Fable 2
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1, 2 player online co-op
Words By:

Just when you thought you had enough of sandbox games, another one pops up. Thankfully this is one with depth that actively rewards exploration and experimentation. Set centuries after the events of the original Fable, Fable 2 places you in the shoes of a young lad (or lass) whose destiny is to become a hero and save the world of Albion. As in the previous game, the manner in which your character goes about this is up to you. If you wish to play a goody-two-shoes character that is friendly and generous, or a vicious, selfish soul, the choice is yours.

Where a lot of the enjoyment lies in this game is the depth of detail. Plot-wise there aren't many surprises. Despite the main game story being comparatively short if played straight through, doing so would do the game a disservice. Albion is a beautiful place to wander around in, and there are many side adventures to go on and things to find. There is rarely a moment where you don't know where to go next, as a glowing golden trail appears on the screen showing you the quickest route to the next plot point or whichever side adventure you are currently working towards. This is especially helpful as the in-game map is terrible. Available only on the pause screen, the map gives a very low resolution blocky view of your current location. It also provides no way of setting specific non mission-based waypoints where there may be points of interest you wish to see. It seems odd that a game with such high production values scrimped on something so useful, but maybe Lionhead made it that useless for a purpose.

One of the driving forces of the game is how your behaviour affects others. The relationships your character has with others play a part in this. Beyond the occasional grunt, yell, or sheer your character interacts with others through performing expressions. Rather than have scripted dialogue, the right bumper button brings up the Expression Wheel; a circular display of actions to be performed at the selected target. The expressions range from posing heroically, unfriendly growls, to the absurdity of crotch thrusting. The effect of some expressions may be enhanced by holding down the ‘A’ button, with the added risk of failure by not releasing the button when a marker is over a swinging gauge. It is through these expressions that the character can terrorise or befriend villagers, marry, and even have sex and procreate.

Shortcuts pop up on the D-pad occasionally to save bringing up the wheel control, but this can be very flighty. The expression icons appear much smaller so it's often difficult to figure out what the action is before it's no longer an option, or the option changes to something entirely different. Want to shout at a villager? Tough, you've just scolded your constant canine companion as the option changed. Generally speaking selecting up is a positive expression and down is negative, but it's not always so obvious especially during cut scenes that feel a bit like the quick time events seen in other games.

Early on in one of the games I've played (without giving too much away) the main character is asked how they feel about killing some bad guys. On selecting ‘up’ (i.e. I thought this was the right thing to do), the main character gave a thumbs up and a little chuckle. Eh? This to me is more like "Yes I'm a psychopathic butcher! Let's slay some orphans!" Later on in the same game, there was a sad graveside scene. Remembering the odd choice of expression before, I selected down for a negative reaction only to have my goody-two-shoes hero pointing and laughing at the mourners. Not quite what I had in mind...

One really jarring aspect of the game is the lack of attachment I felt towards the central character. This is an inherent flaw of having a generic character that can be as pure or corrupt as the player chooses and can only emote through the mime of expression, but it feels as though the character is purely a vehicle to explore the world. Even then, there are comparatively few events that truly change the world of Albion. Have you got into trouble killing some villagers? Not to worry; make some fart noises, amuse some local children, and everyone is happy again!

Combat is simple and makes use of three main buttons; one to attack with a melee weapon, one to fire a gun, and one to perform some magic that may either be directed at an assailant or perform the effect over an area. In reality, despite being able to get more experience points by performing well-timed attacks, it doesn't take long to figure out just as much can be achieved through button mashing.

I'm trying not to be too harsh on this game as it is lots of fun. An enormous amount of work has gone into being a fully realised world with lots for the player to explore. It's easy to ignore the niggles like inappropriate expressions, occasional clipping, and the lack of attachment to the main protagonist.

Here's an analogy that I hope will explain better than the spiel above:-
Imagine visiting the home of a friend, and being introduced to a younger relative of theirs. A small boy. Let's call him ‘Petey Molyneux’. Molyneux is an extremely bright, polite and friendly lad, who spends the evening bringing you his toys. All evening... One at a time... "Look at this! It's a train set!" "This is Optimus Prime! He's a Transformer! Watch this! He's transforming...!"

This is what Fable 2 feels like. As a player you are shown lots of fun things, but ultimately it feels hard to engage. You're being shown Molyneux's toys. They are cool, but they are not yours.

Best Bits

- Large pretty world to explore
- Fun, simplified combat
Worst Bits

- The awful in-game map
- It’s hard to empathise with a main character that acts idiotically and inappropriately despite your best efforts
- It’s hard to empathise with NPCs who are impressed by a main character that acts like an idiot

by: Jason Rainbird

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