By DrRandle 5 Comments
Albion You All Night Long
I'll be honest, I never got around to playing the first Fable so I was very quick to find a disconnect when playing Fable II. There was a lot of talk about old guilds and lands that I had no real idea of, and I mention that only because I'm saying that I have no prior Fable experience to base this on. That in mind... Wow. I wasn't sure what to expect, and was less sure when a bird craps on my character in the opening cinematic. What I ended up with far exceeded my expectations, or was at least good at making sure I didn't know what said expectations even were and then delivered me a fine product anyway. Player choice, if I had to say anything, is what this game does right.
Fable II takes place a good long while since the events of the previous Fable. The old Albion was mowed down by a man's wish inside a large, powerful spire and had to start from scratch. Built on the ruins of the old is the new and improved Albion (which I guess means it has better graphics now.) The world of Fable II is quite gorgeous, with enough spectacular bloom lighting effects to really give it that fairytale flavor. If only it's technical side could quite live up to the vision: this game suffers from some frantic frame-rate. Not so bad that it's unplayable, just bad enough for you to wish it was at least locked down to a solid 30 frames per second.
We find your character (male or female) and his or her sister enjoying their little street-urchiny lives when a mysterious blind woman named Theresa recommends that they purchase a music box from the local unsavory salesman. After a few menial tasks to get used to the basic controls, as well as used to the, shall we say, colorful people of Bowerstone, you finally obtain the money to afford the music box. After a nice little song and dance, however, it disappears and the day is considered a tragic waste. That night however, it seems the box granted your wishes, as you have been summoned to visit Lord Lucian at Castle Fairfax. However, a pleasent visit with the tragedy-wrought lord goes south when he reveals that one if not both of you are of Hero lineage, and must therefore be destroyed. He shoots your sister and then attempts to shoot you, your tiny body hurtling to the ground outside the castle. That's just where the story begins. What lies ahead is a hearty journey to find the rest of the Hero's lineage and take down Lucian before he can reset Albion once more.
Yes, the overall story might sound a bit boiler-plate: Some jerk wants to level the world because he's all angsty, and so you're hero has to rise up and stop him. But what's great is how well fleshed out all of the main characters are. Each segment of the main-quest is thoroughly compelling. It might be somewhat of a disconnect, but this game seems to leap between comical and downright despondent very quickly. Surprisingly, Fable II pulls it off well. In the end, there's no denying that this is, to quote the Team Fortress 2 Demoman, "A bloody grim fairytale." Even all of the side stories tend to reflect that nature, for instance, the mission where you have to help a ghost get revenge on his wife for betraying him and driving him to kill himself. Your mission is to go and make her fall in love with you and then you can either break her heart by revealing your charade, or actually marry her and live happily. Me? I chose to marry her, and then sacrifice her at the Temple of Shadows' Wheel of Misfortune for bonus membership points. And that's why I love this game.
Gameplay is simple, and solid. Each of your primary three attacks are handled as follows: X is your melee, Y is your ranged weapon, and B is your magic. A is the "do" button, as per standard door-opening/mission-accepting protocol. What's great is how combat works: however you want it to. If you want your character to be a straight brute, all you do is fight with Melee and you'll get Melee experience. To become better with magic, fight with magic spells to gain magic experience, and so on. You can slant your character however you feel is best to your playstyle, and each one works and feels great. While it's wise to have at least a few ranks of everything, it's totally up for you to decide. Also, the decisions you make affect how your character look. Picking more strength will cause your character to become more beefy, and if you start to delve deep into magic, you'll get glowing blue will lines along your body.
Similarly, the game has a method of measuring the stats of Good vs. Evil and Pure vs. Corrupt. Where you stand on these two bars will alter your appearance. A pure good character will have a nifty little halo, while a good but corrupt character might have an aura of flies. Each action you take will have a clear influence on these stats. For example, if you got bored and killed a few townsfolk, a little horned icon appears over you with a numerical value representing how evil the thing you just did was. Similarly, if you decide to eat meat, you'll get a little corruption icon. Another influence on your characters appearance is what you eat: if you spend the whole game eating pies, prepare to have a tubby hero. All of this considered, the townsfolk of the game will react to these stats appropriately, and each will have an individual opinion of you that you can directly influence by changing your clothes, emoting, or drastically altering your apperance. It's alot to consider, but once you decide what kind of character to build, it's very gratifying to see the actions instantly gratified.
To join your character in their journies is a faithful furry friend, whom you may name. The dog's main purpose is to help guide you to treasure chests and burried loot, though he does pull his own in combat. It's not very revolutionairy to the game play, but there's a rule in characterization: if you ever want to make a character more likable, give them a dog. Eventually you'll likely find yourself attached to the four-legged metal detector, whose apperance changes with you. Pets really do tend to look like their owners, after a while.
The game is very open-ended, if I haven't gotten that point accross yet. You can end up spending your hard earned rewards buying up the town and adjusting rent, eventually owning entire cities. Or you can just buy one house and settle down with a wife, or husband, be you gay or straight. And you can do this in every town, if you so please. (It's not a good idea to let spouses see each other.) If you want, you can even end up having a kid who will grow up during your travels. It's all quite inspiring, and really helps draw you into the world of Albion.
The audio of the game is satisfying. An interesting blend of orchestral and the occasional electronic riff help solidify the fairytale nature of the game. If nothing else does it, the music box melody every time you dig through your inventory will remind you "oh yeah, this is a fantassy game." Hints of Danny Elfman's original work can are strung through out, but the new composer does a fine job even against my personal bias of him not being Danny Elfman.
For as wonderfully unique as many of the characters in this game are, the townsfolk tend to blend together after a while. I don't think it's for a lack of character models, there certainly are plenty. It's mostly for a lack of extra voice actors. This gets especially troubling when your surrounded by the Temple of Light people, who are all identical. Fortunately the writing is good, so it's relatively forgivable. The game has a tendency to be self-aware at times, and one character references this point by mentioning that in his studies he has found that many Albion townsfolk sound identicle. I don't know if that upsets me that they were aware of the problem and didn't fix it, or if it was a purposeful decision to help keep costs down and they just thought they'd make fun of a common video game idiosynchracy. So I'll let you make your own decisions on that.
Along with it's trudging framerate, the game suffers it's fair share of glitches, as is common with any kind of open-ended psuedo-sandbox game. On rare occasion you might find yourself stuck in place, or find the physics engine hiccup and cause fallen enemies to jitter around like they're being electrocuted. I personally had a spouse glitch, where he refused to acknowledge my existance no matter what I did. Meanwhile he kept petting my dog. I don't know if it was out of jealousy or just because I wanted a husband who worked, but I straight up murdered him. My character was going through a real dark period, then.