'Fable II' (Xbox 360)
Published Oct 24 2008, 15:16 BST | By Matthew Reynolds Also available on:
Role-playing / AdventureDeveloper:
Microsoft Game StudiosRelease date:
October 24, 2008
The role-playing genre is one that's completely bewildering to outsiders. Experience points, side quests, legendary weapons, grinding - a lot of complexities that need micro managing, making you feel like the personal assistant to the hero rather the one swinging the sword. Fable II
takes these convoluted trappings that makes the genre baffling and the things of Korean news stories, and makes it accessible to anyone with a pair of thumbs and a desire for experimentation and adventure. It still has those hardcore elements in there, just sugar coated with urinating dogs and sleeptalking children, and gives you the power to effortlessly change everything around you.
There are more hooks than a tackle shop to take you into its bizarre world, and it's evident from the bird-crapping introduction that humour is one of them. It's dripping with laugh-out-loud British wit, from the random townsfolk calling you a numpty, sleeptalking children concerned with badgers stealing cheese, and shops advertising wireless devices that only work from a meter away. It fits perfectly with the care-free vibe of the world around you, even if your tale is one of revenge. Despite its unique brand of humour, the land of Albion is rather generic. Exploring its pastures feels like stepping into any fantasy novel, with few distinguishing races, locations or lore to call its own. Dark and damp dungeons need exploring, there are bandits to slay on windy roads, and barmaids in sleepy villages to drink with and seduce. You even play a muted avatar, certainly not the first for an RPG.
At first this seems rather disappointing, but it’s rather the point - if you know about orcs, trolls and goblins then you know Albion, and it provides room on its canvas to be shaped by your actions. Fable II
prides itself on your moral choices, giving you good or evil morality points from quests and various situations. Becoming a bounty hunter will make you inherently bad, and so will saving slaves then selling them on for a price. Setting them free offers little reward, but others will look up to you. Crime sprees and cheating at pub games may benefit you in the short term, but the locals and guards won't trust you, making certain quests harder or nonexistent. But when you can lower house prices by slaughtering their tenants, who cares about morals, right?
There are instances of huge repercussions; an early choice between giving arrest warrants to either a sheriff or crime-lord will transform a district into an up-town utopia or crime-ridden crud bucket in later years, changing its residents and quests from thereon. 'Static' towns can undergo regeneration simply by using its shops or finding work there, creating multiplier effects your geography teacher would be proud of. You can even impress randoms with various expressions, showing off your physical prowess or having a hoedown with a lute. Although the binary underpinnings are simple, it's the responses from locals that charm you, as ladies hang on your every word or children run a mile from the very sight of you. From a game standpoint the system is ingenious in defining the path you take, but how it's presented through the world and its people is what captures you, showing how much of a bastard you are.
Of course, all this fancy action-reaction business would be nothing if becoming Albion's greatest hero were a complete chore. The combat is initially simple, with just three attack types to choose from, but as the hostiles become more cunning so does your ability to fight them; combo strings, free-ranged weapon aiming and multi-tiered magic systems gained from experience orbs tailor your abilities to how you want to develop. No skill trees or leveling up to make things complicated. The combat can lend itself to a degree of button bashing, especially with less focus on actually using abilities, but that means you never feel the desire to grind or worry that you are under levelled. Adding a new spell or combo chain is quick and painless, and beneficial enough to make that next area easier, but you'll never feel the sting of being underprepared if you don't want to bother. Combat can be seen as a means to an end or the bread and butter; it's as complicated as you want it to be.
A canine companion can also get in on the action - providing you teach him, that is. Your dog is a faithful friend and tool throughout your long adventure, evolving as much as you do - you can teach him to play dead, fetch a ball, or go for the neck of the nearest bandit. As well as being a potential folly for physical abuse he acts as a metal detector, snooping out buried treasure and hidden chests off the beaten path. Exploring Albion is made easier and more enjoyable with him at your side, and creates the yin to the golden breadcrumb's yang. A trail of light acts as a constant guide to your nearest objective, getting you there with the minimal amount of hassle. While none of the areas are particularly large, they are intricate and it streamlines quests and actually aids exploration - when you know the right way to go, you are sure not to leave anything behind, and your dog will ensure you find those hidden niches. They are both temperamental at times, sometimes getting confused with where things are, but their integration is so efficient you'll wonder how you managed an adventure without them.
Aside from your pooch your tale is solitary, but you can hop into someone else's world over Xbox Live and peer into their Freudian landscape. Anyone can jump in locally and assemble a quick character to help raid a dungeon with, with the added ability to slaughter their family if emotions run high (this thankfully hasn't happened to me - yet). If you are shy about inviting people round your place, online friends are represented by hovering orbs, skirting around as they explore in real time, allowing you to look at their stats and trade items. Turning 'all players' on will give you a nasty surprise, revealing dozens of floating orbs with disconnected, echoing voices, asking if you have any condoms. It's far from an MMO, but adds a community vibe to an otherwise singular experience.
Albion has a bold, simple art style that's vibrant and dazzling - the first time you see the sun glistening off Lake Bower, the trees swaying and your dog bounding through the grass is simply majestic. Although certain areas suffer from blocky textures (and splashing water looking like floating tissue paper) every nook and cranny is meticulously crafted and a joy to explore, even on the most minor of journeys. Although the main story is simple, it develops through your choices and the passage of time, inviting you to think of your actions on your way to seeking vengeance. The production values add a level of polish to everything - side quests branch out and touch on all the quirky townsfolk with hammy British accents, glued together by the morality system and lubricated through the combat. And when you aren't an arm for hire, you will be looking for a partner to start a family with, posing for town statues or earning enough riches to buy every temple and castle in the land.
The pacing of quests and dungeon lengths is nigh-on perfect, and the cornucopia of concepts are introduced at a comfortable pace that never alienates you. For a game of this magnitude and ambition to never feel complex or overburdening is a feat of ingenious game design, leaving you to what the game does best - exploring the rich world and shaping it to how you see fit. You'll love exploring Albion and making it your own, and so will your canine companion; there's no better place to take the dog for a walk.> What do you think of the game? Share your views
Copyright: Microsoft Game Studios