Fable II (Xbox 360) review
"The world of Albion has changed a lot over the past 500 years, but townsfolk still talk of stories that occurred in the original game. Fable II follows a young hero on a quest to defeat a man called Lucien, who is responsible for a life-changing event very early on in the game. After this event, and 10 years later, the hero has now grown up and can finally take his revenge on Lucien. With a mysterious woman named Theresa leading the way, and his trusty dog companion by his side, is there nothing..."
The world of Albion has changed a lot over the past 500 years, but townsfolk still talk of stories that occurred in the original game. Fable II follows a young hero on a quest to defeat a man called Lucien, who is responsible for a life-changing event very early on in the game. After this event, and 10 years later, the hero has now grown up and can finally take his revenge on Lucien. With a mysterious woman named Theresa leading the way, and his trusty dog companion by his side, is there nothing the hero canít do? As his quest continues he learns that he is a very important Hero, and he is necessary in taking down Lucien. As well as himself, heíll need to recruit three more Heroes (of Strength, Will and Skill) who will also use their own individual skills to help defeat Lucien.
The story itself is actually quite short (if you just rush through the game doing only the story), but itís paced well so that it all seems to fit into place in a structured timeline. Once again Lionhead have done a great job of giving the world of Albion a unique charm that makes you want to come back. Be it the beautiful environments, the genuinely funny dialogue or the citizens of Albion themselves, the work that has been put in is clearly evident and itís a joy to play through it. The moral choices that your character is faced with are also very interesting. One particular quest that stuck in my head was one where I ended up meeting a ghost, who was just as surprised as I was that I could see him. He loved this woman, who then ran away on their wedding day, so he sadly took his own life. Itís not done in a morbid way, so donít let this sad story put you off. That said, he then wants you to go and find this woman, make her fall in love with you, then give her a note from the ghost telling her it was all a joke etc. You find the woman who immediately falls in love with you and it turns out she wants to marry you and have children. You then get to make the choice of giving her the note, therefore showing her it was a lie and the ghost gets his revenge. Or, you can get married to her and steal the ghosts love of his life. I wonít say what happens if you pick either choice, but the two results are very significant in relation to those two particular characters. Thatís just one of the moral choices you have to make, and there are several more that youíll have to make along your quest.
Moral choices lead us on well into a key part of the gameplay. In the original Fable you had a bar of Good/Evil, and while thatís still present in Fable II, theyíve added another bar. This bar is for Purity/Corruption, and it makes sense after reading into it. Certain acts, such as murdering citizens or letting an evil guy keep some slaves instead of setting them free, will gain Evil points, which will affect your Good/Evil bar. Others such as eating meat, drinking alcohol, or charging high rent on your real estate, will earn you Corruption points, which affect your Purity/Corruption bar. The reason for this is because there are several ways to play the game. It may be that youíd never kill anyone and youíre generally a nice person, (meaning youíre Good) but you like to get drunk and charge high rent (meaning youíre Corrupt). You could also just as easily have a completely full Evil bar, but youíre completely Pure, which to be fair is a lot less likely, but still completely possible. It adds much more depth to the morality system of the game, and ultimately it allows the player to still be Good overall but do a few bad things along the way without too much punishment, which leads to a more enjoyable experience.
The main part of the gameplay that youíll be experiencing most however is the combat. Thankfully, while it seems simple, itís a very effective yet rewarding system. Melee attacks are assigned to the X button, Magic attacks to B, and Ranged to Y. When you start the game your melee combos will be weak and simple, your ranged attacks will be one shot at a targeted enemy, and your magic will be very weak. To level up these skills, youíll be killing enemies, and apart from getting Strength (melee), Skill (ranged) and Will (magic) experience, youíll also get General experience, which can be used in conjunction with another amount of experience to make a total to learn an ability. It sounds confusing, but itís not. Say you need 50000 total experience points to level a magic spell. It may be that you only have 20000 Will experience, but because you have 65000 general experience, you can take 30000 from the general experience and level up the magic spell. You can do this for Strength and Skill abilities as well, and by the time you max out your stats youíll be attacking with fast fluid combos and countering enemies attacks, as well as being able to zoom in on enemies with your gun and decapitate them with the bullet, and finally your magic attacks will be devastating. The sound effects pack appropriate punch, and the animations are fluid and well done to make each confrontation as enjoyable as the next. The best thing for me though personally was finding out about decapitations. Call me violent or whatever, but itís a lot more satisfying to shoot someoneís head clean off with a bullet than it is to simply kill them with a shot to the head.
As well as the combat, there are also lots of minigames to play throughout the world of Albion. When youíre starting out and you need a bit of cash, you can take on a series of jobs. My main income for the best part of half the game was training as a blacksmith in Bowerstone Market (the main town where youíll spend a lot of your time). The minigames are a simple enough affair, where you need to time your pressing of the A button so that it fits into the green area of a shrinking target. Itís actually quite hard to explain, but again itís very straight forward in practice. Most of the minigames follow this structure, and while it may get boring quickly for some, I actually found it quite fun, as bizarre as it sounds.
Arguably though, the biggest aspect of the gameplay added to Fable II is the addition of the dog. For the most part of the game, you have no choice on whether you have a dog or not. If you donít want it, you can let it get injured in a fight and just leave it, but itíll follow you everywhere no matter what. Thatís plain cruel though, and even if you donít want to the dog as a companion, you can still use him as a tool. Heíll bark when close to a treasure chest, and heíll bark and try to make you follow you if heís found a spot to dig up some treasure. I personally found it hard not to love the dog, simply because it seems so real. The animations are spot on, and the way it acts in general is how a real dog acts. People in the towns will come up to you and pet the dog, and heíll wag his tail in delight as he chases the rubber ball youíve thrown for him. At one point youíre running through a graveyard with some misty areas with an overall creepy feel about it. The dog will have his ears down, walk a bit slower and have his tail between his legs, and heíll let out an occasional yelp to tell you he needs a bit of reassurance. Itís the subtle details in the dog that really make you want him around, so it seems odd when the dog occasionally glitches up and goes missing, only to arrive onscreen out of the blue.
As much as Iíve praised the game though, it eventually gets to the point in the review where I have to mention my complaints, and unfortunately, there are a few. To start, and perhaps a surprising complaint, I expected to see a lot more content than was actually present. Iíd finished the main storyline, done all quests that werenít simply to buy a property or destroy some gargoyles, and maxed out my combat stats in roughly 25 hours. Thatís by no means short, but for an RPG with such great production values potential to have much more than it did, I ended up being a bit disappointed at the end of it. The only thing left to do now is to collect some silver keys, destroy a few gargoyles and get my real estate value up to 2.5 million gold. To me, none of those are particularly ďfunĒ, and they only seem to artificially extend the life of the game by exploring environments repeatedly until you find that one key. Slow menus get a bit annoying at the start, but youíll soon get used to it. One thing I found slightly bizarre though is the lacklustre range of clothing for your character. It may seem an odd thing to complain about, but the one move taken by the design team was that they wanted every character to look unique, so they decided to take out armour from the game so that everyone didnít end up just buying the best stuff and leaving it at that. On the flip side though, the range of customisation in terms of clothes is quite small, thus rendering the whole idea pointless. I only found one set of clothes that made me look remotely like a warrior, with everything else making me look like a strange citizen of the town, or a nobleman; neither of which I would consider appropriate for a warrior.
Co-op play was touted to be a key part of the design process in Fable II, and while itís a great feature in theory, in practice it falls flat on its face. To start, the camera is infuriating. The sheer fact that neither of the two participants in the game have any control over the camera whatsoever is ludicrous. One particular situation had me and a good friend playing through one of the gameís caves. When we reached the end, we had to fight a troll, and the camera managed to position itself in such a way that our two characters were facing out towards the screen and we couldnít actually see the troll that we were supposedly killing. It was literally just our two characters shooting at something and a dog running around in circles. We then spent the best part of a minute just running around trying to make the camera move into a decent place so we could actually see what was going on. Running around in buildings is even more of a nightmare, simply because the camera canít zoom out particularly far to try and get a good view of the scene, something which luckily it manages to do fairly well in outside environments. Secondly, despite the fuss that was made about every character being unique and being able to show it off to your friends, which only works for the host of the game. If you join someone elseís world in Fable II, you have to play as one of 6 preset henchmen, and while they may have all of your stats, the fact that youíre not actually playing as your own hero is stupid. To top it all off, the fact that the camera doesnít move also means the distance that you can move away from each other isnít very large at all, this makes trying to take out a group of enemies from two sides practically impossible.
One side of the game thatís all positives though is the technical aspect. Aside from the lip-syncing being a tad off (which to be fair isnít really an issue because the camera is never close enough to characterís faces to really notice), and the odd sound not playing, the technical performance of the game is very good. During online and offline play the frame rate issues are generally stable, and I only encountered one glitch in which some text appeared as I moved to another area but didnít disappear when I got there. This was simply remedied by moving to another area. The only other issue I had was that when in caves and tunnels, the textures on the dog can tend to change colour and/or disappear. Hardly game-breaking though to be honest, but itís still there. Reports have been going around of lots of other bugs and glitches though, so while I didnít personally encounter many glitches, that doesnít necessarily mean there arenít any.
Fable II is a fantastic game, and while I may have my issues with it, they are greatly outweighed by the positives. The fantastic art style, enchanting soundtrack and rewarding gameplay make for a brilliant gaming experience. The sheer amount of manpower and effort that has gone into the game is clearly evident, and itís things like that that make you really appreciate what youíre experiencing. The dog brings a lease of life into the game thatís hard to describe, and itís only when it isnít there when you realise how different it is without it. Itís one of those games that doesnít come around very often, and while it may not be perfect, itís definitely one of the best at what it does.
Community review by Soulblitz (August 03, 2009)
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