Does The Sequel Make Good On All The Promises?
The first Fable, released on the original Xbox, was an action-RPG with life-simulator influences. The player took control of a young boy who, through the player's interactions with the world, could be morphed in to whatever the player wished. Well, in concept anyway. The life-simulator elements were shallow and the action-RPG elements didn't fare much better. The game had charm but lacked quality. The most notable aspect about the original Fable was the game's director Peter Molyneux's 'fables'. Molyneux is notorious for talking up his games. He is incredibly passionate which is great. Unfortunately, that passion leads to insurmountable expectations for his games. Fable 2 was supposed to be the game that met all of the expectations created by Peter Molyneux's constant 'pie in the sky' talk when the first Fable came out. Unfortunately, Fable 2 fails to do this. In fact it feels awfully similar to the first Fable with a better overall presentation. This isn't inherently a bad thing. However, the gameplay can do little more thing provide average results. It is unfortunate as Fable 2's world is incredible to experience. If only the gameplay was of the same caliber.
Fable 2 centers around a man or woman who starts the game as a child growing up in poverty with his/her sister. The sister is killed in the game's prologue. Afterword, the protagonist is taken under the care of a mysterious woman who, when the protagonist is older, asks that character to track down the sister's killer. To help in the quest, the protagonist seeks out three other 'heroes' all across the game's world with the help of the player's dog. The story is suitable but forgettable. Like many games, it serves its purpose; it moves the game along and provides the player with meaning for the main quest.
The atmosphere of this game is definitely unique; there really is no other game series that pulls off an old English feeling (albeit over the top) like Fable. The game is fairly open to the player but there is a caveat. The player is given sections of land that they can freely traverse however they please. But these sections aren't very big and each section is broken up by extensive loading screens. The graphics are artistically beautiful and technically lacking. You'll see fantastic lighting, great geometry, and rolling grass as far as the eye can see. However, technically, the game feels like a last generation game. There's clipping issues everywhere and there is little being done to make the game look like a current generation game except the size of the world. The sound is very well done. The music suits the environments nicely but most of the songs are forgettable. The voice acting is very good and really fits the game's atmosphere.
The gameplay is like a cross between Zelda and The Sims. The player is a living, breathing part of a living, breathing world. The player can have a wife, or many wives, or a homosexual relationship. The player can have a threesome, foursome, or an all out orgy if the player so wishes. The sex can be protected or unprotected (with the chance of getting STD's) and one can even have children. In fact this is the most fully developed sexual gameplay mechanic I've seen in a game. One can buy a house, a business, rent out a house, steal whatever the player wishes, kill whoever they wish, save whoever they wish, and so on. The idea is that whatever you can do in real life you can do in Fable. The concept of the world as a whole is that every thing the player does effects the world. For example fund a renovation project and see a town transform from a social dump to a respectable society. However, there is a catch to all of this; the game is shallow. Yes one can have town-wide orgies but, to do it, one must only know the appropriate gestures and have a lot of patience. Player interactions with NPC's come down to timed events. The player is given numerous gestures, some meant to be funny others terrifying, all of which one controls. Once one selects a gesture a bar, with a rapidly decreasing meter, controls how successful the gesture will be. If one stops a fast moving marker on the meter when the meter is at its smallest the gesture has its highest affect on the NPC. Interaction comes down to picking the correct gestures for the right person and getting the most out of said gestures. Yes you can steal from anyone but the reward for doing so barely warrants the effort as getting money involves simple timed events, similar to those of the gestures, that are tied to 'jobs' which are everywhere. Yes the player can do a lot of things in this world but with such monotonous interactions in a pretty boring simulation game the incentive for doing this things is practically non-existent.
The exploration is as streamlined as a game can get if the player wants it to be. Every location that leads to the next big development in the story is shown to the player by way of a floating gold line that acts as the Fable version of a 'yellow brick road'; follow it and you'll beat the game with very few interruptions. But the developers want you to explore the rest of the game world. In fact, at one point, the gamer will have to do at least one side quest to have a large enough renown, which is a constantly changing stat, that shows how well known the player is in the world and is affected by completing quests, to continue the main quest. The exploration is similar to that of Zelda. Around the world one will find quests or dig spots, found by the player's dog, and demon doors, who provide treasure in return for various acts. But the pull toward exploration isn't very strong and only obsessive players will really want to explore the entirety of the game's world.
The fighting is fluid and fun. One will really feel powerful fighting in this game. The system is simple; one button controls magic, one controls close combat, and one controls long distance combat. These controls are as such so that every player can pick up and play it but allows for in-depth development by those willing to dive deeper. The problem with fighting is there is no suspense for one can not die. When one's health reaches zero one loses experience and respawns exactly where they died as if nothing happened. This takes the fun and intensity out of the combat because there is no worry about health. I'm all for making a game more accessible but this seems a bit much.
What you get with Fable 2 is a big world, a fairly long main quest, lots of variety, a great fighting system, a beautiful world, and plenty of simple fun. But what the game lacks is a motivation for the player to really delve into this world. It's clear the developers put a lot into this game but they forgot to give the player a reason to experience it. The dog was the biggest surprise and the best addition of the game. He is the most fleshed out character in the game and the only thing the player really feels attached to. Everything else is flat and boring. A game that tries to be everything is very ambitious but if there is no reason for the player to play all of it the size of the ambition is irrelevant.