In 2004, the world received a top notch role playing game in the form of the original Fable for first Xbox console. It promised a lot of things, ideas and concepts that were sure to revolutionize the gaming world. The crew at Lionhead studios delivered on most of those promises and the game went well over double platinum. Among many things it promised, one of these was a true concept of good and evil. Every action has a reaction whether positive or negative. It was this concept and others that were expanded when it came to the making of Fable II. The game is dubbed by its designer Peter Molyneux as a game that even non-gamers should be able to enjoy. To be honest, he doesn’t even want traditional game reviewers to review the game. Lucky for him, tradition and me broke ties a long time ago.
The original Fable was a beautiful game only held back by the power of the console. For Fable II, the graphics are improved dramatically from the beautiful towns to the countryside to the little characters like you and me. For those who downloaded Fable II Pub Games or stayed close to the Fable web site were introduced to dozens upon dozens of breath taking art. Of course, other companies had done this only to see none of it make the final product. I’m happy to report that these shots and more found its way into the final product and it really shows the attention to detail that the artists and designers took in constructing the look of this game. This is really some of the best graphics I have seen in a game, period. The only minor complaint I have is that the subtitles for the game are a bit small.
Audio is provided in the Xbox 360 usual Dolby Digital 5.1. Besides English, there are a wide variety of language options even if you are Polish. The audio is crystal clear and makes full use of the surround dynamic. In town situations, you can hear the talking behind you once you get into the seedier or darker parts or you can hear a lover calling your name from across the room in the left speaker. Pesky pesky wives, let me tell you. When a group of bandits or hobbes attack, the result is just as splendid. As you spin around and determine that bandits are coming from all angles you can use that information to determine where to shoot first even if you can’t technically see them from behind the rock. The dialog is also very clear even when the action gets extremely busy. As with the graphics, the sound here is near perfect and is one of the things that is very right about this game.
Like any good role playing game, Fable II has a story. This story starts in the city of Bowerstone. You are a young child that is referred to only as Sparrow (regardless whether you choose to be a boy or a girl). Your sister, Rose dreams of living in the Castle of Fairfax. The home of Lord Lucien. Down the street, a traveling salesman named Mystical Murgo is selling his magical devices. Such as a mirror that makes you beautiful but only in the dark. Of particular interest, he is also selling a magic box that grants the user a wish. The price is a mere 5 gold pieces but Sparrow and his sister are paupers and that price alone would feed them for a week. Initially they aren’t interested but they are approached by a gypsy.
The gypsy tells them that the magic box is real and that Murgo has no idea of its true power. With this news, they start to do various chores around Bowerstone to collect the five gold pieces. This serves as the introduction to the game and where you learn how to handle your character. The tasks make you familiar with such things as using an expression to take a picture. They also teach you how to fight and use ranged weapons. The longest quest involves finding warrants around town for the local sheriff which becomes helpful later when searching for silver keys. But the introduction serves two major important purposes.
The first is that it introduces you to the biggest hero in the game, your faithful dog companion. Your initial meeting with your precious pooch is to save him from a bully kid who likes nothing better than to beat up on defenseless animals. Through the introduction he serves merely as an additional character when he finds a warrant for you or when he lays down beside you as you sleep. In the regular game, he does everything practically for you except hold your wanker when you want to take a leak. He fetches, does backflips, fights, finds treasure (chests and tells you where to dig for buried treasure) and my favorite he will urinate on the person of your choice. Everything you could want in a dog and a best friend.
The second thing the introduction does for you is give you a sense of good and evil. There are a couple of quests where you have to make a decision. In one quest, you have to get rid of some critters with a pea shooter in a shop. However, there is a man at the window that will give you the same gold piece if you simply just start smashing boxes and mess up the shop because the shop owner owes this guy a little protection money. At the end of the introduction you can make the decision to give the warrants to the sheriff or to protection guy who wishes to destroy them for his own personal gain. This decision has the potential to have dire consequences. Choose the sheriff and when you come back to the city, it will be lush and growing and full of people. Choose the criminal and you come back to Bowerstone and will hardly recognize it. Cold, dark & scary, full of criminals and people out for your skin. Sounds like Detroit. Every choice has a consequence.
After the introduction, the five gold pieces are given to the snake oil salesman, I mean Murgo. Sparrow & Rose go back to their alley and Rose sets to work on the magic box. She makes her wish and turns the crank. The musical box lights up, spins around and then disappears. Rose dismayed that nothing happened decides to go to sleep. In the middle of the night, Rose & Sparrow are awoken by a guard who escorts them to Castle Fairfax per order of Lord Lucien. Excited that their wish has come finally true, both Sparrow and Rose follow the guard to the palace. They tell the lord of the magic box and he asks them to step in a circle on the floor. A blue light surrounds the edge of the circle and suddenly Lucien starts to get upset. He makes accusations that either Rose or Sparrow is the fourth hero and in an instant shoots Rose. Sparrow’s sister is dead and then Lucien does the same to you but the force of the shot sends you sprawling out the stained glass window and to the floor below.
Sparrow or rather your character wakes up. You are very much alive and you find that you were saved (with dog intact) by the gypsy from the earlier part of the story. The gypsy tells you that you have the blood of heroes. She also tells you that Lucien is rebuilding the Tattered Spire which is the source of great power. This starts you on your real journey, to stop Lucien’s plans and bring an end to his madness. One of the first things you might notice is the shimmering light or breadcrumb trail to your next objective. This does two things, one it sets a trail for your quest and it keeps you from getting lost should you go away from the beaten path which is encouraged. You can also change that quest to another quest or to a job or perhaps to a sale at the local Weapons shop by accessing the start menu.
Your character’s first major stop after leaving the gypsy camp is the town of Bowerstone where you notice many shops, places to visit and lots and lots of people. The people range from shop sellers to town criers to normal everyday folk. However, the normal folk actually have purpose and react to your expressions. Give a muscle pump and they will like you a little more or perhaps growl in their direction and they might back off a bit. These are done via an expression wheel and more expressions are unlocked during the game or through books sold at the bookseller. The most important book perhaps teaches you how to get somebody to go to bed with you. Yes, S-E-X. The game blacks the screen, but you know exactly what is going on. This act can lead to kids and you can also have a wife. Or perhaps a partner. (The game allows for bisexual and gay relationships) There is a lot to do without ever picking up a single sword or shooting a single rifle if you want to go that route.
However did we really pick up this game just so we can fornicate with every man or woman that walk the streets of Bowerstone? Okay, well maybe some of us did. Others of us are interested in the true heart of any role playing game, the fighting. Fighting whether it be against some Hollow Men or a defenseless bunny is all communicated through a few simple buttons. Melee is handled through the X button. Shooting is handled through the Y button and Magic or Will is handled through the B button. Many will find themselves developing a style whether one shoots first and then move in with the sword or perhaps casting a spell such as blades or force push to put them off guard so you can then finish them off with a gun or a blade. The simplicity can be detracting for more hardcore enthusiasts but there is enough depth to keep them interested.
As mentioned before, all actions in the game have a consequence. Sure there is the whole good versus evil thing, but many actions become a shade of grey. One of the many things you can do is buy real estate; buildings, shops, and even castles. Then you can loan that building out to tenants and raise the rent. Careful. Raising the rent also carries the price of corruption. When you take damage from a fight you drink a potion or eat some pie. Watch it. That will make you fat. Make sure you eat plenty of celery and other fruits & vegetables to keep you slim. Other choices include wealth or acts of kindness leading to a truly unique character experience.
Money is also an interesting subject for this game or rather gold. Gold is not earned from quests or dead bodies. Instead there are certain ways to accumulate it. Real estate as mentioned above is an easy way to accumulate wealth. So easy in fact that you can buy a few properties, turn off your machine for a week and come back to a good amount of coinage. That is if you can keep from playing that long. Gold can also be found in chests or in dig spots all around. One can also get a job such as a Blacksmith, Woodcutter or Bartender. Finally, one can accumulate wealth or try to from the various gambling games. Many gamers were introduced to Fable II Pub Games before the initial release. By merging your character in the Pub Games to the one in the game, you can transfer over your gold and items to Sparrow. From that point forward, you can gamble in Pub Games or in game with the green-jacketed Gamemasters and have them all tie into your main character.
As one could surmise, the game is both easy and hard. The quests are pretty basic and don’t involve anything ridiculous in the problem solving department. Combat doesn’t take any special skill and treasure finding is a piece of cake. The enemies however can be all sorts of hard. Sometimes it will be a very difficult fight because the enemy is tough as nails. The enemies can also way out number your character. I remember vividly in a random battle with some bandits that they basically out numbered me 10 to 1 and many were long range. I escaped from the encounter but quite bruised up. Furthermore, in these random encounters there might be a leader who is simply stronger than the rest. The problem is that you might not know it until it is too late making the task much more difficult.
Fable II had added a co-op mode. These can be done from system to system or through Xbox Live. The host player sets the rules including how the loot is split and if there is active friendly fire. The second player joins the session as a henchman of sorts. They can not gamble or buy property in the friend’s world. In addition, they can not accept quests. Their character does not retain the look from their own game, instead they are a premade male or female character. But they are able to keep the loot and any experience at the discretion of the host. The other nice feature of the co-op is that you don’t have to necessarily do all of the achievements. Many of the achievements allow the option of the other player performing the task and both receiving the gamerscore.
Speaking of the achievements, this collection of 50 different tasks for 1000 gamerscore is some of the most imaginative and fun ideas I have seen in a while. Want story related achievements, they got that. Want achievements for real estate collecting or showing off those expressions, they got that. Want achievements for debauchery and indecency? They got that too. The achievements also have a lot of humor attached such as The Black Knight achievement which tasks you to shoot a hollow man’s weapon out of his hand, blow off his head and then kill once and for all. Monty Python-themed achievements should be a requirement. Ever wanted to be a Goth? Dye your hair black, wear a black outfit and put some black makeup on. Ding, 5 gamerpoints. So kick that chicken, get married again while being already married, but please don’t shoot that cute & fluffy bunny rabbit (and if you do, you get an achievement anyway).
Curious question, what is the Xbox’s deal about packaging? They make some of the greatest games on the planet, but yet they drop the ball consistently on packaging. Halo 3 LE, Blue Dragon, and don’t even get me started about Lost Odyssey. When the LE for Fable II was announced, it was reported that it would have a premium box, a collectible Hobbes figure, five different fate cards, making of dvd and some bonus in-game content. Well, at least the the making of dvd and in-game content remained intact. No figure, no cards, and no freaking box. How hard is it to provide a steel case box along the lines of Lost Planet CE or even something snazzier like the Gears of War CE? Ridiculous. The actual in-game content is pretty good including a weapon, extra dungeon, and an outfit that looks ripped straight out of the Halo Spartan Gear locker. The making of DVD is nice as well and includes a heaping load for interesting info. The fate cards really didn’t matter, but the box & figure would have really distinguished it from being just another game visually in my gaming library. For shame folks. For shame.
It is very easy to throw out an award like Role Playing Game of the Year. The original Fable got this award tossed out to them by a few publications. Fable didn’t even deliver on all of the promises it made four years ago. So Fable II had the double duty of surpassing the original while delivering on its own lengthy promises. The graphics and sound are near perfect and demonstrate the true power of the Xbox 360 machine. How this game fits on a single disk is something I am still trying to figure out. The gameplay is fantastic from the dog that becomes your best friend to all of the little things you can do without ever drawing a sword. The only fault for some will be the gameplay being a tad too simplistic making tasks like amassing gold & shooting a gun so simple a Bloodstone prostitute can do it. The co-op mode and the achievements round out a wonderful game. The only promise this game really did not deliver on was the packaging which is unfortunate. However, this game still deserves RPG game of the year and will be in my console for many months to come. Highly recommended and one of the finest rpgs you can play.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- 1up.com: “If it were simply a single-player RPG, Fable 2 would be an almost peerless entry in the genre — after all, it’s filled with more great ideas than the last 10 years of Final Fantasy combined.”
- Crispygamer.com: “Fable II promises much, but in the end delivers a sledgehammer message about good and evil, about predestination and free will.”
- Gameinformer.com: “Still, through its richly interactive world, gorgeous art design, and often-humorous writing, Fable II crafts a world where you’ll quickly feel at home.”