because the cards don't even tell that interesting of a story. The whimsical nature of the first game's cards offered a meandering, dream-like stroll through the dungeon master's tricks and traps. Here, the central thread of empire vs. northern raiders is a tired and, quite frankly, boring story to replace the strong character who once existed. In addition, the cards that come in each campaign are tired tropes that leave nothing to the imagination. Hand of Fate 2 is simultaneously overly structured and lacking in personality.
Might some actually prefer this over the first game? I imagine that may be the case; certainly, the reviews out right now by users and media outlets suggest a relatively positive reception. But for those who found a novel experience in the first Hand of Fate, this iteration is riddled with disappointment. Admittedly, I loved my time with the game for the first few hours. I missed the gambits, reflex-oriented battles, and deck building. As the hours piled on, though, I realized Hand of Fate 2 is a shadow of its former self. While it certainly received a face-lift, it has no charm to speak of.
In fact, the game design is so tepid and uninspired that I literally could not bring myself to finish it, though I came close. I stopped at a mission that was benign, with each encounter having little impact and no consequences until about ten minutes into it; at that point, I had to select one Success out of five cards, and I was unable to track its location due to the speed. Selecting the wrong card meant failure, and that meant starting over. With no way to skip the dialogue, I had to mindlessly click through the same old story and try again. To fail again. So basically, with a 20% chance of picking the right card, I may have had to waste ten more minutes of my time carefully making the right decisions in between mindless clicking. This is certainly an exception to the experience, but the brutal nature of some of the missions meant that a partial victory would require me to go into the card again for the coveted gold coin if I happened to know what the heck I was supposed to do.
Other missions were an absolute grind, as endless hordes of enemies rushed at a base while I desperately tried to collect wood. If I didn't protect the base enough but still won the battle, I earned a partial victory. I imagine the only way to gold this campaign is to somehow strategize around the wood collecting properly, but with little direction, this puzzle is more tedious than exciting.
What if I told you that sometimes the game would skip, freeze, and not recognize inputs during high-stakes battles, like at the conclusion of a mission? What if I told you that someone with a gaming PC playing for two hours would experience frequent lag spikes, and that naturally, the performance would dip during the most crucial part of a mission, rendering hard work, sacrifice, and intense strategy useless — not because of the game's harsh difficulty, but because of technical issues? At times, my game would crash as well, though this rarely occurred.
I'm doing a lot of griping, but I do want to point out a phrasing I used in that previous paragraph: "...hard work, sacrifice, and intense strategy..." This, of course, suggests that nuggets of delight and immersion exist. The problem is that these moments don't occur enough for me to feel good about my experience with Hand of Fate 2. The rush of victory in a close fight or pulling out a Huge Success amidst impossible odds certainly fuels the game with excitement, but feeling cheated for any of the aforementioned reasons is akin to taking one step forward and two backward.
After investing around 25 hours and loading up the game for the last five or so out of pure obligation to my ethics as a reviewer, I simply couldn't finish the game, which I'm not proud to say. Rarely have I had to put down a game that I'm reviewing. Maybe one day I'll return to Hand of Fate 2, because I enjoyed my time in parts, but with a backlog burning a hole in my Steam library, I have a hard time justifying time spent here; I imagine many would-be buyers may feel the same way after delving halfway into the campaign, which is when most of the issues occur.
I love Defiant Development for Hand of Fate's originality and personality. This review may not sound like it, but I'm a fan and look forward to future projects they work on. I'd be curious about a Hand of Fate 3, quite honestly. However, as a fan and a reviewer, I'm obligated to call them on bad design (and production) when I come across it, and unfortunately that's what I have to do here.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.