Fable II is one of the biggest titles of 2008, and has been anticipated by many eager 360 owners for years. As such, a lot of hype has been built up, as feature after feature was unveiled and sounded more awesome than the last. You could get married and have children; you could buy any building in the game; you’d care so much about your dog that you’d cry if anything bad happened to it. All this – and so much more – was promised on top of what the original Fable already delivered, which was a fun, if perhaps flawed, adventure experience that shaped itself around your actions.
But let’s try and place all that hype to one side for a moment. After playing until my eyeballs fell out of their sockets, I’ve reached a few conclusions of my own, unaided by press releases or trailers. So what’s my verdict? Well, if you’re after a good RPG on the 360, then Fable II is definitely up there with the best of what the console offers. It even attains greatness in some places – while in others it falls down a bit. Taken as an overall experience, however, this is one of those games that is more than the sum of its parts – and is the real reason you should consider getting it.
Fable II is set hundreds of years after the original game, so while there are references to it, it’s not essential to play. Life in the world of Albion has moved on somewhat, and while it’s still largely a medieval setting, there are a few hints of progression in there too – mainly in the fact that you can buy pistols.
It can be hard to sum a game up like this, so let’s start with generalizations. Fable II is an action RPG set in a world where a villain (more complicated than many villains! Hooray!) is intent on causing mischief – and it’s your destiny, of course, to thwart him. Thankfully, the actual presentation of the story and the world is unique enough to avoid becoming stale. Maybe it’s because of the wonderful dark humour that runs through everything, or simply because the voice actors are actually mainly English rather than American, but it all comes together as a refreshing kind of fantasy world.
The staggering amount of features listed at the start of this review are all in there – this is a game where you can be good, evil, poor, rich, renowned, unknown, and so much more. The story itself is fairly short for an RPG, falling more in line with the length of a typical FPS narrative – but if you just rush through the plot, you’re really missing the point. All of the features in the game are meant to add up to give you a feeling of being in the world, and affecting its direction.
So how does all this actually play out? In many ways, the mechanics of these features are fairly straightforward. You can interact with anyone in the game, and they all have their own likes, dislikes, personality traits, and sexual preferences. When they’re nearby, you can perform actions like farting, dancing, playing a lute, whistling, flirting, and much more. Depending on the person, their standing with you will increase or decrease. It all happens surprisingly quickly – you can potentially pick up a husband or wife in the space of five minutes if you so desire. In all, I found this interaction system to be a bit too mechanical, but it certainly does the job.
Beyond interacting with your fellow humans, you also have a loyal dog – and this is one of the high points of the game. You can tell a lot of care went into this faithful companion – their animations and actions are really well done. You might be running along a road, and then your dog will come scampering up from behind, overtake you, and zoom off down a wrong path, before looking back and finding you again. He can also find buried treasure, attack your opponents, and generally reflects your own personality. I challenge anyone with a beating heart to not be affected when your dog is injured, and limps so pathetically towards you.
There’s so, so much more to talk about, but perhaps it’s better to get back to what Fable II pulls off, what it doesn’t. As I mentioned above, some of its features are brilliant, whereas others feel a bit underdone or forced. This good/bad (sorry) tension is seen in other areas as well. The graphics, for example, can look wonderfully stunning at times, as you run alongside a lush cliff top looking out over the sea as the sun sets. But character animations can sometimes feel a bit off – just little things like when you walk up or down stairs, but they do detract slightly from the overall feeling of immersion.
One thing that the developers did get right is the combat. It starts off very simple: X is used for melee attacks, Y for ranged weapons, and B for magic. If you’re a confused button masher, you’ll actually be able to perform serviceable combat moves. But they’ve also eked out a surprising amount of depth from this setup. As you level up your melee, for example, you can unlock moves that involve holding down the button to block, using the analog stick to help perform flourishes, and much more. If you’re a clever chap, you can also start stringing combos together that use your sword, pistol, and spells in sequence. Basically, the combat seems designed to make you look and feel cool – and once you get the hang of it, it succeeds at that.
Another welcome feature is co-op. During my review time, my flat mates would come along, hop on board as a henchman, and help me beat up some baddies, before dropping out again. It’s much better than simply sitting there watching someone play through an RPG. Online co-op with other peoples’ real characters will be discussed at a later date, once the game hits retail.
The story itself is entertaining, well written, and – shockingly – most of the voice actors do a great job. However, the presentation of much of the narrative leaves a bit to be desired – while the idea of holding the left trigger to zoom into a cinematic camera angle is great, it could have been used in more situations. I understand the need to balance an exciting plot with player freedom, but it did make some of the more dramatic scenes fall kind of flat at times. Still, it does a good job in terms of pacing, and builds up to some pretty damn neat stuff later on, so it’s well worth playing through – even if you think you only want the game to have unprotected sex with prostitutes.
Fable II isn’t perfect, and some of its features don’t live up to the hype. But taken as a whole, as an experience rather than a series of discrete mechanics, this is a game that – if you let it – will draw you into its world…and then let you run loose in it. It feels refreshing enough to breathe new life into this crowded genre, and if you’re an RPG fan – even a casual one – then this should definitely be on your ‘must play’ list.