Famed designer Peter Molyneaux, from Fable II developer Lionhead, has been designing simulated worlds since the very beginning of his career. Games like Populous, Powermonger, and Syndicate saw him combine various life forms into simple but interesting systems that only became more intriguing with time. Dungeon Keeper and Black & White furthered this, and while the original Fable faltered in many ways, I dare say Fable II is by far the most evolved of these game types.
While Fable II is essentially an action RPG, it draws from previous games from the famed designer’s past, as well those from other designers. Games like SimCity and The Sims, Animal Crossing, as well as other single player social interaction games, all come together here to create something appealing to adults that is special and even unique. It’s a game that dabbles with lots of ideas, pulling interesting tidbits out and making them funny and amusing.
It’s an interesting mix of RPG, adult dating game, and real estate simulation, with a fast paced combat system that is deep and customizable but never overwhelming. And while the world simulation aspects are pretty light and easy to get a handle on, combat can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. In addition, the list of quests ebbs and flows, providing many hours of game play, with enemies that respawn, and quest givers that seem to always find something new for your hero to do.
Life in Albion, the world of Fable II, starts off with your hero as a child. He or she (its up to you) lives on the streets with their sister, and through a short introduction is transformed from urchin to hero. This transformation, from lowly peasant to someone renowned as either a righteous hero or a dastardly villain, is surprisingly simple, quick, and enjoyable. Not unlike open world RPGs, you can go anywhere, which includes jumping fences, swimming across ponds, and fast traveling between previously explored locations. Interactions are never overdrawn, and game play is explained and evolved as the game proceeds.
Your player is dropped into a virtual world that can be compared to games like Animal Crossing or The Sims. It gives you the tools to interact with others in the game world, winning their favor, possibly even their hand in marriage. You can marry, have children, buy items, get a haircut, and even work to earn money. In Fable II, though, some aspects of this interaction is more a diversion than a necessity. The main story line doesn’t really necessitate it, but you’ll find it compelling to explore the world and see how your actions affect it.
One obvious point of contention is money: It might feel like it comes too easily. While it’s true that you can amass wealth, owning numerous shops, stalls, and homes, you can also spend it just as easily. Early on your hero will spend what money they have on new gear, potions, clothes, and other items. By the end of the game you’ll spend it mostly on real estate, and you’ll likely work tirelessly to earn enough to buy the most expensive properties.
Combat is simple but has depth, and only gets better, deeper, and more satisfying as your hero gains experience. That you can turn him or her into anyone you want, whether that be good, evil, strong, magical, etc., gives you, the player, an amazing amount of freedom and lets you do what you will with the game and its world. And combat is contextual, providing subtle clues while allowing you to use brute force or magic to conquer enemies, which makes the experience all the more satisfying.
If you never figure out how to use those contextual clues, that doesn’t really matter. You can still enjoy combat using flourishes and magic, or just by tapping the X and Y buttons endlessly. And since your hero can use melee, ranged, and magic attacks fluidly, interchanging them as needed, you can do things such as slow time, use an aimed ranged attack to blow off an opponent’s head, and then finish off the melee fighters around you with a fire spell. It’s a versatile system that rewards experimentation but doesn’t necessarily demand a high level of proficiency.
Fable II also has a morality system that tracks not only whether you are good or evil, but also whether you are pure or corrupt. This allows you to for instance be a trashy hero that sleeps around with everyone but is always quick to save those in trouble, or a horrid villain who happens to kill innocents but never steals from shops. It tracks what you do based on who witnesses the acts, and as the game progresses even affects the look of your hero and his dog.
This canine companion follows you continuously, alerting you to threats, pointing out treasure, and telling you where to dig for quest items and other valuables. If you knock down an enemy, he is liable to finish them off for you, and if he’s injured, he’ll yelp. You can heal him, give him treats, level up his capabilities, and even teach him tricks, which in turn can impress the locals. You’ll likely find yourself talking out loud to him, as he is quite endearing. If you mistreat him he’ll still stay by your side though he will likely become vicious and scared as a result.
Graphically you can’t say Fable II necessarily looks state-of-the art, but it uses an expressive palette of colors and special effects that dazzle and excite you. Voiceovers as well as the humor involved are very British but generally excellent, and sound effects are all appropriate. You can definitely fault the game for frame rate and draw-in issues, but those rarely affect game play. The game looks and sounds amazing and although there are aspects of it lacking detail or polish, so much is right about the game that it really doesn’t matter.
In the end Fable II is about choices: Your hero is in a simulated world of many dimensions, and you can do what you want, with much freedom, which makes the amount of enjoyment to be had entirely up to the choices you make. It’s a big game, and a big world, and although you can probably plow through it without experiencing all of the silliness and wonderment, what fun would that be? Here is a game meant to be enjoyed and toyed with. While some may think it’s idiotic, the clever writing, top notch acting, and excellent combat system make it one that you will be hard pressed to stop playing. You may find it just doesn’t fit with what you want out of an RPG, but for me, someone who has been playing games designed by Peter Molyneaux for almost 25 years, and also finds Western RPGs far more appealing than those from the East, Fable II is close to perfect.
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Microsoft Game Studios