Lionhead Studios and its excitable leader Peter Molyneux are rather infamous for attacking massive projects wide-eyed and genuinely enthusiastic, ultimately delivering a final product that's somewhere in the range of ninety percent of what it, and followers of the developer's games, had in mind. Fortunately, for Fable II's sake, the developer kept its expectations slightly more tempered, focusing on the game's broad, decades-spanning tale of moral choices, leaving the more interesting aspects of the fantasy role-playing game to be filled in by the player.
Have Lionhead been able to make good or bad of the Xbox 360 exclusive sequel? Our nearly epic journey of love and hatred tells the tale.
Puts The 'R' And 'P' In RPG: Fable II's core story line may not be as memorable as other, more traditional role-playing games — it's rather forgettable over the course of the journey — but it's the tertiary activities, interactions and experiences that make your first (and second) play-through such a treat. During my first slog through, I stuck to my habitual good-guy guns, keeping my purity high and my hands clean, making lifestyle choices similar to my own. On the second? I was a prick, hassling villagers, raising prices on goods, aligning myself with gypsies, thieves and bandits. The actual playing is fun, with a simple, mostly intuitive combat mechanic.
Have 'A' Button, Will Travel: Getting around Albion is a breeze. Jumping from quest to job to whatever sale may be running can be accomplished by quickly teleporting to your desired location. The helpful golden breadcrumb trail that leads to your destination ensures you're almost never lost.
If 'X', Then 'Y': Fable II feels less like your playing a numbers game, managing an Excel spreadsheet or rolling the dice. When you have moments of doing bad, meaning to lead an honorable existence, you'll feel the effects. Some of the more averse effects may be puzzling though — even though I'm running hundreds of miles and battling scores of hobbes and bandits, a couple of pies a week make me a fat-arse? Really?
Man's BFF: Your ever present canine companion is a welcome aid, locating hidden treasure, fighting alongside you in battle, ever present throughout the decades-long journey. Not once does the pup ever utter a grating "Hey! Listen!!" but rarely did I ever feel any of the much touted attachment to the beast.
EZ Money: Earning gold through the buying up of real estate and businesses makes experimenting with new equipment and keeping your supplies well stocked painless. Even the more mundane jobs, like chopping wood or tending bar have high pay outs. Even better, they're unusually addictive.
Sluggish Interface, Useless Maps: Fable II's menu interface for using items and upgrading your hero is slow to load and sluggish to navigate. Dealing with quests is easy enough, but It makes upgrading your skills and your dog's abilities frustrating. Even in-game, interacting with characters and signs can be annoying. Furthermore, regional maps are difficult to decipher and border on useless, thanks to Fable II's other navigation options.
Emotional Detachment: Finding a spouse involves little more than a chain of dancing, flexing and farting in front of the Albionite of your choice. As long as you have a decent ring and a bed, you'll be the proud owner of a "loving" family. There's no depth to the characters closest to you and little emotional investment in anything other your dog.
-10% Attractiveness: An aversion to the deformed, knobby caricature stylings of Fable II may simply be personal preference. Being unable to make out what exactly it is I'm fighting much of the time due to enemy and environment design? Not so much.
All The Small Things: Lionhead may have created a massive world rife with possibilities, but there's a noticeable lack of polish applied to Fable II. Clipping, frequent loading and save screens, interrupted audio and an unstable frame rate all serve to hamper the experience. We might've been better off without the clumsy cooperative modes altogether.
There's an astounding amount of stuff to do in Fable II, one of the reasons it's so hard to put the controller down even after a all-night session of adventuring. The constant drip of new experience, new items, new side quests, new characters to interact with makes the game feel massive in its depth. At times, Fable II may even feel like its out-pacing the player, as the heaping pile of options, while gently stacked upon you, quickly becomes mountainous.
What Fable II does manage to get right is its balance of action, adventure and role-playing, all of which is presented to the player in a manner that should appeal to those of us who may not be fans of console-style role-playing games. Fable II feels like a game where Lionhead may have bitten off more than it could ever possibly chew, yet again. Regardless of the promises made, Fable II is still a feast for the player.
Fable II was developed by Lionhead Studios, published by Microsoft Game Studios. Retails for $US59.99. Completed single-player story, tested coop, and later revisited the game to play through with alternate choices.
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