Lionhead Studios released the highly anticipated Fable II on October 21st, 2008, roughly four years after the first Fable. The original Fable was a well received game, earning critical acclaim from the gaming press and quickly selling over two million copies worldwide. Despite this generally warm reception, Fable was considered a disappointment by many fans, as the game didn’t live up to some of the unrealistically ambitious promises made by the game’s lead designer, Peter Molyneux. Fortunately, Lionhead Studios learned from the mistakes they made in overhyping the first game, and have kept expectations for Fable II reasonable.
There is no game quite like Fable II, and it doesn’t fit neatly into the usual game genres. It is probably best described as an action RPG, but the term doesn’t really do Fable II justice. Fable II combines a Legend of Zelda style third person perspective with open ended freedom similar to the Elder Scrolls games. The game isn’t as deep as most traditional RPGs in terms of character development or story, but it compensates for these shortcomings by offering choices that most games don’t. While it borrows elements from other games, Fable II also introduces several original ideas that make it unique.
The emphasis on freedom of choice is the most important of Fable II’s original ideas, and the one that the game is built around. At its core, Fable II is a game about offering the player as much choice as possible. Almost every feasible decision is left to the player, who decides whether the protagonist will be a virtuous hero worshipped by the populace, or a despicable evildoer whose very presence sends townsfolk running in terror. You can choose whether your playable hero is righteous or evil, corrupt or pure, or in the gray area between these extremes.
Unlike most RPGs, the main story of Fable II does not reward the player with significant amounts of money. While it is possible to rush through the story ignoring sidequests and other distractions, the hero that does so will be a poor hero, equipped with only the shabbiest weapons and clothes, and probably mocked by the townsfolk for it. If the hero wants to be able to wear fine clothes or wield exotic and expensive weapons, they’re going to have to finance it with either a job or by buying real estate in the game. Jobs are simple minigames that are useful for earning small amounts of money early on in the game, but quickly become monotonous and pointless later on. The only way that truly significant amounts of money can be made is through real estate. As with any other aspect of Fable II, real estate is all about choices.
The player can buy each and every property in the game, from the largest castle to the smallest cottage, and with this comes control over the prices of commodities and rent. There is no decision in Fable II that is without any sort of consequence, and both sides of the coin are always well balanced. A hero that lowers the price of drinks at the bar will be popular around every town, but the reduced income will make it difficult to afford Fable II’s more decadent luxuries. On the other hand, the player who chooses to charge the highest rent possible will get rich quick, but at the cost of being loathed by the populace as a greedy landlord.
Earning the hatred of the populace has its disadvantages: shop owners won’t hand out discounts to corrupt heroes. Of course, said owners will gladly reduce prices if they think the alternative is getting blown away by a blunderbuss, so being feared also has its advantages. Evil heroes can use the fear they inspire to their advantage by stealing, extorting and generally exploiting terrified citizens. Righteous heroes will receive presents from the adoring population, but can feel a financial cost of being good, as money can be hard to come by for saintly characters. Fable II does a great job of actually making both moral paths attractive: in most games where there is a choice between good and evil, there are usually few perks to being evil. In Fable II, there is a legitimate temptation to be evil, even if it’s only to afford that massively expensive castle you want to buy.
As ambitious and unique as the scope and open ended aspects of Fable II are, the actual combat gameplay itself is relatively basic. Combat is governed by three skills: melee weapons, ranged weapons, and magical spells. Each skill is mapped to its own button on the Xbox 360 controller: all melee attacks are controlled with the X button, ranged with the Y button, and magic with the B button.
Early in the game, only the most basic attacks of each discipline are available, such as a fast but feeble slash with a sword, a crudely aimed shot with a crossbow, and the weakest spell. At this early stage, the combat in Fable II isn’t particularly deep, amounting to little more than mashing one of the three combat buttons to slice, shoot, or blast enemies into submission.
However, the protagonist quickly learns new abilities throughout the story, and by the time you’ve completed the main quest combat will be far deeper and more enjoyable than it was in the early game. Advanced level spells will allow your hero to teleport behind enemies, raise the dead, or incinerate multiple enemies at once, and even slow down time for Matrix-esque bullet time fights. Similarly, higher level melee attacks will send multiple enemies flying through the air with each hit, and higher level ranged abilities will allow for precision headshots.
The character progression is very noticeable, and combat becomes increasingly fun as the game progresses. Like almost everything else in Fable II, which combat aspect you choose to specialize in will change something about your hero. Specializing in melee attacks will make your character more muscular, focusing on magic will cover your character with elaborate glowing patterns, and concentrating on ranged attacks will make the protagonist taller. You will even find yourself choosing how to approach a fight: there is an impressive variety of high level abilities from the three combat disciplines. Of course, you don’t have to choose one particular skill over the others: my character was a master of all three disciplines, who was equally skilled with his flintlock rifle, cutlass, and magical attacks.
The variety in combat helps to compensate for the lack of enemy diversity in Fable II: you’ll find yourself fighting the same types of enemies dozens of times over throughout the game. There are bandits, small gremlin creatures called hobbes, undead enemies, trolls, and very little else. Trolls are the only real boss enemy in the game, and they are fought the same simplistic way each time.
However, thanks to the combat variety, each fight can be completely different, even if the enemies attacking are the same. It is worth noting that the combat is somewhat bereft of challenge: dying is easy to avoid, and those who are familiar with games at all are unlikely to die many times. Even if the player is killed in combat, there is essentially no punishment or disadvantage in doing so: the hero simply stands back up a few seconds later to continue the fight. However, the combat in the later game becomes interesting enough that most players will probably be enjoying the fights too much to notice that beating up the enemies isn’t particularly difficult. Most action RPGs aren’t any more difficult, so it seems unfair to hold this lack of challenge against Fable II. However, those who are seeking a stiff challenge should probably look elsewhere.
While Fable II excels in offering freedom that most games don’t even try to implement, the main story itself isn’t very impressive. It’s a relatively basic and predictable fantasy tale, and it is neither long nor memorable. The average player will probably finish the main story in about 10 hours, but the main story isn’t what Fable II is about, it’s what distracts you along the way that really makes the game exceptional. Defining everything about your own hero in the rich setting of Albion is really what Fable II is about, the story serving mainly as a vehicle to help develop your character.
You can play through the entire game with a friend, either locally on the same console or over Xbox Live, but either approach doesn’t add much to the game. Unlike other recent co-op games such as Gears of War, Fable II isn’t particularly conducive to playing with a friend. Fable II is all about creating your own distinct hero, but when you join a friend’s game, you can’t bring your own hero, and instead have to choose from a handful of basic henchman avatars. This takes away much of the fun that could have been had comparing your hero with a friend’s.
The camera also hurts the co-op experience, as it insists on keeping both heroes visible on the same screen. This takes away camera control from both players entirely, which in a third person game is critical. Anyone playing with a friend in co-op will be frustrated repeatedly trying to attack enemies that are offscreen, or being unable to explore because the other hero is too far away. Allowing each player to use their own screen would have been much more conducive to the cooperative game. Without the ability to bring your own hero into a friend’s game, co-op in Fable II is lifeless and generally more trouble than it’s worth.
The art design and setting of Fable II contribute to the game far more than the actual story does, as every region has a bright color palette and a unique atmosphere. While it may outwardly appear generic, Fable II is anything but, with a very original spin on fantasy archetypes. Fable II has its own distinctive brand of British humour, including many inside jokes that make fun of the game’s inconsistencies.
The bright colours and refreshing art design of Fable II go a long way to remedy the somewhat unimpressive technical side of the visuals. Character models aren’t impressive, and suffer when viewed from close up. Townsfolk, while full of personality and mannerisms, often share the same physical appearance. It really breaks the immersion of the otherwise charming game when you see a dozen identical villagers walk by. Likewise, the player can’t really interact with citizens, as you can’t actually talk to them. Instead, the hero can only use basic expressions to prompt a response.
For all of its flaws and shortcomings, Fable II is a game that any avid gamer should try, by renting or playing at a friend’s house if not buying. There really isn’t anything quite like it out there, and the game has a very distinctive setting and personality. The world can be excessively linear and seem difficult to explore with the absence of a useful map, and the main story itself is nothing special. However, the rest of the game, and its emphasis on giving the player choices and freedom, should be experienced by everyone remotely interested in an RPG. Fans of Western RPGs such as Oblivion and Mass Effect in particular owe it to themselves to give Fable II a try.
Article from Gamersyndrome.com