We now live in a time where there are several main platforms that indie developers are flocking to with their games. First, and always foremost, is the good old Personal Computer and its myriad of digital storefronts, but the last year has seen a swing toward Nintendo’s versatile Switch becoming the flagbearer for indie devs on consoles.
Hand of Fate 2 is slightly late to the party on Switch, but only fashionably so, and it’s quite clear that the handheld’s styling and ethos is perfect for Defiant Development’s card-based action RPG.
We really enjoyed Hand of Fate 2 when it originally released late last year, and one of the keys to its success was its streamlining of the standard RPG experience. Here on Switch it makes even more sense, and its bite-sized questing and bursts of action fit incredibly well into the rhythm of gaming on the go.
Just as with the original, Hand of Fate 2 sees you embroiled in an arcane game of cards with The Dealer. This particular game features two decks – one of encounter cards and one for equipment – with The Dealer laying out a route of face-down encounter cards for you to make your way across. They might contain story elements or events, many of which require decisions which you can attempt to make your way through with successful dice rolls or by trying to choose correctly from a smaller batch of cards. If successful you might gain equipment, food or gold, while you could lose your supplies, or worse, your health if things don’t go your way.
At times these encounters will result in brawls with an array of wrong-doers and its satisfying, if simplified, version of the Arkham or Mordor combat needs you to stay plugged in and aware if you’re going to survive. If you take damage you can regain health with each subsequent move across the board, or by assisting people you meet on your journey, but it’s all too easy to find yourself at the very end of your hit points, whether through poor reactions or bad luck, which gives every battle a genuine sense of danger. You can be accompanied by one of four companions this time out, who’ll muck in during battles and can lend you a hand with a useful special move, though sometimes they’re a bit of a liability themselves.
There’s a lovely branching progression system built into the game, earning tokens and collecting new cards through each run-through, building up your deck so that each adventure is progressively more varied. In a change from the first game you now have a range of challenges which appear on the all-new game board. As you successfully navigate through some of the story cards they’ll unlock the next step of their narrative, and the next area you play you might encounter those characters or threads again, giving some much needed structure to what could otherwise have felt like a very transitory experience.
Impressively the shift to Switch hasn’t really had any detrimental effect on Hand of Fate 2’s visuals thanks to their stylised nature, although there’s definitely a lack of anti-aliasing going on and when docked I could hear the Switch’s cooling fan whirring away from the effort of trying to keep the experience consistent. There’s also the odd hiccup in transitions or loading screens, but nothing that detracts from the game’s enthralling mechanics. Ultimately this is the exact same game you can play elsewhere.
Hand of Fate 2 is a welcome reminder that RPGs don’t have to fall into one of two categories, and its heady mix of deck building and Arkham-esque combat make for a unique experience. Arriving on Switch it’s found its perfect home, and its bite-sized story and action that are ideal for gaming on-the-go.