Despite its geographical isolation, Australia’s indie development scene has a surprisingly strong track-record when it comes to releasing small titles that go on to become big, global hits. Fruit Ninja, Crossy Road, Antichamber, Armello and the original Hand of Fate all stand up as pretty good examples of this phenomenon.
Still, it feels rare that local indie teams go in on a sequel. Usually, hitting it big just inspires the search for something new. Sequels come with strings (and expectations) attached. Games development can be hard enough, and not everyone wants to play on a higher difficulty.
With Hand of Fate 2, Brisbane-based Defiant Development are looking to make the rare sequel that outshines the original. Something that’s not just a better game than the original but something that acts as “the final word” for this kind of unique, genre-bending title. Something that articulates both an evolution of everything that worked about the first Hand of Fate and an eloquent response to the aspects that didn’t come together quite so cleanly.
Stacking the Deck
As the title might lead you to suspect, the setup here is pretty close to that of the first game. Hand of Fate 2 sees players overcome a set of tabletop trials built from a deck of collectible cards and handed out by the series’ menacing and enigmatic Dealer. Each level sees the deck dealt out as a map and each turn you’ll move your character across it in pursuit of some sort of goal.
Where the first game saw you crawl your way through dungeons of increasing length and difficulty, the second opts for a much more diverse set of scenarios. One mission will see you dragged into the inner politics of a thieves guild after its leader receives a death-threat. Another will see you recruited by the empire and asked to track down a set of cursed relics.
Again unlike the first Hand of Fate, there’s a far-more concrete sort-of story happening here than first appears. Each of the game’s encounters - 22 in total - not only take the format of the Hand of Fate formula in different directions but also dabble in world-building. Over the course of the game, you’ll learn more about the empire, the northerners and the various forces, factions and figures that make up the world in which the dealer’s game takes place. You’re also able to customize your character this time around, which is a smart improvement.
Still, for every card you move onto, something will happen. Maybe you’ll come across an inn and be challenged to arm-wrestle with its patrons. Maybe you’ll stop to catch your breath at a nearby creek and be ambushed by bandits. When combat encounters (like the latter) happen, your character is into a 3D arena and face off against your foes in Arkham Asylum-style combat.
Compared to the first game, the combat feels sharper and more refined. There’s also a lot more going on. Where the first game had a fairly straightforward weapon system, Hand of Fate one emphasizes different weapon types for different types of enemies. In addition, there are also consumable artifact cards that lend you new abilities and companion characters who can help support you in battle.
Each of these companions is full of personality and comes with their own attached perks, offering benefits both in and outside of combat. I found myself constantly juggling between them, depending on the scenario and whether or not I wanted to try and progress the chain-quests for each.
While the first Hand of Fate was pretty minimal in its approach to translating tabletop RPG systems over to a digital frontier, the second game does its best to offer more of everything - with things shaking out in the game’s favor.
Where the first game relied pretty heavily on its shell-switching minigame, this time there are three other sideshows sharing the load. Likewise, There’s also a new Fame system, rounding out the health, food and gold management elements of the first game. Fame opens (and sometimes closes) new dialogue choices on certain cards and is also required to use higher-end weapons and armor. It all makes for an experience that continues to add new toys and tools to the melting pot all the way to the very end.
Building a sequel that trumps the original isn’t easy. You don’t just have to be better than the first - you have to be better enough that the net experience cleanly outweighs the initial impact you get from seeing something the first time.
Still, despite this tall order, Hand of Fate 2 delivers. The combat is sharper and more dynamic. The new systems are easy-to-learn and hard-to-master, smartly adding depth where the original was shallow and diverse where it was repetitive. Combined with a willingness to tackle more complex and ambitious storytelling that the first game lacked, Hand of Fate 2 ups the ante.
It's an outright outstanding sequel that gives you everything you want and lays it all out in a perfect sequence.