Getting a proper impression of a game like Fable II, one that spans the lives of multiple generations, is almost impossible at an event like E3. And if Fable II lead Peter Molyneaux is being accurate when he calls the game "The biggest, most complete story of any game I've ever created", we haven't seen, well, anything yet.
That's why it's helpful that something like Fable II can be broken down into digestible, feature-focusing chunks. The game's dog, for example, with its ability to help out in battle, its nose for hidden treasure, we know is going to be A Big Deal. We won't be surprised if Man's Best Friend plays a more important role than Molyneux led us to believe in our sit down preview of his Xbox 360 game.
We just know he's going to emotionally manipulate us with that lovable digital mutt.
We were about two hours into Fable II's storyline, Molyneux says, when we got our first hands-on experience with combat and dog-play. Combat has been a big focus in the Fable sequel, and while it may not have Ninja Gaiden calibre aspirations (or animations), it works. It's fun, especially when the dog comes to your aid, gnawing on the limb of some recently dispatched foe.
The hero in Fable II had access to limited combat options at this point. He was just getting his hands on some rifles and a little bit of magic. Sadly, we didn't get to take on that lovely looking Treant beast, just some rank and file pirates, but left the combat experience feeling more than satisfied.
If there's one thing that Fable II looks to achieve, it's painless action RPG combat. It may not have the cinematic flair of Nintendo's 3D Legend of Zelda games, but Lionhead Studios title has so much more depth, we can forgive a few rough edges.
And being the graphics snob I am, those rough edges come across in some occasionally homely character models. The hero's wife in Fable II may be a busty beauty, but the game may get some flack for its sometimes ho-hum visuals.
That will most likely be forgiven with the impressive amount of depth the game appears to have. The ability to upgrade your career skills via mini-game diversions looks better than grinding and cold, hard stats arrangement.
When we got into town, we met Fable II's bard, the singer-songwriter who will belt out tales of your heroism. He'll also sing songs of your cowardice, adding comic relief and occasional annoyance to your journey through the game.
Molyneux showed off some of the game's Expressions, the silly jigs and smooth moves that let you woo ladies and forge new friendships, prior to our hands-on. You'll pick them from a radial menu when you want to take a wife or receive a gift. They were fairly limited in our demo of the game, but look to provide some welcome options for adding variety to the game world. You'll see non-playable characters throughout town that you can interact with using Expressions, each with icons over their heads indicating their disposition. Wow them with your moves and you'll reap the rewards.
It's difficult to tell if Fable II, with its pub games, combat system, intelligent canine partner and career skills, will be more than the sum of its parts. We'll know when the game ships this October, as we start focusing less on the features and more on the game itself.