What's Good About It?The first thing I noticed about Fable II was the game's striking visual design. The entire game is filled with bright colours and busy environments, the graphics are highly stylised, and the entire realm of Albion feels cohesive thanks to the consistency of the art direction. I think my girlfriend hit the nail on the head when she off-handedly commented that the game looked like a hand-drawn Disney movie. Accompanying these visuals is some great audio work, and in particular the spectacular voice acting. Ron Glass' Garth and Stephen Fry's Reaver are two exceptionally well-acted characters, and the general populace of Albion is well-voiced on the whole, too. Another aspect of Fable II which adds to its charm is its wicked sense of humour, decidedly British and laughably dark in most cases. Pretty much every item I picked up on my journey was accompanied by some chuckle-inducing description, and most of the game world's inhabitants are armed with an arsenal of witty one-liners. Even the loading screens had me giggling from time to time.
In terms of gameplay, Fable II offers a very streamlined version of the traditional RPG formula. There are quests, both compulsory and optional, there are collectibles to be found, secret weapons hidden away, social interactions aplenty, and a lot of nasties to fight. Every aspect of Fable II's gameplay is refined to the point where it feels accessible to a newcomer to the genre, while offering just enough depth to keep a seasoned player interested. The combat, for instance, revolves around three buttons - X for melee attacks, Y for ranged shots, and B for Will spells. This system is incredibly easy to pick up, and it's not too difficult to start putting some simple combinations together, but learning to string these together with the effortless finesse of a Hero does take some time. A final thing I'd like to praise it for is its implementation of the "good or evil" morality system. Arguably the selling point around which the entire franchise is based, Fable II's moral decisions strike a nice balance between superficial instances of being nice or nasty to NPCs, and weighty decisions that actually go a long way towards influencing the game world. As a simple example, deciding whether to be good or evil and taking on the relevant quests will ultimately determine which of the game's two morally-opposed temples thrives and which crumbles. It's always nice to see decisions like these have a tangible effect on the world itself, so I commend Fable II for pulling that off so well.
What's Not So Good About It?My biggest complaint about Fable II is that, considering it's an RPG, it lacks a lot of the depth that I've come to expect from the genre. I expect that this is due to the game trying to strike that balance between welcoming new players and appeasing the veterans, but a side effect is that the game comes off as rather shallow. The social interactions serve their purpose, but they're kinda impersonal and hollow - a Fart isn't exactly weighty or meaningful in the same way that some of the game's moral decisions can be. The game also suffered due to its highly repetitive nature. I turned the game off a couple of times during my playthrough simply because I was growing tired of walking the same roads and fighting the same bandits in the same location for the twentieth time. It emphasises the game's distinct lack of locations and ruins the illusion of the scope of the game world, as well - I think Albion has around fifteen distinct regions, all of which I ended up travelling to and through several times. Thankfully, 'Bower Lake Syndrome', as I've come to call it, isn't game-breaking, but it really does put a dampener on exploring the world, and makes fast travel seem like the more appealing option. In a game as beautiful as Fable II, that simply shouldn't be the case, but it is.
I think the only aspect of Fable II that wasn't streamlined was its menus. I feel like I should stress that so far this year, I've spent fifty-five hours with Final Fantasy XIII, forty-nine hours with Borderlands, thirty-seven hours with Mass Effect and thirty-nine hours with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. I honestly think I spent more of my twenty-five hours with Fable II cycling through item menus than I did with any of those other titles. Fable II's menu system is not only clunky, it's intrusive and laborious. After a while I stopped experimenting with new dyes purely because I'd have to press about five different buttons simply to switch to a new colour. Similarly, I found myself reluctant to buy experience potions, because using one would kick me out of the menu and I knew I'd have to slog through the whole process once again to use another. If there's one thing that needs to be addressed in the upcoming Fable III, it's this. A final complaint, albeit an incredibly petty and minor one, is that Fable II's Stats menu tells you the amount of time you've been playing the game in seconds. I don't know about you, but I like to be able to relate to other people how many hours I've spent with a game. If I have to actually whip out a calculator and divide a number by 3600 in order to do that, just like I had to do to reach the aforementioned twenty-five hours figure, then don't consider me amused.
I really enjoyed my time with Fable II on the whole. It's a nice, light RPG experience that I didn't have to take too seriously, but that I was inevitably sucked into as I tried to expand my real estate empire and keep my wife happy. Given that I bought the Game of the Year edition, I still have the Knothole Island and See The Future DLC packs to play through, but I think I'm going to be leaving those unplayed for the time being. I'm heading back to my girlfriend's place on Wednesday, to spend a week with her family in order to celebrate her birthday. As a consequence, I won't have access to the 360, so I think I'll end up diving back into Fable II to polish off that DLC when I return at the end of September. Should provide me with something interesting to do before my third year of University starts, if nothing else. In the meantime, with an absence of consoles, I suspect that my PSP will be seeing a lot of action over the next couple of weeks. As well as having Final Fantasy VII to endure, I also have Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to play through. Those two should be more than enough to keep me occupied while I'm away. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP)