Fable II

Fable II

What we liked:

+ Call in sick kind of fun
+ Excellent art design
+ Immersive and vast

What we didn't like:

- Co-op makes me uncooperative
- Pause menu leaves too much to the imagination

DEVELOPER: Lionhead Studios   |   PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios   |   RELEASE: 10/21/2008
Peter finally delivers on his promises.

With the same wild ambition as its predecessor, Fable 2 really does unbreak the hearts of the faithful. Set hundreds of years after the original, Fable 2 has its share of nostalgic allusions without requiring a bit of recall to enjoy it. Your character will truly become what you make of it, while retaining a remarkable ease of gameplay and accessibility. The combat is clean, fun and well–designed, and exploration is nearly boundless. Lionhead still manages to fall short on some promises, but even so, you will love this game.

Once upon a quasi ye olde British time there was the land of Albion in which magic was dismissed as mere fable. A brief stint as a street rat passes quickly as you set out on the ultimate quest – to unite the four heroes of Strength, Will and Skill (plus you) to take out Albion’s resident nasty, Lucien. At your side is as loving and loyal companion as only a dog can be, and no matter what path you follow, doggie will be there with you to bark at the nearest treasure. Most of the weird in–game oddities did involve my dear Poochie, who could often as not be found in the middle of an open treasure chest as in front of it. No matter, he never left my side or asked me why I shot that bunny.

Choices within the game define your character as pure or corrupt, bad or good, with each cause having effects ranging from unremarkable to unforgivable. The nature of the effect of an action is usually pretty clear, but somehow there is no avoiding wondering what will happen if you kill your spouse, or an innocent, or enter that house when no one is home. These elements, and in fact the bizarre situation of unknowing they create, make Fable 2 simultaneously traditional and wonderfully new. Sure, you wander the world to complete quests, level up and unearth treasure, but what will it all lead to? Halo or horns, the ramifications of what you do, or even what you eat, are manifested physically. Sometimes, however, consequences are nothing short of inconsequential. Without getting too spoiler heavy, lets just say mass slaughter of a populace isn’t quite the guilt trip you might expect. Furthermore, the attentive may even spot some NPCs cropping up that had passed on to the afterlife at another time in the game. A bit impermanent for a game of cause and effect, but I suppose they are just NPCs.

The moral compass choices early in the game are pretty darn clear, though only one of your childhood decisions causes much of an effect later on. Once childhood is a thing of memory the real game begins with an assortment of quests and more NPCs than you can whistle, flex or dance at. The world is large, though the map feature is hard to get a grip on at first and it may take some time before you realize just how large it is. With such a sandbox before you it is still blissfully easy to become absorbed in the minutia that you may find yourself performing blacksmith duties for well over an hour before the illusions snaps.

NPCs will treat you as you have treated others, and ethical options get pricklier as the game advances with each begging the question how far will you go for greater good, or evil? As more than idle chatter and scene filler NPCs are integral to the game’s immersive quality; draw your weapon in a crowd and they won’t just be commenting on the weather they will launch a proper, panicky riot. Of course, NPCs will more than just respond to your reputation, they will respond to you, one–on–one, and an NPC merchant with a fondness for (or healthy fear of) you will offer excellent deals.

At this point I should warn you about your condition: you are a mime. Yes, it’s true, you never speak a word and may only interact with others by using “expressions”. Giving gifts and acting a fool will win you all sorts of affection, no matter your deeds, which keeps what could be an overly grave sort of game lighthearted. Interactions are controlled by the D–pad, with the available options adjusting to the situation at hand. It is a bit pared down for RPG fare, but it largely works smoothly with only the occasional blip such as patting your dog instead of farting for lookers–on.

Should an NPC fall victim to your silent wiles, there is nothing left to do but buy them a ring, a home and get together to play house. You can consummate to your heart’s content (even choose protection or not) and have children, all without a bawdy mini–game. Playing as a female hero I was a bit concerned about procreating in–game, as pursuing bandits seemed a bit unethical with a bun in the oven. Fortunately, baby makes an appearance immediately after conception. While your child grows to love you, your spouse is more than a little high maintenance and divorce is an easy feat – and not an unlikable option. Really, what hero needs more than a good dog?

What is problematic about NPC interaction is a bit of control mix–up. Throughout the game while in a menu the B button returns you to the previous menu or screen, while in combat B triggers your Will, or magic. Let’s just say that when an NPC is selected B definitely does not mean back, but as a creature of habit I tended to view this non–combat interaction as a reasonable time to hit B to return to the game screen and ended up terrorizing the poor soul with my Will.

Also causing a bit of woe is the the pause menu, which is so beastly bizarre it ends up as little more than an annoyance. The usual elements like character customization and the buying and selling of items is there, and then some. Items can be acquired and linger in your inventory with nary an indication they have been used even when you unknowingly purchase a new one from a merchant. Item comparisons, like strength of weapons, is also sorely missing. Without this players will either labor through the clunky tedium, or forgo it with an “it must not matter much” attitude. Clothes, for example, carry boosts or penalties, but are relatively limited. So limited, in fact, that I spent the early part of the game just running about in my birthday suit apathetic towards my meager couture options.

Mashers delight, combat is sweet if a little shallow. Strength and Skill allow for new toughness, accuracy, speed and techniques like flourishes and defensive moves. Will is the more interesting element with an array of spells to choose from that do everything from throw fireballs and slow time to raising the dead. Melee attacks are X, ranged attacks are Y and B handles magic which makes achieving experience by mixing up attacks a breeze. Like any good RPG , the more time you spend getting caught up in the world the better prepared you will be for the primary quest. Will is definitely an open–ended prospect, and should not be neglected as the combat becomes more diverse as it develops.

You will see a lot of the same enemies, which at least allows you to perfect your combat. Lots of little hobbes, beatles and bandits to be eliminated, with another handful of creepies like hollow men and the more memorable trolls. None of them will kill you as you are truly invincible – which really makes the whole concept more plausible. How many times have you questioned your heroism in a game in which you died countless times to reach the goal? Here a brief spot of unconsciousness is the only result of a sound beating, and getting knocked out will simply lose you the experience from the fight to that point as well as give you a scar.

Commerce is a robust game element with plenty of merchants and traders as well as employers and money–making opportunities. Since quests earn you renown but no gold, the entrepreneurial spirit is to be encouraged. Gambling and assassination ofter a bit more spice than the woodcutting and blacksmith mini–games but by far my favorite is the idle practice of real estate investment. As property owner you get to play slumlord determining the cost of rent or perhaps of drinks at the tavern you acquired. Bear in mind that actions like investing in a town will positively affect the economy while tormenting the residents not so much.

As a chronic explorer the mapping situation is frustrating. There is some straying to be had, but not too much downright adventuring. The glowing trail will always point you in the right direction, but there is no way to look at a region map and get a sense of location. Without a way to mark points of interest you will have to play thoroughly – with 50 silver keys, 50 gargoyle statues, nine Demon Doors, and 6 magical statues the likelihood of finding and returning to them all is nearly nonexistent.

The only nit really worth picking, however, is the multi–player. A friend can join your game as a Henchmen and you can allot the experience and wealth distribution to their game save, a small disappointment for those wishing to share their character with friends but it works. What does not work is the camera, which is a whole new kind of miserable. As you share the screen you will have to manually adjust the camera by tapping LB, and it will then shift to whichever direction your character is currently facing. On more than one occasion I found myself mere steps ahead of my comrade but into the next room. Suddenly engaged in combat, my friend was stuck in this bizarre camera in the hall outside the door while I fought blind. On the upside, the Henchman can off your spouse without that pesky guilt. It does make the game less lonely, and when your friend leaves you will be grateful to have your dog by your side, so make of it what you will – it simply is not all it was touted to be.

A British fairy story at heart, the sites and sounds pack plenty of whimsy, and for a tale that was promised to haunt my dreams and nightmares for the rest of my life it certainly is…nice. Really, the story is good, the characters make it better, and even so you just won’t be retelling the tale to grandchildren. The voice acting is stellar and the attention paid to both dialog and scattered NPC commentary shows a level of care I wish was applied to all games. All too easy to take for granted is the mood that each environment creates: every town and area carries its own sense of rural bliss or cosmopolitan bustle, ominous foreboding or the embers of a better time. Really, the art direction is fantastic.

In all, there is an amazing variety on the surface, with moderate depth in each area. What can be noted here, as with many games, is not to take studio promises as truth. More importantly, though, is that even falling short of those declarations does not a failure make. Completely absorbing, Fable 2 is unfettered by its few faults and while perhaps not entirely epic in depth, it is truly epic in scope – and even more fun.

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