Fable II – Staff Review #2

Read the back of the Fable II box and it’ll promise you adventure and the chance to “experience how [your] choices change you and the world forever.” While the game does provide players with a decent adventure, it fails utterly to show the effect of any choices you make in the world. Fable II offers a big, beautiful world to romp around in. Unfortunately, it’s coupled with weak story-telling, and choices that have only the most superficial effects on the world. It’s a fun game, but it suffers when compared to others offerings in the genre.

Oh man... Where's my copy of 'How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse' when I need it?
Oh man… Where’s my copy of ‘How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse’ when I need it?

You start out by deciding whether you want to play as a male or female her, though it’s mainly a cosmetic difference. After that you begin your adventure as a child living on the streets with your elder sister. That life comes to an abrupt end when your sister is murdered before your eyes. Flash forward ten years and you are an adult adventurer ready to save the world and take revenge on the madman who killed your sister. The story doesn’t get a whole lot more complex than that. You have to gather some companions and do a lot of fetch quests. There’s a surprise or two, but the story isn’t anything new to an experienced RPG player. It’s of such a basic mould that it seems to be pulled right out of a NES era game, the sort with the silent protagonist. You get to make moral choices throughout the game, but these have little effect on the story itself. Mostly your choices are reflected in your character’s appearance. After playing as a goody-goody for most of the game with high purity and goodness scores, I was awarded with a blond character sporting a halo. This is a far cry from games like Mass Effect, where moral choices often times have profound effects on cast members and the galaxy at large.

I lost a bet, okay? Don't ask.
I lost a bet, okay? Don’t ask.

The lackluster story is made even more so by the designers’ decision to not bother with CGI cut scenes. When a plot-related scene occurs it takes the form of the characters standing around, gesturing now and then, and talking. Basically you don’t need to look at the screen, just listen. It gets pretty dull. That said, voice acting is well done and the main cast’s dialogue is well written and generally amusing. The game’s ambient music is always pleasant and makes for an appropriate mood for each locale. The graphics, too, are very good. The land of Albion is lush and beautiful. There are some gorgeous vistas, with day and night effects being especially noteworthy. The animation for your canine companion is also delightful, especially as he acquires a range of tricks and actions. It’s hard not to feel bad for the poor fellow when he gets injured in battle and limps over to you for healing. All in all, it’s a lovely world to tramp through and the game encourages players to explore. Side quests abound in Fable II. so it’s a good thing they give you something pretty to look at while you spend hours wandering around. You can take on quests, jobs, search for treasure in the wilds, or even purchase real esate which will give you a steady income of rent even when you’re not playing the game.

Much like the plot, Fable II‘s combat system will be familiar to experienced RPG players. You get a melee weapon, a distance weapon, and a type of attack magic. Slain enemies will drop different coloured gems that can then be redeemed to gain new abilities. These abilities allow you make combos, or have special moves in combat such as rolls or blocks, but the fighting is little more than standard hack and slash gameplay. Interactions with NPCs are another central element of the game. You can influence how people react to you by using different expressions or taking different actions that range from dancing to belching. These actions can also add to your renown or affect whether you are good or evil and whether you are pure or corrupt. These choices will in turn affect your character’s appearance and NPCs’ reactions to you.

I knew I should've upgraded to that rocket launcher when I had the chance
I knew I should’ve upgraded to that rocket launcher when I had the chance

You can do pretty well anything you want with NPCs, shag them, marry them, sire or bear their children, or even murder them if you’re so inclined. The latter may cause local authorities to get on your case, but don’t worry, if you get tired of murdering the guards you can pay a fine and all the slaughter will be forgotten. This is a perfect example of how the game fails to make choices have any weight. While moral or immoral choices may affect the character’s appearance, they have no effect on the game’s plot and little effect on the game world. The net result is that choices seem empty. They have no real weight. Fable II prides itself on the player’s ability to do anything, but one is left wondering why one should do anything at all when one’s actions basically don’t matter. Instead of being given the chance to court a few characters with well defined personalities, you can court nearly any generic character. Instead of being able to save or doom one character whose presence or absence will affect the course of the story, you can save or kill anyone, with no effect on the story. In allowing players to have so many choices, Lionhead Studios seemed to have missed the point that for a choice to be meaningful it must have consequences.

Playtime depends greatly on how many sidequests players undertake, but the main story can easily be finished in fifteen or so hours. Fable II is quirky, humorous, and has some unique features, though how much one appreciates it will depend greatly on one’s expectations. The game is a lighter take on the RPG genre than most games out there so it may feel lacking to those looking for something of epic scope.

This game was played to completion and reviewed using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.

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