Hand of Fate 2 seamlessly blends the excitement of a well-told tabletop adventure with a quick modern third-person action game. With every card flip, you never know if you are about to be richly rewarded with loot, square off in exhilarating real-time combat, or be faced with a tough decision that will impact the rest of your journey. Everything from hit points, weapons and the encounters you face are represented by cards. Hand of Fate 2 is a unique experience every time you play since half the shuffled deck is chosen by you, and half by The Dealer.
The Dealer is a mysterious character, burned and scarred from the events in the first Hand of Fate game. He is narrator, guide, mentor, and sometimes antagonist as he deals the cards that will decide your fate. Although he has a warm tone in the beginning, you cannot trust his motives… Brilliantly voiced by Anthony Skordi, The Dealer enhances every event in the game with his rich gravelly narration. Other games like Bastion have had great narrators, but Skordi’s work here supplements the player’s imagination and helps create a rich experience every step of the way.
After choosing your character’s gender and appearance, your initially small stack of cards is mixed with the dealer’s, shuffled, and your first adventure begins. The Dealer lays out cards to the side representing your health, food, and gold, places markers in a bowl that represent a reward for completing the adventure, and finally spreads a few cards in a shape representing your path. As you move your character marker from one card to the next, The Dealer will comment on what card is revealed beneath, and you also consume one food which restores your health from previous battles. Each card has simple but iconic artwork reminiscent of Tarot cards. The Dealer’s comments supplement the story text on screen, giving a rich description of the encounter before you. You may have revealed a group of bandits out to get you, or a traveling merchant offering wares in exchange for your gold, or even occasionally a benevolent fairy or fellow traveler who gives you something to help you on your way.
Some of these encounters can go several ways depending on your choices, or a blind draw between 5 cards representing good or disastrous consequences. Is that little girl really lost in the woods, or is she leading you into a trap? Each card flip as you move can bring you good or bad fortune, adding or taking from your health, gold, and food. Sometimes you will earn items like weapons or armor, which are represented by cards that remain in front of you. Blessings are also earned or given, and these cards grant you combat buffs, or better odds in your dice rolls or card draws. If you complete several levels of “maps” of the laid out cards, you typically will face a stronger enemy or group of enemies at the final card. If you survive, you earn several new cards that you can mix into your deck in further adventures. This is how you unlock new armor and weapons, as well as adding the chance for benevolent encounters on your next trip.
Storytelling is wonderful, but we came here to play games, not just listen to a story, right? Don’t worry, there is plenty of combat, and it’s fun. Each battle takes place on the type of terrain you find yourself in the story. For example, If you were crossing a bridge, the fight is on a bridge. The cards you drew transform in an animation into the number of foes you drew, and your armor and weapon cards similarly transform and descend on your character. Now it’s time to square off against your foes! Depending on the scenario, you may have help from townfolk or soldiers, but they can also be a liability if you need to keep a certain number of them alive. You will almost always be joined by your Companion who you pick at the outset of your journey. New Companions are unlocked as you progress through the map, and each Companion has a different special ability that will be helpful in certain circumstances.
You have four basic choices as you fight, each mapped to the main right face buttons. There is attack of course, but also bash, which breaks the defense of a shielded foe. Dodge is useful, especially when an enemy flashes red indicating an unblockable heavy or ranged attack. And you better press block quickly when an enemy flashes green, or you will also suffer heavy damage. A tricky move to master is riposte, a quick combination of block followed by attack. I found this move to be easier on the Pro controller while docked, but it was not impossible on the smaller Joy-con buttons. There are also special attacks, companion powers, and finishing moves that are occasionally available with the shoulder buttons.
Hand of Fate 2 is an excellent addition to your Switch library. Each mini-campaign within the larger story can be played in a short sitting, making this a great game to take along with you. Hand of Fate 2’s rich narration mixed with excellent combat combines for a gripping experience that led me to drain my Switch’s battery to 0% more than once. Some of the background art can be a little too dark to see on the smaller screen, but the action in the foreground was always clear. Loading screens before battle are still long, but thankfully no longer than other consoles or the PC version. These minor quibbles are more than compensated by the fact that the Switch version includes all DLC up to this point. If you like Dungeons and Dragons style stories with Batman Arkham Knight style combat, get your hands on Hand of Fate 2.