Oh Peter Molyneux. You always dream better than you can create. You and your previous team at Lionhead Studios are ambitious, I’ll give you that. However, after playing Fable II, I’m convinced that the developer doesn’t actually know how to properly make a game. Most of the game is mechanically and technically either unpolished, underdeveloped, or unintuitive. However, conceptually and practice, the game manages to be enjoyable despite its best efforts not to be. The developer’s intentions can be seen in the game and that coupled with some major aspects that do genuinely work guarantee that you will have moments of satisfaction. This results in a title juxtaposed between revelry and stymie.
The game takes place in Albion and you’ll traverse small towns, bustling cities, dark forests, and eerie marshes. The world of Albion is a great allegory of Fable II’s successes and problems. On one hand, all of the areas are beautiful. The art design of the landscapes will show you beautiful sunsets, sweeping green plains and charming architecture. The various vistas are complemented by the music in the game, which swells and gives an ethereal feel to the locales, although it isn’t anything you’d buy the soundtrack for. However, although there are some variation in the areas, there really aren’t that many places to go. There are only several towns and the rest of the areas are more like linking roads to the next one. Many of the towns have a similar feel to them with only a couple looking noticeably different.
The people who populate the world are also a mixed bag. Character models have a chunky kind of animation style to them. Now this is entirely a matter of preference but I personally didn’t like this. People just look strange to me and that includes your own character. Technically, it’s just fine and all the animations are competently done but some may not like the character models. What is good is the voice acting. While none of it is amazing, they’re all well acted and give each character personality, even when character development in the story is near nonexistent.
The game takes place 500 years after the first Fable game and like the first, you are on a quest to become a hero and save the world of Albion. The story is a mediocre, predictable affair, especially for an RPG, and its sole purpose is a means to an end. Many of the characters are undeveloped and you’re left wondering why they were even needed. The only other person you come attached to is your dog, who helps you in battle and finds treasure for you. I grew slightly attached to my canine friend but it was mostly due to me being grateful for his help and not any real affection brought on by the story or circumstance.
Plot points are left unanswered, various sequences are either pointless to the overall plot or mere sensationalism, and there are McGuffins out the yang in this. The anticlimactic ending sequence is particularly guilty of not one but all of these problems. Furthermore, the story is meant to be big but it never feels as such. Not that I mind a personal centric plot but that’s not this game’s objective. I want to say that the story’s shortcomings are made up for in the gameplay but this is where the biggest problems are.
Fable II is all about choice and flexibility, whether you’ll be good or evil and how to achieve such allegiance. Much of what you do will affect your standing with the citizens of Albion. While you can just focus solely on the story, the meat of the game comes from whether or not you invest yourself in the world of Albion. There will always be jobs for you to do to earn money so you can buy new weapons or clothes or hairstyles or food. You can also buy businesses for continuous income or houses for a place to live or rent out for further income. You can get married (to either a man or a woman, no matter which gender you pick at the beginning of the game) and start a family in one of your houses.
There is a lot to do in Albion and that will keep you busy for a long time. Shopping is fun and some of the side quests are better than the main quest. However, diversity is an issue. All of the jobs are only time button presses mini-games and are excruciatingly tedious. Some of the side quests usually result in you doing the same three to four mission types over and over again, such as kill or retrieve someone, and while it manages to vary things enough to keep the feeling of repetitiveness at bay, it never vary things enough to feel fresh. I didn’t find the gambling mini-games very entertaining either.
The morality aspects of the game are rather artificial as well. You can be good your whole playthrough but still have some citizens bad mouth you because of one or two things you did bad. And yet, it ends adding up to nothing. That citizen bad mouthing you ends up being the extent of what your choice has done. Some choices do matter, such as one early in the game that determines the state of an entire city later, but such opportunities are few and far between. The gray aspects of morality are not represented in Fable II and it’s better for you to strive to be either a saint or a monster, with straying several times not mattering much.
Combat is where you’ll have the most fun. You have a melee weapon, ranged weapon and magic in your arsenal, which makes this game unique in that you don’t focus on one throughout the game. All can be upgraded with experience orbs that you earn based on which you use in battle and combat is at its best when you combine all these elements. This is done simply and fluidly as each is mapped to a different button. Although Fable II isn’t a hard game, you will need to use your entire arsenal to get by. It’s incredibly satisfying to force push one enemy away, beat down another enemy and headshot the first guy before he comes back.
Still, combat isn’t perfect. Blocking and zoom in while aiming is done by holding the melee and ranged weapon buttons respectively and it doesn’t work well at all. Trying to shoot specific limbs is especially overly complicated. Locking on to an enemy can be finicky and you’ll soon find that magic is more powerful than the other two options. This is partially due to magic being easier to upgrade as oppose to your melee or ranged skills, though switching which spell you use is troublesome.. Also, why do I have to suck in my experience? Why is the only big enemy I face a troll? Combat in this game is still the highlight of the game and this is in part to it being the least affect by Fable II’s biggest issue.
The biggest problem however is the extremely lack of stability in this game. Fable II just doesn’t run well. The game doesn’t seem like anything the Xbox 360 can’t handle but sometimes, stuff just doesn’t work. The frame rate will drop, load times can be really long (installed or uninstalled), the game stutters when opening up menus, button presses sometimes just don’t register, there are glitches all over the place, your glowing trail that points you to your active quest sometimes points you in the wrong direction and needs a moment to refresh; the list goes on and on. Even the sound mixing is off and you’ll have villagers talking over each other and some voices being too loud. You’ll have to get used to the idea that when you do something, it might not work. The technical issues mar every aspect of the game and even the great aspects of the game are brought down because of this.
Fable II is a poorly made but occasionally fun game. You will be compelled to buy that new weapon or build a big income through real estate purchases. You’ll welcome bandit encounters for the possibility to wield your Katana while electrocuting your foe and finishing them off with a rifle shot to the face. However, you’ll be required to muddle through some tedious gaming, and technical issues in the process. What this all results in is a frustrating game that even when it is fun, never gives you the payoff you wanted. I bought this game for $5 and for that price, I can recommend Fable II. However, if your currency is time, there are better games to spend your time on than this decidedly average action RPG.
Final Verdict: 3 out of 5.