Fable for the Xbox was a love it or hate it kind of game. If you dwelled on all the unfulfilled promises and incredibly short length, it was easy to make a case against it. But if you based your thoughts of the game simply on its ambition and overall “fun factor”, it was definitely a game you could get behind. With Fable II, Lionhead Studios is trying to fulfill those promises while keeping everything people liked about the first game intact. Is the second time a charm, or are there still unfulfilled promises?
Fable II takes place in Albion, much like the first game, except it’s about 10 times larger. You get to choose between a male or female character and you’re thrust right in. The opening cutscene features a fantastically enchanting song and follows a bird that flies around until finally it comes right above the hero, taking a dump on his or her head. It sets the tone perfectly for the game, where humor, charm, and just plain silliness are more abundant than seriousness. After playing through your hero’s childhood for a few minutes and obtaining 5 gold to buy a magical “box” that grants wishes from a street merchant, our hero and his or her older sister are summoned to a castle by an unknown character who will set off the events to our hero’s story. Much like the first game though, it isn’t the overall plot arc that propels you to continue playing, but the world and the people that inhabit it. It isn’t a groundbreaking story and has clichés that most RPGs fall victim to, but you will absolutely enjoy everything the atmosphere and setting have to offer, and this easily makes up for the weakness of the overall plot. It’s about the overall experience, not just the story itself. Fable II shines in this aspect.
Fable II features three different types of abilities to choose from: strength, skill, and will. Strength is for melee combat, skill is for ranged combat with guns and crossbows, and will is for magic. Strength is also used for increasing your health and your efficiency with melee weapons, while skill can increase the speed at which you attack (with melee weapons) and increase your damage with guns and crossbows. Will is only used to learn new spells. In order to learn new abilities you have to get experience, which is mostly through combat. While you are fighting an enemies, they will drop colored experience orbs depending on the different ways you kill them. If you use melee combat, blue orbs will come out, if you use magic, then red orbs will come out, and if you use guns or crossbows, yellow orbs will come out. These colored coded orbs can only be used on abilities in their categories. Green orbs, which will come out after you kill an enemy, are general experience points that you can use on any of the three that you would like.
Combat in Fable II is incredibly simple at the beginning of the game, but it becomes much more complex with the more abilities you acquire. It is basically a button masher when you are using melee combat, at least until you learn the ability that allows you to time your attacks so that the human enemies don’t block all of your attacks. Ranged combat is the same. You just constantly press the fire button and let the auto targeting do everything for you until you get the zoom ability and the ability to attack the different body parts of the enemies (and yes, headshots are instant kills except on bosses). Using magic doesn’t require any MP in Fable II though. Instead, you can hold down the magic button to charge your magic to a higher level. It takes a while to charge to the final level, so it makes up for not using MP since enemies will wail you on while you are charging. Combat, despite being incredibly simple, is still a whole lot of fun, and that’s what I think Lionhead was going for.
Exploration in Fable II is definitely more prevalent than it was in the first game. Thanks to the new sidekick, your dog, things have also gotten simpler. While you are exploring there is a golden trail you can follow straight to your next destination, but following it blindly will not get you any treasures. That’s where your dog comes in. He can sniff out treasure chests for you and point them out to you, as well as find things hidden in the ground for you to dig up with your shovel. Your dog can’t find everything at the beginning, however, but he becomes better at it as you teach him through books. He can also tell you where silver keys are hidden, which unlock certain treasure chests. Your dog also helps you in combat by attacking the enemies, but he can get hurt. You’ll have to heal him, but luckily it doesn’t cost anything. You also have to pay attention to the dog’s emotions. If the dog is scared, you have to give him a boost of confidence by playing with him. It sounds annoying, but it actually isn’t. It’s quite awesome to have a sidekick throughout the whole game, especially one that doesn’t require a whole lot of attention and gives back as much as it does. It has my pick for best sidekick of the year.
In addition to having the dog, there are new ways to interact with the environment. You can now vault (jump) off of cliffs and buildings to get down to lower areas. Since you are a hero, dropping doesn’t hurt you. If the drop would hurt the hero (which is incredibly rare) it doesn’t allow you to vault. The same can be said for diving into water. The player can also sprint by holding down a button while running. It makes going through areas you have already gone through much faster. You can also skip the exploration altogether once you have been to an area. You can just go to your menu and pick the place you want to go and the game teleports to the location, just like in Oblivion.
Just like in the first Fable, Fable II allows the player the chance to become good or evil throughout the game. You can also be somewhere in the middle if you don’t go pro bono on either side of it. Purity and corruption govern whether you are good or evil in the game. If you are doing nothing but good deeds, you character will be a hero everyone looks up to, but if you are into doing bad deeds then villagers will be frightened at the sight of you. Being good or evil can also affect your physical appearance, much like in the first game.
Your physical appearance in Fable II can be affected by more than just your good and bad deeds though. If you eat too much food your character will become fat. If you increase your physical strength stats your character will have muscles. If you increase your skills in ranged combat, you will become taller. And finally, if you increase your skills in will, then glowing magical lines will show up on your skin.
Since you don’t make money doing quests in Fable II you can decide to take on jobs, where you play a mini-game that relies on good hand-eye coordination to make money. The mini-game for blacksmithing and woodcutting is a half circle with a green bar that gets smaller as time elapses and requires you to get a small ball inside the green bar while it goes back and forth on the half circle. The mini-game for bartending is the same half circle, but a bar goes around it changing colors from red all the way to green, and the goal is the same. Continual success increases the amount of gold you acquire for each item. If you miss, the amount goes back to the default. If you make enough money, you can get a promotion that increases the amount of money you make doing your job as well as the default amount. You can be a 1-5 star employee at each job. For those who don’t like mini-games though, there are other jobs you can partake in. You can become a bounty hunter or an assassin, which just require you to take out some people. The last job is becoming a civilian displacement agent, who forcibly recruits people to work labor on different projects. If you don’t like the sounds of that, you can also go around freeing people from their labor, but you don’t get any money for that. There’s also gambling (the same mini-games that were in the Fable II Pub Games download). You can merge your existing character from the pub games with your character from the real game and get all your goodies and gold as well.
If you feel like spending your gold, you can always buy some shops and houses in Albion. You can buy any home or shop in the game, each with a different price, so there’s plenty to spend your hard earned gold on. Once you own a shop, you can even change the prices of the items, which affects the overall economy of the town as well as your corruption and purity. In addition, each shop has sales and shortages based on the economic situation in the town. Once you own a shop, you also get discounts and a share of the profits the shop makes. Once you own a house, if it isn’t one your family is living in, you can rent it out to other people and make some gold. The gold you get for both the shops and houses accumulates even when you aren’t playing the game, so if you take some time off the game and come back, you will have a hefty amount of gold waiting for you. You can also decorate your home with furniture you buy from stores or mounting your trophies you get from quests. If you happen to be married, improving your home will increase your family’s happiness as well.
That’s not all there is to do in Albion if you don’t feel like doing quests. You can also go around interacting with the locals. The expressions wheel, divided into categories (social, rude, scary, flirty, and fun), gives you plenty of options for interacting with NPCs, from trying to take one back to your place and have protected/unprotected sex, to increasing your renown by showing them your combat trophies. The consequences for having unprotected sex are pregnancy and even sexually transmitted diseases, so choose wisely. There are plenty of prostitutes who will try to pick you off the streets. If you develop a love interest in someone, you can get married and have children, so there is a good side to it. Messing around with the expressions wheel can also be quite humorous since you can hold a fart and accidentally poop your pants if you hold it for too long. Just experiment with it to see the NPCs’ reactions.
If you feel like being evil on your quest, you can always commit some crimes. Be aware that your crimes won’t go unnoticed. If a guard catches you then you will have three options to choose from: paying the fine, performing community service (getting rid of a local threat), or resisting arrest. Resisting arrest will result in the guards attacking you, and sometimes even the villagers. There are plenty of different crimes to commit, all with varying fines, so the more severe, the more you will owe the guards if you choose to pay them.
One of the most compelling gameplay additions shown off at countless game shows by Peter Molyneux was the co-op mode. They had planned to give it to the players a week after the game launched, but instead gave it to us in a patch on day one. Well, they can go ahead and take that patch back because the co-op mode in Fable II is awful, plain and simple. I don’t know whether this was what they originally planned for the mode or whether they rushed it to get it out for the launch, but it’s clear it wasn’t high on their priority list.
When the players are in co-op mode only player one can be his or her actual character, while the second player just plays as one of the first player’s henchmen. The second player can move all their gained experience and gold over to their actual character, but it’s still really lame that they can’t play as their own character, even when online. Since we knew they were planning on doing that for someone without a record on the game, it sounded cool, but doing it to people with a record is just plain stupid. Luckily no one is going to actually play the co-op mode because of this reason; otherwise they would be treated to an awful camera where you can never see anything. Since both players can’t control the camera at once, they use a fixed camera that doesn’t allow the players to go too far apart from each other. Someone I was playing co-op with said they “couldn’t see anything,” which perfectly demonstrates the frustration with the camera. Unfortunately, there are achievements for co-op, so you achievements people will have to suffer through some of it. Everyone else, keep Fable II a single player experience, and you will be happier because of it.
The controls in Fable II work great in most aspects. The camera is moved with the right thumb stick and works pretty well except for the few times that it gets stuck on objects. It gets a little irritating, but nothing that soured the experience for me. The menus are easy to navigate, but it also loads things kind of slowly. When you click on some things, it can take a few seconds for it to go to the next thing. Otherwise, the controls work great, especially combat and exploration.
Overall, the gameplay in Fable II is much more impressive than it was in the first game. There are more options in almost every aspect. I became addicted to this game the instant I started, and it will likely happen to most people who play it. If you were worried the gameplay would be a retread, put all your worries aside. All of the additions and tweaks to Fable II make it a great game to play that is loads of fun.
The graphics in Fable II, at least from a technical perspective, are not all that impressive. They are pretty average, but it isn’t the technical aspects that impress. The art direction and overall atmosphere are fantastic and definitely overshadow the technical aspects of the presentation. Open world games like this normally don’t have as much personality as Fable II does, and it definitely goes a long way toward the “experience” of the game. There are however, numerous bugs like items disappearing while you look at them, to enemies getting stuck on things and not being able to move. Screen tearing is also a little frequent as well as framerate drops. This might make Fable II sound like a technical nightmare, but it doesn’t happen too often and you probably won’t notice it while you are playing. You will however, notice loading screens that are longer than they probably should be. They happen whenever you enter or exit an area only, but people who have played Oblivion can attest to how annoying it is to sit through loading screens for each area. Luckily there aren’t any loading screens for entering buildings and shops like there were in Oblivion.
The sound department on the other hand, is fantastic in almost all aspects. The voice work is great, especially all of the main characters in the story. The NPCs in the game also have plenty of personality and don’t all sound the same like Oblivion’s NPCs did. The soundtrack is also fantastic. It’s epic, mellow, and rousing in all the places it needs to be and helps set the atmosphere. There are, however, a few instances when the sound effects cut out.
Fable II is a game that is much better than its separate parts might suggest. As an experience, it’s some of the most fun I have had all year. Even if you were disappointed with the first Fable, give Fable II a chance. It’s a fantastic sequel that fulfills on all of the promises made in the first game. It has flaws, like the unrealized potential of the co-op mode and the numerous bugs that come with the territory of an open world game of its caliber, but it’s easily among the best RPGs of this generation and a sure contender for game of the year. It’s one of those games that makes you want to lock yourself in a room for a few days with no outside contact. Don’t miss it among the sea of great holiday games.