We’ve seen plenty of genres successfully spliced together during Nintendo Switch’s lifetime - including the exploration and fisticuffs of Pato Box and the RPG/base-building magic of Dragon Quest Builders - but nothing quite like Defiant Development’s long-awaited sequel. Fusing the basic premise of a deck-building card game with the heart of an action RPG, Hand of Fate 2 offers up one of Switch’s most intriguing and rewarding experiences.
The original Hand of Fate arrived on PC and consoles in 2015, with its sequel following at the end of the last year. It's a series that’s always been an ideal fit for a handheld platform, and while a PS Vita port of the first game was eventually cancelled due to development issues, the latest entry has finally made it Switch - and the results are just as brilliant as we’d hoped.
Think of Hand of Fate 2 like a 'choose your own adventure', complete with its own living board game. A mysterious figure known as the Dealer presents you with a series of cards, each one unlocking a recognisable RPG trope. There are weapons to equip, quests to undertake and many a foe to battle, and with a seemingly infinite number of combinations to enjoy, each adventure is refreshingly different from the last.
Invoking the storytelling magic of the iconic Fighting Fantasy and Sorcery! book series, you’ll often arrive at a narrative fork in the road where you’ll pick one path or another based on a series of splintering choices. Do you help a group of travellers about to be attacked by bandits, or do you leave them to their doom? Do you run to the aid of a nearby maiden, or avoid the risk just in case it’s a trap? Each choice spins the web further as you draw more cards, offering risk and reward in equal measure.
Of course, this being an RPG in a fantasy world, combat is never far behind, and when you need to draw blades you’ll be transported through a Doctor Who-style vortex into the story you’ve been building in your deck. From here you’ll slash, dodge and parry groups of bandits and monsters, or take on bosses in bloody duels. The combat offers a big improvement on the first game, with a fluidity of movement and a bigger crunch to each blow you land.
As is the case in the aforementioned Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, your health is persistent, so taking too much damage could make future battles even riskier - and even end your adventure altogether. Each fight therefore comes with its own sense of consequence, and you'll rarely enter conflict lightly. Thankfully, you can swap weapons in your inventory before a battle so you’re better equipped for each real-time showdown. You can also use artifact cards, which provide extra abilities, such as the power to leave traps for breaking up large groups of enemies.
There are also bosses to tackle along the way, and while they’re usually pretty easy to beat, the combination of special attacks to dodge (as well as the usual throng of weaker foes) makes every encounter a rewarding break from the deck-building and story weaving back in the Dealer’s caravan. You can also take companions into battle with you, but unfortunately, they can’t fight for you - most fights are you against the world - but each one comes with their own unique buffs.
Take Malaclypse, for example. He’s the ideal first party member to introduce you to Hand of Fate 2’s support system. Like every other ally, you’ll need to meet and befriend him as part of the unfolding story campaign, but once his card has been added to your deck you can take advantage of his incredibly handy shield, which can be activated mid-combat with a press of ‘L’. Some companions offer more aggressive powers, while others play right into the defensive playbook, and each one can have a huge impact on a battle if used correctly.
It’s a feature that’s indicative of Hand of Fate 2’s entire ethos, which constantly keeps you engaged with different elements handpicked from multiple genres. You’ll throw dice to decide your success in certain encounters, adding a delicious Dungeons & Dragons spin. You’ll need to gather food and manage it just like health and gold (you spend food points everytime you move to a new card), introducing a persistent resource management angle. There's just so much going on in one game, yet it all works as a cohesive whole.
From a technical standpoint, the game represents a mostly robust port, marred only by the occasional bit of slowdown when things transition between deck-building with the Dealer and combat phases. The wise-cracking Dealer’s quips can sometimes become a little distracting, especially when you’re trying to read story text, but it’s a small niggle in an otherwise stellar experience.
Almost impossible to categorise yet utterly compelling as a result, Hand of Fate 2 brings a new and unique RPG experience to Nintendo Switch. There’s just so much to enjoy here; the rewarding premise of its deck-building, the endless depth of its questing, the simple pleasure of its combat. It’s taken a little while to make the transition to Switch, but the wait has been worth it; this is a mobile port that’s practically indistinguishable from the version you can play elsewhere. Do yourself a favour and get this fantasy romp in your digital library right now.