Without a doubt, Fable II is one of the most anticipated games of the year. Still, in the weeks leading up to its release, the feeling of dread was palpable. Many gamers remember the hype surrounding the original title, only to be disappointed when they received an experience that was great but not the classic they had felt they were promised.
The daunting task of giving them classic they wanted was left up to Peter Molyneux and his team, and the task may have not have seemed that difficult for them. The original Fable presented an amazing amount of detail to the world, but it simply seemed to fall short on a few key areas. All they had to do this time around was expand on the good and improve on these problems and they would have a game etched into the upper echelon of the new generation.
Sadly, I can tell you right now that this game suffers from many of the same problems the original Fable had. The in-game economy is still woefully simple, the plot and many of the characters still lack depth, and the world of Albion in all its glory still feels like it was laid out with anything but feng shui in mind.
Now, with that said, one would think this review is going to continue down this path and Fable II will once again fail to reach the pinnacle that was expected of it. With such flaws as a poor map, an unbalanced economy, and a relatively dull plot, how could a game recover? It is quite simple, really. Like its incredibly detailed morality system, the developers seemed to be presented with a choice. They could either give it an epic story with incredibly detailed and fleshed-out characters or sacrifice a large amount of your gaming freedom, or they could give you an engrossing game with limitless options but sacrifice a fanciful plot. They chose the latter and, like your character, whether that is a good or a bad thing is essentially up to you.
One of the main reasons the story falls so flat is your character’s infinite silence. The only way to communicate with other characters is through a series of expressions that only really serve to illicit a base reaction from any NPC that sees them without any real discourse. Sure using the right expression will curry favor with the townspeople of Albion, and the wrong one will help to make them view you are boorish and rude, but it helps to illustrate the core issue with Fable II’s system. The game becomes about the choices you make, but not necessarily about the characters that those choices may alter. Due to the one-dimensional townspeople and lack of real interaction, scenes that should have some amount of emotional resonance fall significantly short. The only real feeling you have for any character is for your faithful canine companion, and even that is tenuous.
The star of the show is clearly the world of Albion. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, you can see how easy it is to be drawn in. Slightly cartoony visuals make the world so charming you will want to explore every area for fear of missing the smallest detail. It is easy to take the most menial task and turn it into hours of exploration and enjoyment, which also adds to the feeling that your options are limitless. Need to find an item? Why not take some time and search that forest for hidden treasure first. Need some side money? Well, Albion offers plenty of options to make it, from taking a real 9-5 job, becoming a store owner or slum lord, or even looting houses. Depending on your character type and play style, you can find something to do at any time without even delving into a single quest.
When you do eventually decide to stop snickering over the fact you have to purchase condoms in order to prevent a coinpurse-draining pregnancy in any of your wives (or to avoid nasty STDs from Albion’s ladies of the night), you will be happy to learn that the Quests in this game are varied and entertaining. Even the simplest quest will occasionally blindside you with a deeply profound choice. This is where the morality system really shines, but some would say it is unbalanced. To become a truly evil character you need not leave the first town you are set down in, but to actually max out as a good character will take you a significant amount of hours. To me, unlike the unbalanced economy, the ease of being an evil character and the difficulty of being a good character are as realistic as it can be. It is much easier to rob and steal than it is to take daunting quests and help improve the world you live in. It is up to you to decide whether you will take the instant gratification and ease of an evil character or the more rewarding and difficult path of a pillar of heroism in the society. The quests in Fable II embrace this fact and, while not giving you enough overtly good options, make the game incredibly replayable. You will never, ever be at a loss for something to kill time with in Albion.
From a technical standpoint, the graphics and music are both top notch. The games only real negative in this category is that, more often than not, combat and controlling the character can feel a bit detached and clunky. While combat itself is rewarding, with the ability to switch between melee, magic, and ranged almost instantaneously to keep bad guys on their toes, actually controlling your character can be a frustrating occurrence. You will be plagued by the occasional cheap death, but thanks to not actually being able to die, you won’t have to worry about losing anything more than some experience points if you bite off more than you can chew. In the end, your enjoyment of Fable II will hinge on what is important to you in this type of game. If you are looking for an engrossing story with loveable characters, this might not please you. However, if you are looking for an impressive gameplay experience with tons of replayability, I could not recommend Fable II more. While it may have, once again, fallen short of being a classic, it is a large improvement over the first game despite its numerous weak points.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360