Sit at the Table
Now I am sure most of you folks know by now that I ain’t too shy about letting people know what kind of games I play. So back in 2015 when these ol’ bones decided to exchange my hard earned dollars for a game called Hand of Fate by a studio named Defiant Development I’ll be the first to admit I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I was getting myself into.
I was probably lured in by the ol’ Rogue-Like tag, if I’m being completely honest.
Then I got looking and boy did I discover something special. Literally a game I had no idea I wanted. So, how does a follow up game to something so widely and well regarded hold up in comparison to the original? That’s the question I knew I’d be asking when I got my creaky joints on Hand of Fate 2. Defiant Development hasn’t done anything else since the first HoF game, but they haven’t been resting on their laurels. As of this review there has been no firm price set for the second game but the release date is going to be November 7th 2017.
Play the Game
If you’ve not heard of HoF before the style mash-up may initially seem, well, a bit preposterous. But the execution is impressive. Like Deck-Building Games? Choose your own adventure options? Board games with randomize events and dice rolls to determine outcomes? How about action combat that is clearly inspired by the Batman Arkham series? Collecting loot? Managing resources? Okay, okay, there’s a bunch to take in, but really, it’s all in there.
You determine your character’s appearance, sit down at a virtual table with a fully voiced narrator-slash-game master, and shuffle the cards. Cards are laid down in front of you face down into a map. This map can represent anything, from a mountain summit to a tavern interior. Much of the dressing is in the vivid descriptions and your imagination. Your piece starts at one part of the board, you are given a mission to accomplish, and you start moving around.
Most maps share similar rules but different goals. In one quest, you want to climb to the top of a great mountain and collect blessings of fate in order to face the foe on the summit. Another goal might be to clear out the Corrupted ones and save the citizens of a city. Each space you move on the map, you consume a unit of food. This act heals you up a bit, but if you run out you’ll start taking damage. The number of times my poor body was found dead from starvation is a bit on the embarrassing side.
Each map space you enter, you flip the card that was dealt there. The card holds some sort of encounter. Some are map specific, but most maps will come with a number of “blank spots” you get to fill in. Win or loose, you may wind up collecting cards for your collection. Before you start a new map you get to build the deck you’ll play with. This will add all manner of things from what gear you’ll find, special encounters, and even what companion you can bring with you. As you move along there will be various challenges, dice rolls, random cards, and sometimes simple choices of what you say to or ask of the characters you meet.
And then there is the combat. If a fight breaks out (and trust me, it will eventually) you enter a mighty fine little action sequence. You take out the combat gear you’ve hopefully been collecting, put it on – sometimes with a snazzy animation for newly acquired items – and fight. Just hacking and slashing will get you only so far as this fight system is very much about timing and paying attention to your foes. With no difficulty setting, the combat can be a bit harder for some of us at the start, but if I can start rolling, dodging, and smashing at the right time I feel you fine folks can too.
Those are the basics of the game. There are a bunch of moving parts but this should give you a basic idea of what is happening with the mechanics. Now we got to figure out the burning question. Is this a real sequel or could it just be a glorified dlc that has no right being its own game?
New Rules, Same Feel
So what’s new? I know, I know, from the previous description the game sounds pretty darn dense. It isn’t bogged down with needless mechanics and gimmicks, is it?
Well, gimmicky? Yeah, a bit. Needless? Oh no. Very needed. We aren’t going into all the details of the new games and challenges as part of the fun of the game is uncovering them. (And of course, in true Game Master fashion, listening to our NPC narrator gloat about his creations.) Everything is introduced gradually and, with the deck building aspects, you do have a hand in determining the types of challenges you will face.
One of the most hands on, wince inducing, teeth grinding challenges is The Wheel. You get a brief flash of what options will be on the wheel. If you are lucky you’ll have more than one card on the Wheel that will help you progress with your goal. But there is lots of room on the wheel, and many of those spots are taken up by very bad things. After a brief glance, the wheel spins – it might have been the increasing stress, but I swear the darn thing was spinning faster and faster each time for one specific encounter. When you’re feeling lucky you hit the button and The Wheel slowly comes to a halt.
I’m mighty bad at the wheel. Once I could hear my controller starting to crack as I gripped it a bit harder than I should have. Now that isn’t to say I dislike the Wheel… It’s a fun little encounter and really makes you feel responsible for the outcome. More so than a roll of dice or a random card. This here rule is just one of the new additions to mix up game play. They are all executed well, even the hard ones.
Unless I’m completely gone in the mind (a possibility after a 20 hour stream for charity), I don’t recall companions in the first HoF game. I’m sure I’d remember such a fun and interesting mechanic. As you go along, you can collect tokens in game which represent special events, and keeping them will open up new options in the form of new cards for future deck creation. Some of these cards are Companions. These folks, for the most part, fight alongside you in combat, have unique personalities, offer advice, can grant special options in the game, and come with their own side quests. Quests, naturally, in the form of cards. As you play the game, you’ll unlock more information on your dear friends, and will be able to explore their stories.
A final new addition is character customization. Now, it isn’t like character generation means much, but now you can actually decide what you look like. A whole slew of appearance options allow a player to craft the most heroic looking silent protagonist you could hope. Not a huge thing on its own, but add in the fact the gear you find in the game is all dynamic and, well, that just tickles my fancy. I love seeing my own created character in a world, looking as smart or as stupid as it can, depending on the goodies we’ve found.
And these things just touch the tip of the iceberg with the new mechanics. Like I mentioned, exploring them all would be exhausting and frankly a little unfair to the developers, who I imagine would very much like players see the game as it unfolds. Or at least watch someone else unfold the tale, live. (More on that later.)
A Double Edged Sword
Combat is a bit of a conversation. Is it better or worse than the previous title? The answer is Yes. It has improved, in some ways dramatically, but it has also some new irritating elements that I hope will get ironed out before or soon after launch. Maybe it is all as intended, but… Okay, I’m complaining ahead of myself. First, the good.
Combat in the previous game, for those that hadn’t played it, was fine. It wasn’t the best, but it was quick, dirty, and let you feel good about a close shave. There were problems and for the most part those problems aren’t present in HoF2.
Yes, combat is much cleaner, more interesting, and easier to engage with, and we get the added fun of often having a companion with you (have I mentioned I really love companions? No? Consider it repeated if I have.) These things are great. You get nice notifications whenever you’re going to be attacked. A green notification if you can block it or a red one when you need to dodge. Very clean, very simple. Even the more advanced moves like triggering weapon abilities, getting your ally to use their special attack, bring up said ally from unconsciousness, and running through a staggered enemy, are all clearly labelled with an unobtrusive notification of what button to press. I was happy. Heck, I was impressed.
My problem seems a bit nit-picky. But I’ll tell ya, I died so many times to this little issue, it started gnawing on my brain something awful. It all has to do with the execution of weapon “power moves.” You effectively power up your weapon by landing a series of blows without taking a hit. There’s a counter in the corner of the screen that helps you keep track. When the counter is full, you get prompted to hit the execute button. Depending on the weapon, it will have different effects. But, if you take a single hit before you push that button, you need to start all over. That’s fine, these are powerful attacks that can change the course of the battle. In particular the Cardinal Blade save my heinie from death more than a few times.
The problem? When you are executing an attack, you are wide open. No matter how clearly you see that an attack is inbound, you can’t do anything about it after the weapon execution has started. Now maybe I’m missing something, but I’ve not seen anything about how to halt using a weapon special ability when it started, and if it is out there it should have been a bit clearer. So yes, the abilities are great and powerful. But not so much so that you should be punished with vulnerability in addition to the fact a nick will set your counter back down to zero. Honestly, it is my only major complaint of the game, but it comes up often enough that I give the magical game projector the same look my wife gives me when I use the term “magical game projector.” “It’s a monitor,” she huffs “You know what it is called.”
Rest assured that is an unimpressed look.
I’m not saying I’m afraid of new things. I’m not saying new technology frightens me. I’m not saying I’m slow on the uptake and use of things. But this Twitch thing looks interesting. With Twitch still the powerhouse of streaming, and the Twitch community as a whole growing larger and larger, merging games with Twitch was almost inevitable. When I heard about Twitch integration with games I got kinda nervous-excited. I poked around in streams, was generally confused about what was happening, and then ran away.
Fast forward to now, and I am working on growing a Twitch following and making friends in the community. I have a much better idea of how cool integration is. With it, the audience of the streamer is able to impact the game as it happens. What that means for HoF2 is that players can vote on “Gifts” and during “Chance Games” – with the embargo up I’ve not been able to really dig into that, but the prospect is really exciting. I look forward to launch so I can try sinking my teeth into the integration goodness.
A Tale Unlike Any Other
This is really a good example of how to do a sequel right. It keeps the core mechanics that made the first game so innovative and fun, and then it adds more. Lots more. I mean, the amount of new types of content are absolutely staggering. Every map brought a new batch of surprises. The devs also deserve accolades for resisting the temptation to simplify their systems and instead they simply refine them. They took some of the problems in combat, addressed them, and made them work in the new setting.
No stripping back or cutting content. This very much feels like a full and complete game and I love it. With the exception of some irritations in combat that I already addressed, I can happily give this game a very good rating of 9/10.
Review by Josh Smith aka Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts
This game was received for free for the purposes of reviewing.