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Spinning Yarns With the Nearly Finished Fable II

Brad got his hands on Lionhead's anticipated action RPG and played a brand new hero for a bunch of hours.

Fable II has a storyline, and it is rough stuff. The former is what Peter Molyneux would like you to know--he allows the first game was a little short on narrative, but you'll purportedly find a much more cohesive storyline in this sequel. The latter is what I discovered when Molyneux and Microsoft came through San Francisco with an all-but-completed* build of Fable II and let me craft my own fable with the game for nearly three hours. (*Yes, Molyneux's E3 proclamation that Fable II was finished was slightly premature.)

Man's best friend makes for a loyal traveling companion.
After choosing a boy or girl character to play as, you start off being hit by the now-famous airborne glob of bird poop before venturing into the town of Bowerstone's back alleys with your street-urchin older sister. Childhood lasts only about 24 game-world hours in Fable II, which you'll spend doing odd jobs to gain a few gold coins in order to buy a magical music box from a persuasive street vendor. Even in this brief, benign tutorial sequence, I felt like I was making decisions that might have a meaningful impact on the alignment of my hero or the world around me--and quite often both--as I carried out specific tasks and quests.

Fable's characteristic freedom to be good or evil was immediately evident here. A mission that had me collecting lost warrants for the city's worst criminals gave me the option to sell those warrants to one of those criminals, instead of returning them to the constable who was trying to recover them. Later, I retrieved a lost bottle of wine for a wino in another mission, but was then able to give it to a concerned caretaker instead of further contributing to the bum's debauchery. It seems like even walking the straight and narrow path in Fable II will make you some enemies. A third mission had a warehouse owner begging me to use my slingshot to rid his storeroom of a beetle infestation. However, a local thug insisted that I smash up the businessman's stock instead, and when I opted to kill the beetles and lay off the goods, I unavoidably made an enemy of that thug just by trying to do the right thing.

After you get your five coins together, some mystical shenanigans with the music box deliver you to an audience with Lord Lucian, the slightly unhinged ruler of the land whose newfound, crazed obsession with magical research owes to deep, recent personal tragedy. Unfortunately, Microsoft muzzled my original intention to tell you exactly what happens during this meeting with Lucian, but I'll only say that after the benign, easygoing way that Fable II first opens up scarcely an hour before, the events in the castle on this fateful night really made me sit up and go "Holy shit." The game gets serious quickly, and provides a good setup for its abrupt flash-forward to your adulthood, when you've become a strapping sword-and-crossbow-wielding hero ready to undertake your quest. (You know, given the impact of that early plot point, maybe it's for the better that I can't describe it in detail.)

Once again, you'll be loved or hated based on your actions.
Childhood is when you meet Fable II's well-publicized dog, a scruffy mutt who's still alive and much heartier a decade later when you've grown up and set out on your journey. Besides looking cute--I haven't seen a game dog this convincing since Nintendogs--the dog has a few gameplay functions that became apparently immediately. He'll scout around unbidden for hidden treasure chests and places to dig with your shovel for other goodies. You can also incorporate him into your social interactions with other characters or just play fetch with him or praise him to make him like you better. You can find dog-training manuals throughout the game to increase your dog's stable of tricks and skills in treasure-hunting. This training is presumably how you'll beef him up into a canine combat machine, too.

There were numerous demo stations set up at this event, with a representative smattering of games press members playing Fable II on a fresh save game. More than once, I heard Molyneux delightedly pointing out how differently everyone was playing their hero. Like the first game, Fable II does give you a ton of ways to customize and socially develop your hero. I only had about two hours to play the game, so you'd think I'd have wanted to make tracks through the storyline as fast as possible. But no. I couldn't resist blowing a chunk of my time shopping for new clothes (I added an eyepatch and a jaunty pair of new boots), convincing one of the local gypsy maidens to marry me, slaving away at the blacksmith's, and looking into property ownership, since just about every building has a deed posted you can opt to buy. For instance, Molyneux commented that you could buy the town pub and then set the price of ale to effectively zero, after which you'd notice an inordinate number of townspeople stumbling around the city streets in a drunken stupor. And who can blame them?

Fable II adds a glowing "bread crumb trail" that Molyneux has talked about previously, to guide you more directly to your pertinent objectives. I found that useful in the short term, since I had a limited time to see as much of the game as I could. The trail will show you the way to the next required story point, and you can also select individual optional quests as your next goal to have the trail guide you there, too. But I felt like when playing the final game in the comfort of a weekend, I'd prefer to turn the trail off (which is thankfully only a menu option away). There seemed to be a lot of treasure and other curiosities hidden around Albion, and blindly following the highlighted trail really discouraged me from venturing off the beaten path and looking for them.

In between quests, I returned to Bowerstone. Heading to the city's oldtown district, I immediately picked up on one of the specific effects my prior decisions had. I ran into that constable I'd helped a decade earlier--who'd since been promoted to a higher rank for cleaning up the streets--and he told me how since I'd returned those warrants, he'd been able to catch all the crooks and turn the district into a thriving, law-abiding commerce center. I assume quite the opposite conditions would have existed if I'd sold those warrants to the criminal in childhood, instead.

Albion hasn't gotten much friendlier in the last 500 years.
Running around in Bowerstone's town square made me realize Fable II Pub Games may have had a legitimate use after all. There are some odd jobs you can undertake with different merchants to build up a bit of coin, and the blacksmith's work I enlisted in was menial enough--just a series of timed button presses against an onscreen meter--to send a person running for the Live Arcade screen. Maybe that was the point.

From what I remember of the first game--it's been four years, after all--this new game feels very Fable from top to bottom. It's got lots of flippant characters spouting the same delightful range of British accents and cheeky dialogue. The visual style is very similar, not just in art but also use of color and even specific graphical effects (hail the return of the light bloom!). Even the controls feel the same, which is to say a little tight and awkward compared to more limber action games in the God of War vein. I wish I'd had more time to explore the game's one-button combat system, which seemed by necessity a little simplistic and button-mashy. But Molyneux swore we hadn't even seen the tip of the combat iceberg, since you cash in your experience to gain new melee, ranged attack, and magical abilities throughout the game. You also pick up some companions who will fight alongside you later on. I'm interested to see how the combat develops over time and if Molyneux's promise rings true in that particular regard.

At the event, I was fortunate enough to sit down and chat with Molyneux, who's the most affable, down-to-earth big-name designer you could hope to meet, a real gentleman of game development (despite his occasional penchant for hyperbole). Here's that!


  



Thanks for your time, Peter! Brad Shoemaker on Google+
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Posted by Brad
Fable II has a storyline, and it is rough stuff. The former is what Peter Molyneux would like you to know--he allows the first game was a little short on narrative, but you'll purportedly find a much more cohesive storyline in this sequel. The latter is what I discovered when Molyneux and Microsoft came through San Francisco with an all-but-completed* build of Fable II and let me craft my own fable with the game for nearly three hours. (*Yes, Molyneux's E3 proclamation that Fable II was finished was slightly premature.)

Man's best friend makes for a loyal traveling companion.
After choosing a boy or girl character to play as, you start off being hit by the now-famous airborne glob of bird poop before venturing into the town of Bowerstone's back alleys with your street-urchin older sister. Childhood lasts only about 24 game-world hours in Fable II, which you'll spend doing odd jobs to gain a few gold coins in order to buy a magical music box from a persuasive street vendor. Even in this brief, benign tutorial sequence, I felt like I was making decisions that might have a meaningful impact on the alignment of my hero or the world around me--and quite often both--as I carried out specific tasks and quests.

Fable's characteristic freedom to be good or evil was immediately evident here. A mission that had me collecting lost warrants for the city's worst criminals gave me the option to sell those warrants to one of those criminals, instead of returning them to the constable who was trying to recover them. Later, I retrieved a lost bottle of wine for a wino in another mission, but was then able to give it to a concerned caretaker instead of further contributing to the bum's debauchery. It seems like even walking the straight and narrow path in Fable II will make you some enemies. A third mission had a warehouse owner begging me to use my slingshot to rid his storeroom of a beetle infestation. However, a local thug insisted that I smash up the businessman's stock instead, and when I opted to kill the beetles and lay off the goods, I unavoidably made an enemy of that thug just by trying to do the right thing.

After you get your five coins together, some mystical shenanigans with the music box deliver you to an audience with Lord Lucian, the slightly unhinged ruler of the land whose newfound, crazed obsession with magical research owes to deep, recent personal tragedy. Unfortunately, Microsoft muzzled my original intention to tell you exactly what happens during this meeting with Lucian, but I'll only say that after the benign, easygoing way that Fable II first opens up scarcely an hour before, the events in the castle on this fateful night really made me sit up and go "Holy shit." The game gets serious quickly, and provides a good setup for its abrupt flash-forward to your adulthood, when you've become a strapping sword-and-crossbow-wielding hero ready to undertake your quest. (You know, given the impact of that early plot point, maybe it's for the better that I can't describe it in detail.)

Once again, you'll be loved or hated based on your actions.
Childhood is when you meet Fable II's well-publicized dog, a scruffy mutt who's still alive and much heartier a decade later when you've grown up and set out on your journey. Besides looking cute--I haven't seen a game dog this convincing since Nintendogs--the dog has a few gameplay functions that became apparently immediately. He'll scout around unbidden for hidden treasure chests and places to dig with your shovel for other goodies. You can also incorporate him into your social interactions with other characters or just play fetch with him or praise him to make him like you better. You can find dog-training manuals throughout the game to increase your dog's stable of tricks and skills in treasure-hunting. This training is presumably how you'll beef him up into a canine combat machine, too.

There were numerous demo stations set up at this event, with a representative smattering of games press members playing Fable II on a fresh save game. More than once, I heard Molyneux delightedly pointing out how differently everyone was playing their hero. Like the first game, Fable II does give you a ton of ways to customize and socially develop your hero. I only had about two hours to play the game, so you'd think I'd have wanted to make tracks through the storyline as fast as possible. But no. I couldn't resist blowing a chunk of my time shopping for new clothes (I added an eyepatch and a jaunty pair of new boots), convincing one of the local gypsy maidens to marry me, slaving away at the blacksmith's, and looking into property ownership, since just about every building has a deed posted you can opt to buy. For instance, Molyneux commented that you could buy the town pub and then set the price of ale to effectively zero, after which you'd notice an inordinate number of townspeople stumbling around the city streets in a drunken stupor. And who can blame them?

Fable II adds a glowing "bread crumb trail" that Molyneux has talked about previously, to guide you more directly to your pertinent objectives. I found that useful in the short term, since I had a limited time to see as much of the game as I could. The trail will show you the way to the next required story point, and you can also select individual optional quests as your next goal to have the trail guide you there, too. But I felt like when playing the final game in the comfort of a weekend, I'd prefer to turn the trail off (which is thankfully only a menu option away). There seemed to be a lot of treasure and other curiosities hidden around Albion, and blindly following the highlighted trail really discouraged me from venturing off the beaten path and looking for them.

In between quests, I returned to Bowerstone. Heading to the city's oldtown district, I immediately picked up on one of the specific effects my prior decisions had. I ran into that constable I'd helped a decade earlier--who'd since been promoted to a higher rank for cleaning up the streets--and he told me how since I'd returned those warrants, he'd been able to catch all the crooks and turn the district into a thriving, law-abiding commerce center. I assume quite the opposite conditions would have existed if I'd sold those warrants to the criminal in childhood, instead.

Albion hasn't gotten much friendlier in the last 500 years.
Running around in Bowerstone's town square made me realize Fable II Pub Games may have had a legitimate use after all. There are some odd jobs you can undertake with different merchants to build up a bit of coin, and the blacksmith's work I enlisted in was menial enough--just a series of timed button presses against an onscreen meter--to send a person running for the Live Arcade screen. Maybe that was the point.

From what I remember of the first game--it's been four years, after all--this new game feels very Fable from top to bottom. It's got lots of flippant characters spouting the same delightful range of British accents and cheeky dialogue. The visual style is very similar, not just in art but also use of color and even specific graphical effects (hail the return of the light bloom!). Even the controls feel the same, which is to say a little tight and awkward compared to more limber action games in the God of War vein. I wish I'd had more time to explore the game's one-button combat system, which seemed by necessity a little simplistic and button-mashy. But Molyneux swore we hadn't even seen the tip of the combat iceberg, since you cash in your experience to gain new melee, ranged attack, and magical abilities throughout the game. You also pick up some companions who will fight alongside you later on. I'm interested to see how the combat develops over time and if Molyneux's promise rings true in that particular regard.

At the event, I was fortunate enough to sit down and chat with Molyneux, who's the most affable, down-to-earth big-name designer you could hope to meet, a real gentleman of game development (despite his occasional penchant for hyperbole). Here's that!


  



Thanks for your time, Peter!
Staff
Posted by Wei12do

oooooo great interview!

Posted by Thrawn1

that was probably the most formal thing i've seen on giantbomb. (but i still liked it)

Posted by Zripwud

Great interview and article! Anyone knows of a PC release for Fable II???

Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

Wow, I am very excited to get this game! Just completely excited.

Posted by Torb

Thanks to you guys, I am officially excited for Fable II. For reals.
Great article! :D
Oh, and awesome interview. Though it may be formal, it may encourage other big-names to give yall an interview or two as well!

Posted by JaredA

I can't wait for Fable 2! I am so going to get this at the midnight release!

Posted by AnimeBeast

Cool Interview. can't wait

Posted by EndlessMike

Am I the only one tired of good and evil games only letting you either be a total saint or the devil himself.

Posted by deaux

There was a Bombcast some months ago where Jeff was surprised to hear himself say "I'm really looking forward to Fable II" and I feel the same way now.

Posted by Xeiphyer

Uahh Looks so good <3

Must get enough money to buy all the good October goodness!!!
October 21 is going to be insane; Fable 2, Farcry 2, LittleBigPlanet.

AHH!

Posted by chililili

This game makes me wish I had a 360, but I'll have to stick to PS3 and PC this winter, no wii love this holiday...

Posted by jonnyp

Well done Bradderford

Posted by Nick

Good preview, you're keeping me excited for this game.

Posted by okenny

I'll just be honest.  I plan to make sweet love to the box of this game before playing it. Yes. I want it that much <3

Posted by duxup

Say what you want about Molyneux, the dude is excited about his games.  It is hard to fault him for that.

Posted by cmpLtNOOb

Not that I'm some expert on interview etiquette or anything, but aren't you supposed to thank the person you are interviewing at the end.  It bothered me for some reason that you just said "okay I'm gonna go play Fable 2" some more to the camera and then cut off without thanking Molyneux for taking the time to talk.  But eh, maybe I'm just picky about stuff like that.
Nice article though.

Posted by breton
"I'd prefer to turn the trail off (which is thankfully only a menu option away)"

Ugh. Turning off a feature to make the game better just seems ridiculous. No ones going to do it, and the people that do just get jipped for trying to make the game more immersive. It's like fast travel for Oblivion. You can choose not to use it.. but why?!? It's a feature that was built in and intended to be used. By ignoring it, you're not playing the way it was meant to be played.

*Hopes they decide to put the easy mode in the Menu instead*
Posted by Aaox

I've been waiting four years for this game... I WANT!

WANT!
Posted by Dan

Turning off a feature to make a game better seems ridiculous to you, breton? Welcome to videogames, a crazy land where no two people are the same and experiences can be customised and tailored for that reason. I know it's scary, but I believe that menus are 100% safe to navigate. You'll make it through this.. we'll make it through together

Posted by KingOfIceland

Superb preview, I'm mad stoked for this game now

Posted by breton

@Dan - The point is, that kind of a feature completely changes the gameplay. It's like cheat codes. Joe Schmoe might like them, but when he completes a game with them, it's just not the same. Single player games should still stress a reasonable ammount of conformity for any two persons.

Posted by BinaryDragon

The game gets serious quickly, and provides a good setup for its abrupt flash-forward to your adulthood, when you've become a strapping sword-and-crossbow-wielding hero ready to undertake your quest.

Brad are you confirming crossbows in the game????

Posted by fleethefactory

Really great interview; say what you want about Peter Molyneux, the guy is class.

Posted by Hexogen

Awesome preview. October 21st can't come soon enough.

Posted by Sandvich

@Breton - I'm really trying to understand what you're talking about here. I've read your comments a few times each just to make sure I'm not missing your underlying logic. I'm only left with the notion that there is no underlying logic to what you're saying. What you're getting at is akin to me saying: "Everyone, listen up! When you play GTA IV I demand that you set waypoints for ever mission you start...even if you know exactly where to go. You must set a waypoint every single time. You must do it because I'm going to do it and I want our experiences to be identical."


The only way your comments can make any logical sense is if you don't fully understand what the bread crumb trail is. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Posted by yevinorion

Really looking forward to it. Been playing Pub Games (bleh) and Fable: TLC to get back into that Fable frame of mind. :P

Posted by Duffy

I hope this game turns out to be great, I loved Fable 1 and I just can't wait for this one to come out.

Posted by breton

@Sandvich - From the article, it seems the breadcrumb trail essentially tells you where to go. Maybe I misunderstood. I haven't played GTA IV, so I can't really connect, but this 'problem' is purely situational. I'm willing to bet a waypoint is hardly as much a gameplay element as these breadcrumbs or oblivion's fast travel are, and ignoring it makes hardly the effect oblivion or fable would. In fact, it seems not using the waypoint is the default in GTA IV, so I'm jolly good with it.

But you are correct. I do demand that our experiences be the same. When I play online, I don't say "hey, I'm going to play legit, but you can cheat all you want. It's cool with me!" I feel the same way about single player. I've always frowned upon cheats, and I will always frown upon things like this. If they just didn't give the option, I'd be cool with it. Be it breadcrumb or not breadcrumb. But being able to play in two very different ways just upsets me. I'm clearly in the minority though, so I guess I'll lay down in defeat.

Posted by j_meyer_13

Awesome article!  Up till now, I hadn't really been personally interested in this game (I know, WTF is wrong with me?), but this article and the interview actually has me wanting to play it.  The world-changing decision stuff sounds like it can actually work really well.  Should I play the first Fable before getting into this one?

Posted by chililili

@breton we are not talking about counter strike hacks here, we are talking about having a very good and decent time saver in games, by your logic along wiht eliminating the travel command in oblivion we should eliminate the waiting command "because people who wait do not get the same experience as people who don't". Some people just can't be bothered to waste their time pointlessly and prefer a more linear game that they can enjoy for the story. Fable II seems like a game that you will sink 50+ hours AS IT IS! YES LETS MAKE IT HARDER AND LONGER THROUGH ARCANE AND OLD DESIGN!

Posted by Sandvich

@ J Meyer 13 - At this point, so close to Fable 2's release I would advise you to just wait. I think you'll enjoy Fable 2 that much more. But, I'm a notorious pleasure-delayer...and everybody has their own style.

Posted by breton

@chililili - It's an RPG. It's supposed to be a time sink. Making it linear does not help it's case. I apologize for not wanting to spend $50 for a game to hold my hand, and tell me exactly what to do, defeating the purpose of me even playing the fucking thing. And I'll be assed if Fable II even comes close to 50 hours. They promised that shit with Fable and I got a two hour crapfest that, while artistically nice, was completely unrewarding.

Posted by Sandvich

@Breton - You and I are in total agreement about cheating online. It should never, ever happen.

About the Fable 2 bread crumb trail: It's just a subtle line of sparkles that lead off in a direction that you can follow if you wish to go handle the main storyline mission that you are on at the moment. They added it so they could remove the ubiquitous minimap that so many games have come to rely on. It doesn't force you to follow it at all and you can still wander off in whichever direction you choose and go looking for side quests and whatnot.

I'm probably going to keep my bread crumb trail turned off unless I'm completely confused about where to go next just because I like to wander around and stumble upon things in a more natural way and I'm really glad that I'll have the option to do that. If you choose to leave your bread crumbs on from start to finish that doesn't bother me in the least.

Either way, I think there's a really good chance that we will both have a great time playing Lionhead's latest gem. I'm looking forward to it.

Edit: (After reading your latest post that you were writing as I wrote the above, it actually seems like you and I are in total agreement about this whole bread crumb - hand holding thing. So don't ya think it'll be nice to have the option of toggling it off?)
Posted by PLWolf

Makes me want to go play more of the original Fable. I need to finish it up anyway, as I want to see what the world looks like in the future.
FableII is going to keep me busy for the remainder of the year and I can't wait.

Posted by RHCPfan24

Cool.  Good preview that makes me want to play it even more.  And Molyneux is cool.  Love his accent!

Posted by FCKSNAP

Some really sweaty nerds are arguing pretty hard about dots in a game right now.

Posted by Media_Master
Posted by jonnyp

Breadcrumbs broke this comment section.  Who would've thought?

Posted by TheGTAvaccine

Awesome awesome awesome. Oct. 21 cant come soon enough.

Posted by rohanspear345

I love fable cant wait! who cares if u cant pick a neutral type character then you'd be a boring ass regular person. pick a side asshole!

Posted by Sandvich

@Snapstacle & @jonnyp - Oops! I should have warned you that you might actually witness two people having a civil discussion about a video game in the 'Comments' section of a video game web site. That was an oversight on my part. In the future I'll try to limit my comments to 1 line that doesn't contribute a damn thing.

Posted by galerian

Well, he is British, that is why he sounds like a gentleman I guess

Posted by Aaronmcng

what happens when your dog dies?
can you own more than 1 dog?
how about a dog clan that fights for you?
can you slap armor onto your dog?
dog-fanatic :)

Posted by RenegadeSaint

My excitement level for Fable II just increased dramatically.  Thanks, Brad!

Posted by Psynapse

Great article, i'll definitely be getting this one, got my pre order alllll ready ;)

Posted by Homes

About a month left!

Posted by Trilvester

I want to get this game, hope it comes out on PC!

Posted by Kohe321

I hope this game is as good as mr molyneux says it is. I am really looking forward to it. Great interview Brad! You pretty much asked the excact questions I'd hope you would.

Posted by bossjimbob

Way to piss me off, Brad. I was ready to ignore Fable 2 and only spend my coin on Fallout 3 next month. Now I'll have to find a way to save up for both.

Jerk!

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