Welcome to Albion, the fantasy realm where heroes do battle with deadly blades and fearsome magics, and the best protection comes not from a shield but rather a steadfast condom. It's a land set adrift in a sea of nonsense and you've got your hand on the rudder. This is the world of Fable II, and the choices you make here will provide hours of entertainment, granted you can get past some minor technical issues.
It's these choices that are really at the heart of Fable II. At the game's most fundamental level you'll be constantly choosing between good and evil, but rarely will it feel as sterile as that. The choices are usually couched in some sort of ambiguity, with the consequences remaining a mystery for years. That's right, years! The game will span more than a few by the time you're finished, but even though there are day and night cycles, the big jumping points are clearly marked, so don't worry about taking your time. Also, be prepared to commit for the long haul if you want to be a saint. While running into a town and starting a massacre will turn you evil in mere minutes, it may take you the majority of the game to tread the road to righteousness. It seems like being good requires a pretty strict commitment, both in playing style and in actual sacrifices.
The best part about all this heavy decision-making is that the game rarely takes itself very seriously. While the choices certainly have weight to them, the world's inhabitants are so ridiculous that it's hard to not derive some pleasure no matter how things break. Yes, towns will prosper and despair by your hand, but everybody seems to be having a good time of it, regardless. If you're playing as a nice guy you'll be swarmed by loving fans seeking autographs or marriage proposals, or generally wanting to bask in your light. If you're a big meanie, you'll feel the scorn of the townsfolk. A couple of jerks even took it upon themselves to kick my dog. They are dead now.
Your dog is actually one of the few constants you'll have throughout Fable II. He'll run around with you throughout your adventures, alerting you to treasure and biting your foes once they've hit the ground. You can name him, teach him tricks and he'll even change in appearance, much as you do, as your alignment alters. That being said, I didn't find myself bursting into tears every time he nicked his paw but realized that we had a good working relationship. I feed him treats to heal him and he tells me where to find treasure. Though we did find common ground when it came to laughing and urinating on things.
Aside from the sweeping, moral choices you'll be making throughout the game, there are many more subtle interactions that will probably take up just as much time. There's an economy to the land of Albion and you can participate by buying up homes and businesses. You'll receive income from any business you invest in as well as any home you rent out. You can also make some cash doing a few odd jobs, but since you'll constantly be getting new influxes of real-estate cash every five minutes of playtime, you can leave the manual labor to the chumps. In fact, you'll even collect rent and other income while the game is turned off, based on how much time has passed. Needless to say, money (and ways to cheat the system) are not hard to come by.
If running a business and saving the world weren't enough, there's also an entire social aspect to the world. While people will eagerly blab your ear off with all sorts of chattering, apparently your hero opts to respond only in pantomime. You'll dance, flip-off, fart, growl, and pose your way in or out of the hearts of hundreds of different townspeople, each with their own likes and dislikes. You can also buy them gifts, but with the population thinking the sun rises and sets by your thumbs-up, it's hardly worth the investment. I guess if you've been slaughtering a town and would like to turn over a new leaf, a couple of chocolates couldn't hurt, but you'd be surprised how quickly a jig can turn that frown upside down.
Once you've charmed the pants off someone, you'll be able to settle down and start a family. There are plenty of choices for a mate here, as illustrated by their descriptors: Romantic, Cheerful, Serious, Lesbian. Once you've found love you can opt to have protected (if you're packing some rubber) or unprotected sex. While the worst thing protected sex can lead to is an awkward morning after, unprotected sex can leave you with a check in the STD column and a baby crib next to your bed. For the most part you'll just visit the crib, but later in the game you may find yourself with an actual walking, talking little townie. Talk about pressure! The marriage system is actually kind of harsh and I had more than a few wives walk out on me for no apparent reason. Once a wife divorces you and leaves the area she is considered dead, and the child is taken away from you. I guess I should be fair and say two wives actually did die. One by banshee attack and one by axe-to-the-back-of-the-head-don't-you-leave-me attack.
Flippant wives are actually the least of the technical woes plaguing Fable II. The menus and interface are poorly suited for all of the things you'll be juggling at any given time. While instant travel between quest areas and towns is easily accomplished by clicking on that area's name, finding shops, family members and even your own house can be a chore. The map system is woefully underdeveloped and you'll only be able to get waypoints to quest objectives. Managing and using items from your inventory can be just as cumbersome. There is no indication as to whether or not you own a particular item while you are shopping as well as no way to tell if what you're about to buy is worse than what you have. On top of that, your inventory itself is no joy to sift through and seems to get bogged down once you've collected a fair amount of items. While all of this definitely detracts from Fable II, there's enough going on to keep you entertained in the world instead of constantly being burdened by menus.
You'll be engaging in a fair share of combat during the game and even with its simplified controls it all feels rewarding. Hits seem to hit big, and you'll send foes into the air, into walls, and plummeting off of walkways. You'll have your choice of melee, ranged, or magical attacks, but the most fun comes from seamlessly switching between all three. Putting a few bullets in advancing opponents and then quickly whipping out your axe to finish them off is really satisfying. The action is relatively fast and you'll be treated to some slow-motion cutaways for the bigger hits, which are always more entertaining than annoying. With the ability to drop experience into each area of attack, you'll find that there are enough changes over time to keep things interesting.
The biggest thing Fable II has going for it is probably its M rating. While the jokes, choices and dialogue are all smart and rather sharp at times, they are made even more entertaining given the backdrop of this childlike fantasy world. You'll come across stone gargoyle heads that you can destroy to collect treasure, but these particular heads will curse you out and mock you, which makes shooting them oh-so-satisfying. Marrying Kristen is cute; marrying Kristen the Whore, who is a bisexual prostitute and was later killed by an accidentally summoned banshee, is truly memorable. While the main plot in Fable II has some great characters, it's probably not going to stick in your mind for too long. Now, eating five baby chicks to join a dark cult...that has staying power.
The game also has co-op, both online and local. While it might sound fun on paper to have a friend join you on your adventures, it really seems to do the game, and the overall experience, a disservice. Your friend will only be able to join you as a premade character--dubbed a henchman--and you will both share the same view and camera controls. This leads to frustrating camera angels, and requires both players to stay in pretty close proximity. In addition to the limitations on movement, the second player will also be unable to interact with much of the world, reducing them to an extra hand during combat. The time I spent with the co-op seemed to strip away a lot of the charm and joy that I found playing in single-player, and appears to be more a novelty than anything of substance.
Fable II comes packed to the gills with content to keep you busy. While there are definitely some issues with the user interface and the occasional NPC freak-out, they are easy to stagger past whilst getting drunk on the fanciful world of Albion. After you've beaten the main quest, you can go back and finish up side missions, find collectibles, or better yet, start a new character and make totally different choices. With its peculiar blend of charm and dark humor, Fable II is an adventure that will leave you with your own unique tales to tell.