The long awaited Fable 2 has finally arrived after years of waiting for a new game from Lionhead Studios. Their previous offering, Fable proved to be a popular game on Xbox and although the game wasn’t quite what the developers claimed it to be, it provided an action adventure game that offered the player choice, and some consequence as a result. Due to hardware limitations at the time, it was obvious the true vision for Fable wasn’t fully realized, and so with the dawn of Xbox 360 there were plenty of keen eyes eager to see what Lionhead could do with Fable 2 when it was announced.
Without going too much into the story, in a nutshell Fable 2 begins with you playing as either a male or female character, which is just one of the new features. It’s nice to have a bit of choice from the offset this time round, but we’re still quite a long way from being able to create our own adventurers using tried and trusted methods used in other games.
Either way, once you’ve got the tutorial opening out of the way, you can start getting into character and begin leading your villainous or saintly life. Even from the opening of the game, you are provided with choices in how you tackle things. Like its predecessor, there is a very distinct line between good and evil, or bad choices; and so depending on what you decided to do in the tempting situations you faced in the opening, has an adverse effect on how people view you and even how some areas of Albion become underdeveloped and a haven for all things seedy. You’ll know when you’ve performed a good or bad deed, because icons above your character appear when you perform actions, and similar icons above the NPCs (non playable characters) inform you of their reaction to you as well. This adds a little more interactivity with the NPCs, although you’ll naturally have a lot of audio cues to guide you as well.
The basis of Fable 2 is essentially a carbon copy of Fable. You have your adventurer who can roam the lands freely, engage in some melee, ranged or magical combat with a variety of bandits, trolls and goblins. You can buy and sell items to make money, you can invest in buying properties and businesses to increase your wealth. You can follow the game’s story line or you can embark on a number of side quests and activities to increase your skills, find better equipment and increase boost you wealth or popularity. It’s all familiar turf, with the inclusion of a new fight engine, more cohesive mission structure and a better interface when interacting with the NPCs being on the more subtle side of game improvements.
I think what gamers will notice at first when they pick up the controller and start playing. There’s a slight stiffness to the movement and camera which takes a while to get used to. There’s also the restrictive nature of the environment, something that was a complaint from the original. Yes, Lionhead has provided more expansive areas to explore – such as the impressive Bower Lake, however the majority of the other regions follow very narrow pathways in comparison. What’s more, this time round you are able to fast travel pretty much anywhere you’ve explored already at any time by entering the slow and cumbersome menu. This is actually one of my complaints about Fable 2, because it’s something that plagued my play time throughout. There’s a real slow pace with Fable 2 on a technical level. Actual, playing wise, the game runs very smoothly (despite the slighty sluggish controls); what really annoyed me was the very intrusive loading screens between each area, and the equally slow to navigate menus. The menus themselves are not hard to follow, in fact laid out clear enough; they’re just a pain to use quickly. This is not good when trying to enjoy the rest of the game and having these pauses thrown in your path frequently.
The inclusion of the dog is a welcome one and I can say really offers something much more realistic than having an on screen map, although this provides little help in terms of navigation (something the quest trail helps with). Your dog, is a valuable tool in picking up the scent of treasure and digging spots. Without the dog, you’ll find it much harder to find these. So in this regard, you do form a decent bond with your pet, knowing that there’s stuff out there that only he is going to find for you. You can interact with your dog, in a few ways, but not to the point where your lack of feeding him will have an adverse effect on his well being. He’s basically a good companion for treasure hunting and a neat inclusion to the game.
Looking at the revised combat for a moment, and it’s clear to see that it’s a very simple method, but one that does provide a little more flair than simply hammering away at the X button. The one touch fighting is good, and certainly an improvement over Fable’s as it allows you to, hammer away at the X button, but also adopt a more methodical approach by timing your attacks with blocks, counters and flourishes. The inclusion of guns makes combat a little noisier, but in my view didn’t make much difference to ranged combat compared to using a crossbow – which are also available to use. The whole interface is certainly geared towards the casual player and means that you’re going to learn pretty much the basics in around 5 minutes (although to gain the more intricate fighting abilities you’ll need to earn experience to unlock them).
The experience points system is very similar to Fable’s, in that you draw in dropped orbs from the fallen. The orbs are colour coded into four areas relating to how you’ve killed an enemy – i.e yellow orbs for ranged kills, and blue orbs for melee etc; and you’ll get more orbs depending on how well you took out the enemy. Using the points gained from the orbs, allows you to gain new hero abilities which relate to the three main skills, being Strength, Skill and Will. It’s a very easy system to work with and means you can develop your characters skills in tune with how you are playing.
The villagers and their reaction to you was an enjoyable feature of Fable, and it seems the villager AI operates on a similar level. They’ll make more comments about you, and generally love, hate, or fear your character depending on whether you go on murderous killing sprees or not. You’ll become more popular by gaining renown from beating quests; and the same features of getting married and having a wife or wives to look after returns. Fable 2 does offer, the chance to have offspring this time, which is another layer to add to the family element, albeit not a very deep one. I guess we’re still a long way off from having your son or daughter grow up and join you on your questing, or even replace your character when you get too old to fight.
Fable 2 obviously is leaps and bounds above its predecessor as everything has been given a neat lick of spit and polish to provide a more vibrant looking Albion. The world has changed a fair bit in the 500 years since Fable, and you’ll notice that the architecture and citizens reflect this change. The overall art direction still falls on the cartoon style and there’s little realism to be found, despite the game world offering plenty of neat touches here and there. You’ll witness some excellent use of lighting at times and generally for the art direction it takes, there’s a “soft” feel to everything that works well throughout. The only real complaint I have here is the fact that at times it was awkward to line up with interactive objects like house signs so I could read them. Some of the combat has some errors, such as bodies that could not be hit due to falling into the scenery. However these are minor complaints for what is predominantly a pleasant looking game.
The sound is of a high standard and can’t be faulted other than, you’re still going to be hearing repeated phrases from the NPCs often. That said, the main voice cast have done an excellent job of bringing Albion’s characters to life, offering lots of humour and helping to propel the story element along in suitable fashion. The music is also of a high standard and feels very much like Fable’s music – a variety of folk / orchestral pieces. Other ambient sound effects are as you would expect and generally provide what’s necessary as and when required.
Fable 2 offers a single player experience that is easy to complete and something that can be done in around 8 hours if you ignore the side quests and just stick with the story. Aside from the story, there’s plenty of distractions and depending on how you play, means there’s certainly a lot of incentive to play again. One of the more interesting touted features is the option for co-op play on and offline. With both methods playing exactly the same. The secondary player, joins the world as a henchmen for the primary player, and earns gold and experience based on what settings the primary player has set. Sadly, you cannot use your main character either and have to make do with a selection if pre-made templates. The reality is, the secondary player is merely there to assist and not really do much else. What is interesting is how the screen is shared in both on and offline play, meaning your partner cannot simply run off to the other side of the world. Maybe this isn’t what gamers hoped for, but in doing so does provide a more intimate playing experience. I think for online they could have extended the playing area a bit more but it’s better than nothing, and certainly requires more co-op between the two players. What is also very interesting, and feels like what should have been, is the fact that you’re able to see floating gamerpics of other players, join their games and even send them messages and gifts. It would have been great if these were viewable as actual in game characters, offering a more MMO type feel. Perhaps this is a direction Lionhead will take with Fable 3? No doubt, Fable 2 will get a batch of downloadable content at some point, so gamers can expect more items, and dungeons perhaps, to prolong the experience further.
I’ve enjoyed Fable 2 immensely, although I am left with the feeling that this has been an exact carbon copy experience from Fable or the more recent Lost Chapters. In fact in some respects, the game has been toned down further to create a more accessible game, which is great for the casuals, but not so great for anyone else. Fable 2 is without a doubt one of the easiest games around and in some regards this lets it down. There’s really nothing overly taxing, bar switching off the quest marker and not leveling up at all.
I’m not sure if I was expecting more, or maybe too much from Fable 2, because the familiarity of the experience and the fact that not much gameplay wise had been added from Fable. Still, I’ve enjoyed the overall experience and that’s what counts, although I do feel there’s still much more room for expansion. The MMO idea for which some groundwork has already been achieved could be a great direction for series.
Either way, if you’re after an adventure game that is easy to get into, easy to follow and offers a very laid back approach to gaming, then Fable 2 is certainly well worth the investment. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck if being a “completionist” is your thing; and with the option to form your very own Fable 2 online community offers that little bit more than its predecessor without losing what made the original single player experience engrossing and fun.