Reviewed: November 5, 2008
Released: October 21, 2008
Fable II is the sequel to the much-hyped original Xbox exclusive that appeared in 2004. Before the first game was released, the designer Peter Molyneux promised a brand new experience with video games. Where the world was a living and breathing simulation that could be affected in profound ways by the playerís choices. Unfortunately it was impossible for any game to live up to these kinds of promises so what came out was a solid and enjoyable game, but it was nowhere near revolutionary.
Naturally Fable II has some big shoes to fill. While the hype was not nearly the scale of its predecessor, itís made its own vows and promises prior to its release. However realistic ones were set this time and nearly all of them were fulfilled in some way shape or form. Fable II comes across as more of a genre bender than many games that have come out recently. While it still has the stance of a standard RPG the game combines elements of social interaction and visceral real time combat to make it a unique experience that should not be passed up by anyone looking for an involving, immersive and enjoyable game.
The game opens with a fantastic pre-rendered CGI scene, which places you in a realm of fantasy set somewhere in the real world equivalent of the renaissance period. It paints a fantastic picture of beautiful landscapes and wondrous scenery, with a hint of dark humor thrown in to set the mood for the game. The game opens with you as an impoverished child, male or female your choice, with a big sister looking after you. You happen across a vendor selling items to a small crowd who has a music box in his possession, which he claims has magical powers. After an encounter with a blind and weathered old lady who tells you the box actually is magical, you set off on a small quest to gather enough money to obtain the item.
It is from here that the game starts introducing the mechanics of public interaction, combat, and most importantly choices. You roam the streets doing small errands for various people of the town. Some of the missions are simple scavenger hunts, while others involve morality choices such as helping out a warehouse owner get rid of some bothersome insects or trashing his storage area for a loan shark trying to get him back for his large debt. This is also the section where you are introduced to your most faithful of companions, your dog. The story progresses after obtaining the required amount of gold where you and your sister make a wish with the music box to be whisked away that night from the slums and into the castle Fairfax overlooking the entire town. After the wish the box shines brightly and disappears leaving the girls disheartened.
That night a guard comes and asks for your presence in the castle. The lord Lucieon is interested in how the box was activated and what follows is a heartbreaking setup for his betrayal. Your faithful canine and the old woman from before, Theresa finds you near death in the streets. She reveals that she can see things beyond the world that youíre in and you come to find out that you have the blood of a legendary hero from 500 years ago. Its your mission to find the three heroes, unite them, and go after Lord Lucieon who is excavating a massive spire in the ocean for his own diabolical goals. From here on the game is entirely open-ended in terms of how you want to complete the quest.
You have the choice of either going straight through the main plotline and blazing through the game in only a couple long sittings or you can do the side quests and subplots that riddle the game to make it last for well over 30 hours or more. The game picks up more interest when the morality of your choices in how you complete the quests start to interweave with the game. In many subtle ways the game presents you a hazy representation of right and wrong and expects you to make your choice with little information available.
This adds a distinct theme to the game that sets it apart from other titles in the genre. Instead of just choosing something that hurts or helps someone, many of the choices impact your character, making them very personal. From something as simple as how much money you get to, taking an experience hit, to other more drastically impacting after-effects. There is of course the option to either give money away like candy or murder every innocent in sight, and they both lead to their obvious consequences.
This all plays into the active society, which you are interacting with. If you are nice to everyone and act as a saint you get large discounts from the people that love you, if you murder cheat and steal you get more money, but it also causes storeowners to raise the price of goods. Itís all very balanced so neither choice of morality has a clear benefit over another. This is also tied to the new purity/corruption scale. This scale is affected not by evil but by the underlying morality of what youíre doing. If you do something for personal gain or just greed you become more corrupt, or if do something selfless your become more pure. Neither of these scales are too restrictive though. It is easier to become evil than good though, so its something to take into account, you may need to make some large sacrifices to your wallet in order to make people like you again if you get over your murderous rampage.
The combat system in the game will probably be the next thing you notice about it. The game masters the fine art of easy to learn but tough to master mechanics. They are broken up into three different classes, melee (strength), ranged (skill), and magic (will). Each class is tied to one button and only one button, which keeps things very simple when situations get hairy. As you progress through the game you gain experience which helps you upgrade your stats and also unlocks new abilities. For strength and skill this involves giving you new moves such as chain attacks or parries for melee, or aimed shots and focus fire for ranged. For will, you unlock new spells, each of them with a max of 5 different levels. Magic has a tiered system where holding the button charges your attack, the longer you hold the higher level magic you can use. You set the scale beforehand for what your level 1 spell will be, level 2 and so on.
The combat while keeping things simple ties in beautifully together and makes it incredibly easy to tie in different attacks fluidly. You can use magic to confuse the crowd of enemies and wade into the thick of them with your melee weapon, or you can keep your distance and pick them off at range. The system works wonderfully and you never feel gimped for being forced into a certain kind of fight. Also the experience you get depends on what kind of combat you use. If you want to level skill then you need to predominantly use ranged attacks. Every defeated enemy also drops general experience, which can be used to level any of the stats of your choosing.
As you level up your character changes start to appear, you build muscle, get taller, or glow with an eerie blue pulse from your arcane energies depending on what you are focusing your experience points into. This also affects your appearance towards the other NPCs as well. Making you more or less attractive. In fact your moral choices also play in, evil tendencies make you darker in complexion or grow horns later on, while good tendencies make you light skinned and obtain a halo eventually. The game even incorporates a fatness meter that affects your weight depending on how much you eat which will change your appeal to other characters.
Overall your actions towards the other NPCs are affected by what you do in the game and what you do directly to them. Youíre given a series of emotes that let you express different emotions from them from scary to flirty thereís a broad spectrum of interactions to go through. Many of them also are expandable into a quick time event where a bar with a scrolling dot comes on the screen. If you manage to stop the dot in the right part of the bar your emote has a much larger effect, if you fail it often has a slightly negative effect. This system is both good and bad because it is so easy to change peopleís opinions of you just by doing several emotes to them. This is also handy because you can quickly make up for accidentally discharging your firearm in a public area.
If you successfully interact with enough humans you eventually gain the ability to marry with one of them, male or female regardless of your characterís gender. This gives you benefits such as gifts or stat bonuses. If you choose to you can also have a child and raise it. All of these give the game a slightly more humane feel and the bonuses can be quite lucrative.
The most powerful NPC in the game is your dog, which you get at the very start. This pet is your extension into the world around you and its actions and appearance are directly related to your choices. You can treat the dog well or be a stern owner and it will act accordingly. The dog takes a lot of stress off of the game in many ways. It can magnify your emotes making them more effective, it will help you seek out treasure above and below the ground, and it will help you in combat finishing off your downed enemies. The pet makes you aware of your choices more than any other aspect of the game, and it adds a certain weight to your decisions knowing that at any time, someone is always watching you.
Many of the items that you pick up along the way have different purposes in the game. The characterís items are extremely simplified versus other item systems in other games. You have clothes and weapons, and clothes only affect your characterís social stats. Item finding is less of a focus of this game making treasure finding and exploring almost entirely optional. There are several different kinds of weapons though which all have their own distinct feel. Different guns and melee items will move faster or cause more damage making not choice in the game for gear a bad one. Large powerful single shot rifles can down foes with a single blast, while rapid fire ones can hold them at bay while you riddle them with ammo, and the same is true for the melee weapons.
There are a number of unique weapons hidden throughout the game, which are all distinct in their appearance and feel. Other than that the game contains a standard assortment of potions and other stat boosting items. Books will help you and your pet learn new abilities and gifts will help you interactions with the NPCs of the game, including your family.
The multiplayer was supposed to be one of the larger selling points of the game after itís release but it does fall short of some expectations. While playing the game you will notice icons of people who are on your friends list on Xbox Live. These give the actual location of other players and you can interact with their icons, either viewing their stats or trading items with them. You can also at any time join another personís game. Unfortunately there are some limitations to the two-player system. You can only join as a henchman on the hostís world, and you share a camera angle making many of the locations difficult to navigate. Once in the other personís world you share gold, experience, and renown stats.
The game looks amazing at times with lushly decorated landscapes that manage to keep a very organic feel to them. The scenes are varied and enticing without ever feeling out of place in the games overall mood. It can swing from being bright and cheerful fantasy to dark and horrific moments of evil without missing a beat.
The enemies lack many unique models but the ones that they do have do an outstanding job of characterizing them. The evil and vile looking Hobbes to the misshapen and decrepit Hollow Men all fill their roles wonderfully. The towns and overworld all keep to their own themes and never look out of place. The lighting effects and weather help set the mood at times of despair or happiness.
The game isnít without its own fair set of hitches. Making an open world game with large amounts of inventory also almost inevitably means youíre going to have clipping issues. Such as undergarments popping through coats or boots not fitting just quite right, but its all taken in stride because itís not usually noticeable enough to detract from the overall presentation. The only other real issue with the graphics is it will tend to drag during high-energy action sequences or if you load into a busy city, but these issues are minor and didnít detract from the gameplay.
The sounds in Fable II could be pieces of art in their own right at times. All of the characters are wonderfully voice acted, and the soundtrack and ambient noises fill the game out completely. The small noises of children playing in the background or the deep growl of a Balverine sneaking up on you keep you on your toes at all times. There isnít a complaint with the sounds for the game that could be found; even the villagers keep you engaged with their random banters.
The game is a solid purchase for anyone looking to a long and immersive action/adventure title. The gameplay can be as long and as involved as you want it to be and it doesnít ever suffer from artificial padding. The multiplayer could have used a few adjustments and tweeks such as a better system for the camera but the game is still a lot of fun to play with a friend. Thereís promise of downloadable content being available which will no doubt be more quests and items to fill the game out some more.
With many of these morality good or evil based games many play-throughs are sometimes required because you always have the question of ďwhat if I had done something different?Ē Even at the very beginning of the game your choices can drastically affect the rest of the atmosphere. You can truly manipulate the game at times to change the world around you or your own character.
Fable II has an uncanny ability to tug at oneís heartstrings at the most opportune moments that will keep you on your toes for hours. Just when you think the game is getting derivative or predictable it will throw another surprise in your face. If only one feature stands out more than the others it would have to be the dog. This simple addition gives the game a distinct feel that other games have trouble with. Youíre aware of your actions in the game because they are reflected upon your companion in some way. Itís not unusual to suddenly feel naked when your loyal canine friend has to wait outside, or to coach him on when he finds a hidden chest for you that escaped your prying eyes.
Fable II doesnít belong to any single genre, instead it paints an engaging tapestry with an interesting story, solid gameplay, beautiful graphics, and near perfect sound. I only regret having to wait until the downloadable content comes out to give me something entirely new to experience. Anyone should give it a try, because itís almost impossible to not have fun with this game.