Defiant Development's Hand of Fate 2 was confirmed for an Xbox One release earlier at E3. RPGamer's Zach Welhouse got the chance to check the game out at the show and reported back with his impressions.
Anyone watching Microsoft's press conference would be excused for missing the announcement for Hand of Fate 2. It was visible for a few seconds, shoved unceremoniously into the cavalcade of indie offerings available for Xbox One and on Steam. Luckily, this roving reporter had other, undisclosed sources willing to tip him off about this tabletop-inspired sequel to 2015's deckbuilding, roguelike RPG, Hand of Fate. Based on the demo, this strange melange of systems works — although I wish the deckbuilding element had been more interactive.
While I waited for a chance to play, Dan Treble and Morgan Jaffit from Defiant Development explained a lot of the new features in Hand of Fate 2 were responses to feedback from Hand of Fate. For example, combat was too repetitive so they added battle objectives beyond killing all of the dudes until they were dead. I saw this focus: over three different fights, I defended a goblin thief against an unending horde of humans until he could cast an escape portal, shield-bashed a corrupted priest until his armor broke, and led a mob of soldiers against a crowd of tainted mutants. Defiant is also adding variety outside of combat by offering Challenges: unique scenarios with deck-building limitations that force players to use a wider variety of cards.
Before each scenario, the player constructs a deck of helpful cards that may be discovered during the adventure. Over the course of several adventures, these cards provide access to new, related cards. This growth allows stories to develop as the deck builds. Unfortunately, none of this process was on display. On the other hand, I was able to see how allies impacted the stories of other cards. One of the first cards I encountered gave me the chance to befriend a shady bard. After proving I was of similarly dubious character, he agreed to travel with me. This friendship added new options to some of the future cards I drew. He also providing a helpful ally when it was time to fight.
The demo I played was a scenario called "The Chariot." It began with the Dealer placing three rows of face-down cards in front of me. I moved my token laterally from card to card, flipping each one as I landed on it. After each card flipped, it revealed a short, textual vignette from my character's life. For example, when asked by the captain of the guard to attack a group of supernaturally corrupted beggars, I was prompted to lead the charge or balk. Choosing to lead the attack earned a reward from the captain of the guard and several allies in the subsequent combat. Refusing would have resulted in different consequences. Other scenarios were more grounded in luck. Upon encountering the Cave of Wonders, I received three six-sided dice and had to roll a target number with one re-rolled die allowed. Every time I failed (which was common), the target number lowered and I took damage. Other challenges were resolved with a three-card monte mechanic. Defiant assures me that all of the randomized elements are mathematically sound, so if the dice were weighted it was just my imagination.
Battle is the one area of Hand of Fate 2 that couldn't be replicated with dice or cards. It's a real-time action RPG that rewards blocking, dodging, and crowd control. Each equipment card found in the course of the adventure maps to a different button. For example, I had a healing potion on one trigger button and a shield for bashing on another. My primary weapon was a sword that could unleash a fiery downward slash after a set number of standard hits. The first few frames of the special attack could be interrupted, making timing important. Timing is likewise important when blocking. When an enemy in a mob is about to strike, a green icon appears over it; pressing Y and a direction button performs a shield bash, allowing the offense to continue unbroken.
Hand of Fate 2 is scheduled for release early in 2017, but I'm already excited by what I've seen. It's doing an admirable job balancing its different systems and it speaks to my dreams of playing a high-stakes game of cards against a shadowy figure. Keep an eye on this one.