Fable II

BY Ed Kirchgessner  //  November 5, 2008

Places to go, people to see.

T

he original Fable was truly a thing to behold: while some may have criticized the game's relatively short main quest and low level cap, it featured a control scheme which might be regarded as the most tightly tuned the action/RPG genre had ever seen. Of course, a lot's changed in four years. Today, few could justify purchasing a fantasy adventure title that didn't include a cooperative multiplayer mode, an expansive sandbox-like playfield and only the deepest levels of character customization. Fable II manages to give players most of what they crave — while not perfect, Lionhead Studio's latest is the most robust fantasy experience Xbox 360 gamers have been presented with since Oblivion.

SINGLE PLAYER

Still, Oblivion this is not. Fable II, like its predecessor, is a relatively linear title. Don't mistake me: there are plenty of secrets to discover throughout the game's vast overworld. However, where Bethesda's masterwork seemed boundless (to a fault at times), Lionhead's creations give steady reminders that there is some work to be done between bouts of flower picking and spelunking.



Combat is always a treat.
Fable II allows players to choose between three base classes: brutish warrior, skillful rogue and magic user. What separates this from other role-playing systems is that your in-game actions determine your character's proficiency within these three disciplines, not an arbitrary menu selection at the start of the game. As such, one's avatar reflects their play style rather than a chosen class. NPCs will also evolve as a direct response to player's actions — the child saved today is the ally who will turn the tide of battle two decades down the road. Fable's fluid solution to character development, as simple as it is, seems as revolutionary today as it did four years ago.



Immense cityscapes await.
Examining the game's interface, Lionhead has done a superb job balancing accessibility and power. True, magic can't be wielded with nearly the ease a dedicated spell caster might like, but no one can fault the smooth crossover from ranged to melee combat. Generally, one face button is assigned to each combat discipline: melee, ranged and magic. The d-pad grants quick access to the game's "expression" system. Expressions are the primary way in which players interact with NPCs. Do you appreciate a character's actions? Flash them an approving thumbs up. Is an NPC acting like a jerk? Perhaps a fart should be thrown in their direction. Considering every character's opinion can be swayed for or against you, you'll quickly find yourself experimenting in an attempt to gain certain advantages.

All this boils down to a game about choice. Whether good or bad, magician or thief, these are your decisions to make. Fable II's towns are ripe with possibility. Will you father a family with Brunhilda the barkeep? Will you become a land baron, buying out every home and business as far as the eye can see? Couple diversions like these with a rather compelling quest for revenge and/or justice, and you've got one meaty single player experience on your hands.

MULTIPLAYER

Cooperative multiplayer always seems like a good idea, but it has to be done right if it's to have any chance at succeeding. In the weeks leading up to Fable II's release, it was uncertain whether cooperative play would make deadline. While a last minute patch has allowed gamers to play with a friend since day one, it's pretty obvious that the feature would have benefited from a bit more time in the oven.

Inviting friends to join your game is easy enough — hosts set rules for treasure and experience distribution, and your off. Ah, not so fast. Guests seem to get the bum deal in this arrangement. While they'll receive experience and gold for helping you out in your exploits, they're forced to play as a generic henchman to your pimped out hero/villain.

Making matters worse is a camera system that's downright cumbersome. As soon as a second person joins a game, the camera becomes locked relative to the host's position. Not only are you and your buddy now joined at the hip, but the guest must view everything relative to the host's facing. Especially in confined spaces, one player is destined to have the crud kicked out of them by offscreen enemies and get perpetually hung up on unforeseen obstacles. Sure, playing with a buddy can still be fun, but that enjoyment is tempered by bouts of frustration. I wouldn't be surprised if a future patch addresses some of multiplayer's problems, but until then: beware.

(Very) Limited Collector's Edition

Over the past five years, gamers have been presented with an ever increasing number of "collectible" game editions. By paying a premium (usually $10 or so), one would be treated to an extra morsel of in-game content or a DVD of bonus features. That's all fine and good, but one actually expects to receive something extra for that $10. Herein lies the problem with Fable II's Limited Collector's Edition.



Can you find at least three
things wrong with this picture?
Take away a premium box, a set of five art cards and collectible figurine, and you're left with something which bears a pretty solid resemblance to the standard edition of Fable II. Yes, the publisher still included a "making of" DVD and some limited content while lowering the game's price by $10. Still, that DVD mostly consisted of marketing materials featuring the axed bonus items. Making matters worse, a sizable portion of games shipped without the code needed to access the exclusive content. That's right, folks — your extra $10 just bought you little more than a disc of advertisements for imaginary products. In their defense, Microsoft has promised to e-mail content codes to affected consumers, but I'd recommend acting fast — this is one debacle they seem anxious to put behind them.

Overall, Fable II is an outstanding fantasy adventure that begs to be explored. While it's a shame that the experience had to be marred by the technical and production difficulties outlined above, don't let that stop you from picking it up. As a single player experience, Lionhead's latest creation is practically without peer — no other game out there presents players with such a sense of choice (or conscience). Fable II is player-driven gaming done right.

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