Developer: Lionhead Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Game Rating: M (Mature)
The name Peter Molyneux is arguably one of the most recognizable names in the gaming world, mostly recognized for his attempts at revolutionizing game play whenever he's at the helm. His vision for games has been grand in scope with goals many would have argued weren't possible for the hardware at the time.
Fable was one such game. Grand in its planning but ultimately it ended up being scale back until it wasn't quite the original vision it was intended to be. After 4 years of development, Fable II intends to deliver where the original did not. Does it succeed at being a groundbreaking RPG? The answer is complicated...
The meat of any Molyneux game is usually in its lofty attempts to take a game play element and revolutionise its implementation. Fable II however is more rounded than other Molyneux games. It doesn't try to push any game play element too far and as such the game feels more balanced than any other of Molyneux's games. Dare I say more conservative in its approach which actually works well in its favour?
There's a lot to Fable II that'll be familiar to fans of the original as well as other RPGers. You start out the beginning of the game determining your basic alignment. As a child on the streets, you'll encounter quests that can be performed in essentially a good or evil way. While this determines your character's personality, the more interesting part of it is that you also from an early start determine the future of your town and neighbourhood and what it develops into in the future. Your actions have a profound result and are permanent for the duration of the game.
Relationships are a large facet of the game. Your relationships affect everything from your ability to buy goods, sells goods, have productive employees, walk around town, purchase real estate and even getting engaged and eventually getting married and having children.
These relationships take a lot of time and effort and add what is a significant amount of time to game play. The developers want you to really care about your interactions and relationships and provide dozens of actions for you to use to impress, amuse, disgust and scare people. All of these are developed over time and require a certain amount of well timed actions to pull off. Mess up a blood curdling roar and you end up choking and cough with people laughing at you instead of cowering in fear. Mess up a fart to disgust a few prudes and well, you can guess to consequences to your undergarments.
The world itself isn't overly large. We're not talking oblivion size here but it is big enough to not feel small and limiting. What is limited is the ability to roam freely. You're kept on the path for the most part and there are numerous load screens when passing from one area to the next. These are made bearable by the amusing anecdotes and the tips given while loading.
Fable is pretty light on the RPG elements and allows you to carry one melee and one ranged weapon. Experience is broken down into your general, skill, will and points which can be applied to upgrade your abilities. Upgrades improve your skills with your weapons, improve your health and strength and allow the use of spells. Each is purchasable using XP accrued through fighting NPCs and can only be purchased with a combination of general XP and the XP relevant to the upgrade. Upgrades generally allow for more powerful attributes but the skills upgrades give you new abilities like blocking, counters and attacking multiple targets ala Assassin's Creed. Ranged skills allow zooming in and eventually shooting off individual body parts, which never gets old.
The number of quests in the game are fairly small when compared with other RPGs and the emphasis is definitely more on relationships and hunting for items your dog discovers when trained to treasure hunt. If you focused on the quests alone you could likely be done in a few hours but the developers have made an art out of the hundreds of distractions available to eat up your time such as gambling, holding down multiple jobs which are not only challenging mini games but earn you money after which you can try buying up real estate to live in with your family or charge rent to earn you more money. If you set up your real estate empire early on you're pretty much set for the rest of the game and people even comment on your wealth.
The most compelling thing about Fable though is its dark and very adult sense of humour. From the pelvic thrust you can commit in public to the biting heads off chicks and sacrificing your wife to shadow worshippers, its side distractions are akin to walking through a tiny amusement park but stopping at every stall and attraction you could walk through from end to end it in 2 minutes but you end up spending hours amusing yourself.
Graphically, the game is good looking but doesn't really push the envelope in the looks department. There's sufficient detail to make the world feel naturally full. There is however a large use of bloom effects which got a little hard on the eyes over time. It also gives the game a very soft look but it does work within the context of this being a fantasy realm. There is some popup when you're running around which can detract from the sense of immersion. More than once I locked onto an NPC with my rifle for a ranged kill only to have them instantly disappear from site. Pulling the trigger proved they were still there because running up the road towards them, I did encounter their corpse and collected my XP. This was likely implemented due to the fact that even with these measures there are instances of severe frame rate drop.
Besides the bloom effects, there is a lot of emphasis on lighting, especially in the morning and evenings where the sun is as intense as it would be in real life. More than once I was cursing the morning sun for getting in my eyes when an irritating gargoyle was mouthing off at me and I couldn't see him to shoot him and shut him up.
There's also a fairly decent selection of clothing in the game and unlike other RPGs there’s no armour to speak of. Clothing boosts your stats in certain areas to the point where walking around as a Shadow worshipper or dying your hair and clothes black as a Goth will cause people to run away in fear. Scarring from battle becomes a big problem after a while because it affects your attractiveness and ultimately your ability to marry. After a few hours of all out battles your face starts to look like the Grand Canyon and hiding your scars becomes a priority. It's really the little attentions to detail that make this game stand out from the others.
One of the biggest shining points in this game is its sound. The quality of sound is spectacular and the sound positioning in 3D makes it very easy to find objects or people based on where you can hear the sound coming from. This is all reliant on a 5.1 setup of course. Your dog companion is convincing enough to make the dogs in your house go berserk when they hear him bark or growl as well.
The soundtrack is subdued but varied enough that you don't get bored with it. It's also intended mostly as background music for ambience so you'll find yourself tuning it out in the middle of your day to day activity which isn’t a bad thing.
The game was stable and seemed quite polished. I never felt like I was playing a title rushed to launch. It's a great step forward for the Fable franchise and presents enough new and improved features to keep fans enjoying it from start to finish.
The game is wonderfully presented. Its adult sense of humour and the addition of a faithful companion in the form of man's best friend really does add to the feeling that being in this world matters.
Some frame rate issues and pop in detract periodically from the experience and there was a little too much bloom for this reviewer but the level of detail to your character and the detail in the world makes for a visually pleasing game.
The sound and soundtrack on this game doesn't aim to stand out but the quality of the recordings and occlusion effects is one of the best I've heard.
Game play is simple but very well implemented. The simple combat will disappoint hardcore RPGers but plays well in the context of the game. The implementation of improving on your two combat skills adds enough to this limiting system to keep it fresh throughout the game.
Some may come back for a second round but for most, the first play through will be enough. The achievements are all attainable and can be gained from one play through and depending on how much you want to focus on the side quests, this game will last you 15 to 40 hours if you allow for all the distractions of jobs and real estate acquisitions.
Crave Factor - 8
out of 10 (good)