MWN Reviews: Fable II
Going into this review as a huge fan of the original Fable, but knowing the pitfalls hype and fanboyism can create, I was cautiously optimistic of all of the things that Fable II promised to achieve. I know how Peter Molyneux turns into an excitable child around his creations and cannot help but divulge information on things that may not ever make it into the final version of the game. I’ll try and avoid spoilers for the large part but minor details may be revealed.
With this in mind let me just tell you that Fable II is a fantastic game. It’s a joy to play and the story is as engrossing as it is heart wrenching. Not since Final Fantasy VII have I played a game that has pulled me into its world and caused me to identify so strongly with its characters (chiefly aided by the fact that the protagonist of the game is none other than you).
Fable II is set 500 years after the original, in the times where firearms are becoming widespread in their use and the heroes of old are nothing but legends. You begin the game as a young child in Bowerstone, the largest city in Albion. Along with your sister you sleep on the streets and long for a better life, one where you at least have a roof over your head. Through a mini-quest based tutorial you raise enough money to seemingly remove yourself and your older sibling from poverty only for it all to go to hell. The tutorial lasts just long enough for it to remain interesting which combined with the great story set-up is exactly what I’d want from any game.
About halfway through the tutorial you meet your buddy for the rest of the game, the faithful pooch. I can’t help but love the little guy; he’s with you through thick and thin and even though you have no direct control over him, he will always do exactly what you expect. Lionhead succeeded in creating an artificial being that responds to each situation with believability and an unnerving sense of realism.
The story that runs through the core of Fable II is fairly standard. Hero faces tragedy, Hero seeks revenge, Hero kills enemy. The way the story is portrayed and the characters that take part in it are very different to the typical Action/RPG fare. The choices are not the typical good vs. bad as in most games because those choices pass through grey areas more often than not. They play to your ego and sense of self-preservation as well as questioning your moral compass. Thanks to incredible voice-acting, the characters in Fable II are really brought to life. There are those that you will love and those you will hate. The fantastic story is supported by an amazing score, one of the best in any recent game.
As you probably know the major mechanic behind Fable II is the customisation. The game world and your avatar respond to your actions whether they be good or evil, pure or corrupt and in a much bigger way than in the first iteration of the series. The world is literally sculpted through your actions, defend a town against bandits and it will prosper in the future and when you come back it will be bigger and have a stronger economy. However you could also opt to side with the bandits themselves and aid them, causing a downward spiral into chaos for the town.
The towns themselves feel alive; each person having their own schedule, personality and opinion of the hero. The artwork for the game is gorgeous with beautiful locations galore. There are a few rendering issues with the hero when alternating between first and third person views but these are easily forgotten when you see the lush open environments. This bug leads me into some of the other problems with the game. The menu is a tad clunky, only marginally better than the menu of the first game and the context sensitive d-pad has a rather annoying tendency to switch to the wrong action at the precise moment at which you press it.
One of the most touted features, the “one-button” combat system, works exactly how it says on the box. One button for melee, one for ranged and one for magic. In theory this sounds like the most monotonous, boring and simplistic control scheme ever imagined, and it can be if you don’t use it to its fullest. However the second you start to put any thought into your button presses you easily realise how deep it can be. Tapping the X button performs a normal attack, holding the button blocks and holding the button with a direction charges a flourish attack. Timing also plays a part with hitting the X button in time with the next attack instead of mashing it causing stronger, chained attacks. There are similar nuances in the control for ranged and magic as well. Pressing Y fires a shot, holding Y moves the aim into first person and allows sub-targeting of body parts. Holding B charges your will, or magic, power and allows casting of different spells of varying intensities in area of effect mode and with the addition of a direction allows single enemy targeting variants of the same spells.
Like the first entry in the series, there are a number of little secrets and other hidden Easter-eggs to be found throughout the world of Albion. The main Easter-egg is the Demon doors. Returning from the first game they offer rewards in exchange for the solving of their riddles. Another fun little task is finding 50 Gargoyles (a la hidden packages in GTA). The gargoyles notify you of their presence by insulting you in the most hilarious Scottish accent imaginable. I fully blame Fable II for giving me the assumption that all Scottish people are huge bastards and will undoubtedly insult me within seconds of our meeting. Many of the properties in the game contain amusing little side quests once you purchase them (I’ll never forget you Chesty, I love you man) that add even more playtime to the already sizeable game. There are also a handful of quests that can only be attempted once the game is completed.
Online Co-op is limited to playing as a predetermined hero in another player’s world. This is a pretty major let down for me as one of the chief aspects of the game I undoubtedly want to show off is my hero, and if you are the visiting player this is impossible. Surely it would have been possible to allow players to at least use the skin/clothes of their hero over the defaults. The co-op camera is also hideous in its execution, for some reason subjecting both players to a terrible fixed point camera that cannot be rotated by either party (Think Lego Star Wars style).
In spite of the glaring interface issues and the fact that online play is fairly gimped, is an awesomely fun game with a story that pulls you right in and makes you feel an actual emotional response to it. The combat is great, exactly as Peter Molyneux described it, accessible for the casual/non-gamer while remaining deep for the “hardcore” gamer. In my opinion you need to at least rent this game, however I guarantee that you will be left wanting more so put this on your to-buy list if you haven’t already.