October 20, 2008
If there was a truly defining RPG on the last generation for Microsoft and the Xbox, it has to be Fable. It was a console exclusive that was created by the very British, Lionhead Studios and was one of two franchises that really gave their last generation a much needed push in to an already crammed market. Now after 4 long years, here we are; a new console and a new Fable hoping to pick up where the last one left off, with plenty of morality and consequences.
Fable 2 takes place in Albion approximately 500 years after the original and you’d be wrong in thinking that the Albion is a rehash from the previous version. Instead, Albion is an entirely new fictitious world with similarities in name only so new players won’t feel out of depth with a continuation of the story. However, veterans of the series will raise a dry smile at the fleeting references to the original dotted throughout. The story revolves around “Sparrow”, or at least that’s what you start out as, and it follows them across Albion as they try to defeat the evil Lucien from resurrecting the all powerful Spire.
In essence, despite being billed as an RPG, Fable 2 is pretty much an action-orientated-RPG and can be pretty heavy on the combat at times, especially when you’re fighting through the dungeons. Nevertheless, the combat is simplistic and never really tests until the closing stages of the story. Of course, even then it really doesn’t get too testing because of the interesting death aspect of the game. Truth be told, you’ll never die as such in Fable 2, when you lose all your health, your hero will simply rise as if nothing happened but with a serious dent in their experience and a resulting scar from the deadly swipe that just took your life. In practice, the system very much works because you’ll do your utmost to keep them from dying, for fear of running around Albion with a disfigured mess.
The fundamental underlying system that propels Fable ahead of its counterparts is the whole choices and consequences element. You alone choose how you want your hero to act and what you want to do, and this ultimately creates the world around you. Not only do people react accordingly to you on the streets of Albion; commenting on your looks and your past deeds, but choices also reflected in the neighbourhood. If you help the law repel a group of bandits, chances are the place will flourish as a result. However, if you assist the bandits in their unholy deeds, prepare to watch the filth rise from beneath the streets as the lawless neighbourhood slumps below the poverty line. It’s ultimately this aspect of the game that truly creates a unique and immersive experience that so many of us have pined after.
The two main personality lines that propel your character’s reputation and look, revolve around your good/evil and pure/corrupt personality traits. These two stat lines take in to account your mission choices and general attitude round Albion. If you want to go around kicking people’s doors in and renting out your property at extortionate rates, then fine; feel free, Fable 2 is about choices after all, but don’t expect to be popular around Albion; expect to be feared and hated. If you want to give autographs to the locals and show off your quest trophies, then expect to be a local celebrity and loved by everyone. I must say, this does have its drawbacks though as the locals tend to swarm and get in your way, which can get supremely annoying. A few choice spells and some obnoxious behaviour can cure that though.
Communicating with the locals around Albion comes in the form of the expression wheel. It not only offers over 30 plus expressions, but it even allows you to extend some by holding them for longer to maximise their effect. Taking the expression wheel a little further, if you impress and woo the right people, it can lead to marriage and then naturally kids; and there isn’t a limit on how many families you can have on the go either. Remember thought folks, slap on protection with your wives if you don’t want any nippers running around. However, despite all that, the lack of any sort of real voice from the main character in not only the expressions, but the story itself is a little disappointing and despite starting to care about your character’s weight, looks and social interactions, it really does disrupt the illusion somewhat.
If amusing the locals isn’t your thing, you can get involved in the daily grind if you so wish and take a job in the city. The jobs range from blacksmiths to bartenders and simply involves a timing mini-game to earn your gold, but it’s hardly a defining feature. However, if making an honest living doesn’t take your fancy, you can always steal from the locals or gamble your gold on the Fable Pub Games in one of the many Inns.
On your adventure around Albion, you’ll be accompanied by man’s best friend, and no I don’t mean a cold pint of lager (although there is alcohol present in the game to waste away the time); I’m talking about your dog. Your dog will be a great tool in warning you about upcoming danger, nearby treasure chests and even some buried treats. You can even teach them a few tricks and they’re never shy to jump in to assist with combat. Luckily, the dog won’t drag you down, he may be a little stupid at times, but on the whole he is a pleasure to have at your side ... You may even get a little attached to them. They’ll also grow as you grow as a person; become the heralded hero of Albion and watch them develop a nice golden coat, but go too far to the dark side and you’ll have one mean pup on your hands.
The combat and spells system is hugely similar to the original and runs on the same attribute tree; skill, will and strength. How you level up and how you allocate your experience points is up to you; and it has a direct consequence on how you look. So if you’re throwing all your points in to the strength category, then expect your hero to bulk up. The same goes for will and skill, but of course, all the skills you purchase are easy to sell back to change your appearance. The combat is simple with each button corresponding to a different attack (ranged, melee and magic) and should be easy to master for fans of the series and easy to pick up for newcomers and casual gamers alike but it really doesn’t take much to outsmart your foes; they really aren’t the cleverest bunch out there.
The augmentation makes a welcome return to Fable 2 and so do the simple weapon classes (rusty, iron, steel, master and legendary), meaning it should be really accessible for the non-RPG-obsessive folks out there. The same goes for the spells; and it seems like it’s a objective of Lionhead Studios to make Fable 2 accessible for everyone. There are about 8 spells in total of varying type and destruction, ranging from opening a vortex, to showering them with lightning. The spell system attempts to be practical, allowing you to easily switch on the fly by using a quick select menu via the right trigger, but it’s just not practical at all during combat and you’re much better off pausing and changing in the menu.
Albion on the whole is a hugely detailed world with so much adventure beyond the main story quest. If you look beneath the surface, you can occupy yourself doing side quests, trying to unlock Demon Doors, crack Expression statues, collect silver keys and destroy gargoyle statues. Don’t worry, because you can fast travel as well via the start menu, so getting around isn’t as arduous as it may seem.
Fable 2 without a shadow of a doubt is a pleasure on the audio-visual senses. With its huge open vistas and bright palette of colours it’s an absolute delight; some of the rich, well treated areas of Albion even feel a lot like the Shire from Lord of the Rings. Throw in to the mix some chilling epic orchestral choirs and you have a score to match the visuals. With Zoe Wanamaker and Stephen Fry on offer for some voice acting as well, the audio and visuals truly make Albion come alive. The game however isn’t without its holdups with sound sometimes failing to load properly and your character infrequently getting stuck in scenery, but now I’m just being anal. You also get the feeling that the 360 is going to die any minute as it seems to give it a pretty intensive workout. Finishing on a high note; credit must be given to the infrequent but truly magnificent cinematic cutscenes, that are some of the best in the business.
If that wasn't enough for you, Fable 2 also features online co-op, with the patch already available for download. The host can invite another hero in to their world as a "Henchman"; still giving the host ultimate control over their world, but players, whether they are the host or not, can take what they earn back to their own game. I found very little lag and it was a pretty seamless experience, but whilst for some this is a defining feature, for me personally, it was more of a distraction; so I was glad to see you could turn the player orbs off. Either way, kudos to Lionhead for such a feature.
The achievements in Fable are nearly perfect in every sense. The list shows incredible imagination and originality and is easily one of the best we’ve seen to date. While battling through the story, you can expect to pick up 500 points or so, but a lot of the points are rewarded for interacting with Albion’s locals. There are 3 achievements for 3 different choices made at the end, so 3 playthroughs is a necessity for the full 1k, but honestly, it’s only playing through it a second time with different choices that you truly appreciate how much the world changes because of you. My only qualm (even the collection achievements are fairly simple and not so much a chore) is with The Dollcatcher achievement which requires trading online with others and is a slight taint on an otherwise perfect list.
Fable 2 is the game we all wanted it to be. It’s the game we secretly prayed would be as good as its predecessor and then some. It boasts the perfect ingredients to an RPG; a engaging story (although the end seemed to flatline fast), a interactive paradise and a world where your actions truly do have consequences. We’re not saying Fable 2 is perfect by any means, it does have its problems, but they are incredibly minor and in no way detract away from the experience. What we’re saying is, that Fable 2 is a truly killer action-RPG title and should be experienced by everyone, even if this isn’t your genre; you may be pleasantly surprised.
Fable 2 has an almost flawless score and a great cast to boot. It’s annoying the main character has no voice per se and there are a few loading issues with the soundbytes sometimes, but these are in the minority.
With huge wide open vistas and a superbly diverse palette, Fable 2 is one of the best looking RPG titles on the market. It definitely has its own unique style and it’s terribly fitting for the game’s tone. Be careful not to get stuck in the scenery though ... It’s kind of annoying
Fable 2 boasts simple combat, simple interaction and easy controls. Simple really.
You are thrown in to Albion; a hugely immersive world with plenty of diverse places and on top of that; you’re thrown in to an adventure of epic proportions and the whole damn world reacts to your hero as a person. What else could you want? A dog? Well you have that too.
Hugely original and imaginative. It’s definitely a list that will have you doing stuff you’d never dreamed of before and that’s nothing but good. Misses out on a perfect score because of The Dollcatcher achievement; I mean, who really wants to trade dolls? I know I don’t, not since 3rd grade anyway ... Oh wait ... I’ve said too much
Fable 2 is what people in the industry would call a “killer app”. It’s a title that you could most definitely buy a console for. I mean, what other games out on the market at the moment give you such an interactive and consequential world. Other games claim to have done it, Fable 2 has done it. Chalk this one down as a “must buy”