Fable II Xbox 360
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Fable arrived on the crest of a wave of hype and many were disappointed that it did not live up to the hype. However, Fable was actually a very enjoyable game. Sure, it had problems but it was a game that was both unique and enjoyable and it's no surprise that many have been looking forward to Fable II. With Fable II arriving on the Xbox 360 it's natural that we expect everything to be bigger and better than it was in Fable but of course we have to temper that expectation with a good dose of realism. With that said, Fable II is certainly a big improvement on the original Fable and it's certainly one of the most unique gaming experiences you're going to find on the Xbox 360.
At the beginning of the game you'll play as either a male or female orphan and just as in the original Fable your first task will be to acquire a small collection of gold coins. You need the coins so that you and your sister can purchase a magical music box that is said to grant one wish. Your sister is desperate to own the music box so you head off to do several jobs that will earn you the gold coins. After this short tutorial section you'll purchase the music box and your sister will make her wish. Initially it seems that nothing has happened but the very next morning both you and your sister are summoned to the local castle by the Lord of the castle himself. It all goes tragically wrong however and the game moves forward several years with your character now a young adult and intent on revenge and we'll leave it at that for fear of spoiling the storyline.
There's a lot of freedom in Fable II to do as you please. Sure there's a plot to follow but the game positively encourages you to go and do your own thing. Whilst it's probably possible to finish the game in around 15 hours if you just stick to the plot, it's not something you're likely to do as there are just so many distractions that will take you away from the main thread of the plot for hours at a time. You can choose to carry out jobs if you wish. You can work as a blacksmith, or a bounty hunter if you choose and you can even become a property owner and rent out your property to rake in the dough from the rent. You're given rent every few minutes and even if you don't play the game for a few days you're given all of the rent you're owed when you resume your game which is a nice touch. If you want to be a womanizing warrior you can. Likewise, if you want to be a cross-dressing bigamist you can do so. In fact the sheer amount of variations it's possible to come up with in Fable II is amazing. Will you be good or evil? Pure or corrupt? Healthy or overweight? Your character's behaviour also has a bearing on their appearance so others will be able to figure out what kind of personality your character is just by looking at them.
Fable II really shines because of the way you can manipulate the world of Albion through your decisions. Many games claim to offer you a whole range of ways to play the game and whether to choose the good or evil path but many of these choices are superficial and have no real impact on the game world. As you progress through the game, which fast forwards several years at specific points, you'll really get to see how your actions have affected the lives of Albion's citizens and how the various towns have developed. For this reason alone you're going to want to play through the game at least a couple of times playing as very different characters just to see what impact you can really have on everything.
One thing that becomes apparent really early in the game is how accessible Fable II is. In fact it has to be one of the more accessible action-RPG's to date. The combat in the game is straightforward. Aiming is pretty much automatic and you can use melee and ranged weapons and cast spells by pressing just a single button for each action. The game uses a clever system of dishing out experience to suit the combat methods you prefer to use. For instance if you use melee combat to defeat an enemy they will mainly yield blue orbs (you gain experience orbs from defeated enemies and they can be blue, green, yellow and red) that can be used to enhance your strength attributes. This is very useful because it allows you to hone your character's abilities in a fashion that suits your method of play. You won't see a dreaded game over screen should you fall in combat. If all of your health is depleted you'll simply gain a few scars and lose all of the experience orbs that you haven't yet collected (using the RT button) plus you'll be able to resume the battle. I found this to be a lot less frustrating than in the original Fable which could actually be quite punishing. Despite the combat being simplified in Fable II, it should be said that it still remains enjoyable. You'll also have a pet dog that can find treasure for you and you can teach him tricks if you want to. You'll notice a glowing trail (which can be turned off) which will guide you to your next objective and prevent you from roaming aimlessly in the wilderness.
As great as Fable II is there are some problems and some irritations. We've see NPC's floating in mid-air on a few occasions. Navigating your inventory can be a real burden, especially when you have more than a few items in your possession. Whilst travelling between towns is absolutely fine, and you can simply fast travel to any place you've previously visited, finding your way around a town can feel like real trial and error stuff. You'll get to a town knowing that you have to visit a certain store for instance and it can be really cumbersome having to explore the entire town because there aren't any maps to make exploring a town a painless experience. The game, like the original Fable, allows you to make a variety of gestures that can endear you to, or earn disdain from, the citizens of Albion. I've no problem with the gesture system but I do wish only the person you're targeting would be affected by your gestures. If you're trying to woo a desirable partner you might be surprised to find that anyone within a few virtual yards radius will also be affected by your gestures which can lead to more than just one person falling in love with you. The range of clothing on offer is poor and yet clothing can have a large influence on your character. By simply wearing a few pieces of clothing that increases your attractiveness you can practically have a dozen or so citizens chasing after you making comments that suggest they are desirous of marriage.
There can be no denying that Fable II really looks fantastic in many ways. The character models are good, the towns look great and the many environments you'll find yourself wandering through can be quite beautiful. Of course there are the loading times, the frame rate dips (which are minor and not problematic in the slightest) and the glitches (such as seeing clipping issues amongst other things) to consider too but given the general excellence of the game as a whole, it's quite easy to be rather forgiving of the game's imperfections.
It's great to see that Fable II is subtitled although the subtitles aren't enabled by default. You'll be able to follow the storyline thanks to the subtitles. Quests are shown in text and can be recalled at any time. Tutorial messages are shown in text. Comments made when you are performing gestures aren't subtitled however. Sometimes you will walk past citizens who will say things to you and their comments aren't subtitled. Sometimes they are subtitled though . There are times when the screen goes black (such as when your character has gone to bed with someone) and comments are made and there are no subtitles for these comments. Whilst Fable II isn't perfect for deaf gamers however, there are no real problems.
I think there can be virtually no doubt that Fable II is one of the best games we've seen in 2008. The game manages to build on what we experienced in Fable and most areas of the game have certainly been improved. It's certainly a more accessible and more forgiving experience this time around too. There are some things we haven't gone into detail over in this review such as the local and Xbox Live co-op play, which doesn't really add to the game at all, and the distinctly twisted humour, which does certainly does enhance the game, but suffice to say that on the whole Fable II is a much more satisfying experience than Fable was. It's also a more rewarding game in many ways because you know that almost every decision you take in the game helps to shape the overall experience and that's pretty amazing.