I've recently started playing Hand of Fate 2 following its release on Xbox One.
It's a series that has, so far, flew under my radar, but after just a few hours with it, I'm regretting not jumping in sooner. The original Hand of Fate has shot drastically up my 'most wanted' list.
I had no idea what to expect, to be honest. Matt's review last month left me with high hopes, but my knowledge of what the game entailed was slim, at best. Hand of Fate. Gotta be something to do with cards. Probably a CCG. Probably not my kinda thing.
While it certainly does have a lot to do with cards, Hand of Fate 2 is a lot more than your average collectible card game. It's an adventure game at heart, delivered to you through a series of cards. It's level-based, and each level presents you with a new layout of cards, each with some kind of event on it. The events determine how your game goes — whether you gain equipment, lose health, acquire riches, or enter battle. Most events play out on the cards themselves — there's a lot of text, and at times Hand of Fate 2 can feel a little like an old-fashioned choose-your-own-adventure book. But it's in the combat where the game comes to life.
The combat sections of the game take you away from the card table into a beautiful, rich world. Your character springs to life in sharp detail, wielding your chosen weapon and ready to battle. The foes you face are varied and interesting, each with their own skills and movesets for you to dance around. The visuals in these sections — especially when playing the Xbox One X-enhanced version of Hand of Fate 2 — are breathtaking; the environments feel realistic and the characters and their animations are believable, too. It's almost a shame that we don't get to wander the world like a standard adventure game.
Of course, if we did, Hand of Fate 2 would lose its uniqueness that makes it so magical. It's the reprise that these vivid combat sequences offer from the text-based storytelling that makes them so special. It's an event each time that dreamlike wishy-washy screen kicks in, transporting us to a literal other world. It's something to look forward to every single time.
I've not even spoke of the actual combat yet. Rocksteady's Arkham games changed the face of third person action combat, teaching us to rely on well-timed parries and blocks rather than mere button bashing. Since Arkham Asylum released in 2009, many developers have borrowed its formula, refining it and adjusting it to better fit their own game. Rarely, though, have I engaged in videogame combat as enjoyable as it is in Hand of Fate 2.
It's a clever mix of hammering in attacks, combined with dodges and parries that need to be well-timed in order to be executed well. It's not original, for sure, but its execution and implementation is one of the best I've seen. Enemy attacks are colour-coded: a green flash means an attack is imminent and can be parried; and red means a larger attack is coming that needs to be dodged. At times, half a dozen — sometimes more — enemies can be swarming you, all attacking at different times. Keeping check on flashing reds and greens means that you'll be hitting dodge and parry every few seconds, turning combat into an almost rhythmical dance as you roll and weave inbetween enemies, slicing and jabbing at every given opportunity.
It isn't easy, though. Getting good at Hand of Fate 2's combat takes a lot of learning and refining. Fast reflexes will obviously do you well, but mastering the controls and learning the attack types of each enemy is also important. Knowing the range of nuances that different weapons can offer will also go a long way. Heavy items, like hammers, will do a lot more damage but slow you down, and they also mean you're less effective at blocking certain weapons. The standard sword and shield loadout may seem like a great balance, but it often doesn't offer you enough flexibility to deal with some particular enemy types. The double daggers, on the other hand, are extremely fast but feel to me like they require the most skill — a fast weapon requires fast reflexes.
All this said, the combat is only one small part of what Hand of Fate 2 offers, and I'm only just at the very beginning of my journey with the game. There's no doubt more surprises waiting for me, but already with what I've seen, I know this game is something great.