Zero Punctuation review of Hand of Fate 2.
2017 will be remembered by gaming historians as the year of the premature ejaculation; we had some lovely tumbles in the first two quarters, but then we waited all summer for AAA to warm up for a second round, and all we got were three semi-energetic thrusts on one day in October and then they came in our eye socket, rolled over, and fucking went to sleep. So now we're just killing time with acrimonious arguments over who's sleeping on the wet patch and paying for the Uber in the morning. And there's nothing else coming out this year but ports and remakes. "You haven't reviewed CoD: WWII yet, Yahtz." Oh, but I have, viewer! I've reviewed CoD: WWII more times than I can count! Sometimes it's called Call of Duty, sometimes it's called Battlefield, sometimes it's called Medal of Honor, but it is always nonetheless the same: a lot of Nazis will die and we'll all learn important lessons about duty and brotherhood, before we join the multiplayer and listen to a bunch of grown men calling each other "faggots" for stealing their kills, while the publisher tries to tacitly convince us to blow our life savings on premium VD medicine. Besides, going back to World War II is a shamelessly-retrograde move that I don't want to encourage because next, platform shoes might come back.
AAA these days is only AAA in the sense that the word "aggravating" also has three A's in it; I think we should attempt trial separation from AAA until at least the new year, so let's play some goddamn indies! Hand of Fate 2 is an action-packed high fantasy game consisting entirely of one incredibly long and boring coach ride during which we're stuck sitting opposite a really ugly nun, who is going to insist on teaching you her favorite card game no matter how many times you suggest switching to the Travel Scrabble. So what we have here is a hybrid of deck-building game and a D&D session being run by someone who's just a little bit too into it. The premise being that we're using the game to go over the events of our adventuring life thus far, that led us to only being able to afford a seat in economy class. This being the case, my adventurous life seems to have consisted of an awful lot of repeating the same adventure multiple times and swearing at dice.
The actual gameplay of each campaign consists of moving from encounter to encounter, except beforehand, you get to pick what random encounters are included in the deck alongside the ones required by the story. Mostly, the challenge is centered around juggling probability and resource management until the need for combat suddenly arises, at which point, the game chucks all that numbers bullshit in the bin and puts you out with some monsters for a few minutes so you can twat each other with sticks. Kind of like live-action role-playing, I suppose, except that you can die of something other than embarrassment.
"Can't help noticing that great big '2' hanging off the title like a big coiled turd that won't break off, Yahtz; do I need to have played Hand of Fate 1?" Not really, imaginary questioner. I'd put Hand of Fate 2 alongside Left 4 Dead 2 in the category of sequels that kind of make the original obsolete, 'cos it's basically the same game, but fleshed out and with more bells and whistles. Some of which did feel like gilding the lily a tad, like character customization options. Whatever helps you get immersed, sure. But in a game where most of your actions are being merely described in text, doesn't feel like our appearance matters much, unless the text contrives for the action to frequently take place in a hairdresser's.
Also, as well as deciding random outcomes with a success/failure Three-card Monte, we've now got dice rolls and a weird "stop the pendulum" game. I guess the pendulum is theoretically more skill-based than random, but in practice, it can get fucked. The thing you're trying to point at is commonly about the size of a bush baby's bollocks, and I swear, there's a very slight controller delay, so trying to skillfully hit the target has roughly the same success rate as putting the controller in a bag of marbles and kicking it across the room.
On the whole though, this shit is quite my jam. DISCLAIMER: Do not use shit as jam; it will make for a poor morning's breakfast. But I've got a fondness for this sort of FTL-style procedural storytelling, and by strange coincidence, I also enjoy the counter-centric Batman: Arkham-style combat. If you only like one of those things, you might not enjoy the way the other keeps interrupting it, but for me, having a special button that lets me take a break from all this fiddling about with cards and numbers so I can beat the snot out of the characters for two minutes is a feature I could do with in virtually any game; it'd certainly liven up Animal Crossing. It might not be the most elegantly-designed combat in the world; I feel like it uses too many buttons: one for attack, one for other attack, one for special attack, one for finisher attack, one for block, one for evade, one for the little boy who lives down the lane. And more often than not, the enemies clump together and the action becomes a big, confusing rugby scrum where the counter prompts are pretty much all you have to go on.
But no deals have been broken thus far; what can be a bit galling is when you've carefully optimized your deck and spent an hour getting lucky rolls and calculating yourself into the perfect position, only to lose it all on the final boss fight 'cos you failed to dodge his dick-slap finisher. Or the other way around; maybe you're down to five health but masterfully fought off sixteen guys without taking a single hit, only for the next random card to take fifteen health off you 'cos you tried to pick up a coin and accidentally punched yourself in the balls. See, it's where the game switches between its two distinct gameplay cores that there's the occasional grinding of gears.
Personally, I'm not that interested in the whole "deck-building" concept; it's the sort of thing I've come to associate with odd-smelling rooms above comic book shops, into which large numbers of Cheetos unwittingly wander and are never seen again. The whole process of building my encounter deck before every campaign was a bit of a chore. Yes, there's a button to automatically fill out the deck, but I swiftly found I couldn't trust it; it was always leaving out interesting new cards and leaving in that fucking overpriced pie shop and that one ring that reduces fire damage when the main enemy that uses fire is about as hard to dodge as a Republican tax code.
I think the major issue I have with this otherwise unique and absorbing game is one of momentum. Some of the campaigns can go on for very long, and when I fail them right at the last hurdle, I feel quite disheartened, and unsure if I could stand to start all over again. What might help is, say, a quick restart button I could press at this point to just shuffle the decks and start again, bish-bash-bosh and no bother. What most certainly does not help is to dangle the victory token in front of me for a minute going, "Ooh, look at this lovely, shiny thing you're not going to have now; better flamboyantly put it back in my pile of things that aren't for losers, before I make all the cards fly around the room for five minutes and kick you back to the deck-building screen so you can try to figure out where you fucked this up!" A slave to the swishy-wishy effects, this game; nothing moves unless it can fly around a bit first. Yes, I understand some of this is probably covering loading times, which is presumably why we have to stare at a Winamp visualization from the early 2000's for a minute before every combat. But it's a bit of a pace-killer.
So, that's Hand of Fate; it's like finding your mum's vibrator as a kid: it's intriguing and you can have fun with it, but it's occasionally sticky in ways that probably aren't worth thinking about.
- He's a card: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The Cheetos still frighten their children with stories of the great Gen-Con
- Dame Fortune plays me like a Mississippi boathouse