Hand of Fate 2 improves on the original's deck-building and Arkham-style brawling

"I'm not a vain man. You must appreciate that the game, this game, has been my focus for more years than I can count," the Dealer says, picking at the scab on his arm while I try to pick a card from his spinning wheel of them.

Logically, I know that just grabbing a random card isn't any different from a game that gives a 65% chance to succeed or a 3% drop rate. Even so, trying to time it so the wheel stops on the right card—then missing by just a little bit and landing on failure—feels different, in a physical way. The wheel slowly coming to a stop, or the dice clattering across the table, or cards flipping to reveal success or failure: each of these elevates. It captures the feeling of playing a board game on a table, with an opponent in front of you.

Brisbane-based developers Defiant Development are back with their sequel to 2015's card-driven brawler, Hand of Fate. The original married attack-attack-counter action reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum to the framework of a tabletop game like Arkham Horror or Warhammer Quest. While it wasn't wholly successful, struggling against the cryptic Dealer (voiced by Anthony Skordi) was entertaining, despite some mushy swordplay and frustrating randomness.  

Hand of Fate 2 has a raft of new features, keeping the tabletop conceit and addressing the original's flaws. The most striking change is that the combat now just feels right. Enemies have more consistent, more clearly telegraphed attacks, so wading into a crowd is satisfying rather than suicidal. Hand of Fate 2 feels smoother and fairer than the first ever did.

This sequel also promises more variety to break up the occasional monotony of the original. Your silent protagonist can be a woman, if you'd like. That hero can equip a massive two-hander to break through shields and armor, wield paired weapons to overwhelm faster enemies with quick attacks, or fling explosives to blast tightly packed groups. Enemies come in more varieties as well, including the heavily armored Empire troops and the misshapen Corrupted zombies.

Hand of Fate 2 also features more of a story-driven campaign than its predecessor. The ascendant Empire is struggling with the Northern barbarians, but is beset by organized crime and the slow spread of the Corruption. The protagonist can choose a companion to fight alongside them, and each of these companions has their own special story events as well. These changes will hopefully smooth out the bumps of the first game, which had a lot of unrealized potential.

Hand of Fate 2 will be available on Steam on November 7.