Peter Molyneux makes for a great interview, in fact I truly wish more developers were as enthusiastic as he is when creating games. That being said the original Fable was a let down on many levels the game looked worst in retrospective when you factored in the hype Peter had vented out before the release of the game.
Fable was touted as the action rpg to end all action rpgs, and that boast is about as big a boast that can be made when you consider Ocarina of Time is the king of all action rpgs…and it just happens to be the near universal pick for greatest game ever. Fable at the time was powered by the state of the art Xbox and even with all of the horsepower the game quite simply played like a mediocre contender…in a genre with few mediocre contenders (Musashi , Granstream Saga) and one top of the line series (Zelda) Fable managed to find some commercial success amongst the sea of ho-hum reviews.
Aside from Zelda these days there isn’t much to choose from in the genre therefore Fable was the way to go for many players by default. I rated the game a 6 out of 10 in 2005, which considering the hype the game obtained before its release, it was definitively a terrible score.
I opted to pass on Fable 2 upon its release because very seldom do I give second chances to a what I believed was a mediocre franchise, but fast forward to Christmas 2010 and Fable 2 was 10 bucks at my local gamestop. Thus I dove into Fable 2 with the lowest expectations I have ever had for an action rpg.
I am happy to report Peter Molyneux’s negative attitude towards the first Fable and the fact that he listened to fans on message boards…fans who criticized the first title’s obvious and some not so obvious flaws have made Fable 2 a great game, a beautifully flawed great game, that managed to grip me onto its magical world and it did not let me go.
A MAGICAL WORLD
Albion looked great in the original Fable, but it didn’t do the players much good because you couldn’t really appreciate the visuals as you were limited to traveling on the main road ( the game felt on rails somewhat). Well Lionhead in what perhaps turned out to be their wisest decision with this franchise, have given us a very open world in Fable that is more similar to Zelda in its design than to Elder Scrolls.
The game world is beautiful; the environments are populated with NPC’s, animals, and all sorts of effects that make it come to life. Oblivion was more realistic but it didn’t come close to matching Zelda’s magical sense of wonder, Fable 2 comes closer in my opinion than any other game in the market to accomplishing this. The Art work is amazing, very European medieval with a heavy touch of fantasy. As I played the game I kind felt somewhat like was living in the middle earth depicted in the films, which is a very good thing indeed. There are snowy villages, gigantic cities, wonderfully lush forests (the grassy fields are really some of the best I have seen ever), mysterious swamps, pirate ships, gorgeous water bodies, etc. In short everything you want in a fantasy themed game is here and it looks amazing.
About the only downside to the otherwise stellar visual presentation are the character models, they look a bit cartoony and that was a design choice, but the problem is that there isn’t enough different NPC models, so you get an entire city (like Bowerstone) filled clones and look a likes. This isn’t much of a problem but the game missed the point in the wife and kid mechanic as it is hard to care about your wife and child when there are many others who look exactly the same within the same town (Unless you marry someone from one of the latter sidequests, but I won’t spoil it here).
Even then main character lacks personality, even though he/she is highly customizable depending on your clothing choices and your actual in game “good or evil” selections. The best animated and realistic looking character in the game is your dog companion, complete with fur and eerily realistic dog movements.
Hopefully Lionhead has fixed part of the problem with repetitive character models in their third iteration.
AN AURAL MASTERPIECE
Fable has some of the best music today, I found the music very very pleasing to my ears. The score changes during battles, and the compositions themselves are very strong. The voice acting is topnotch and it is capable of inducing laughing at loud moments at some points during the gameplay.
Every single thing in the environment is accompanied by realistic sound effects, the combination of the music, SFX and voice acting completey immersed me in the game world from beginning to end.
STORY AND GAMEPLAY HAND IN HAND
If one were to play Fable 2 strictly for its main story one would find Fable 2 to be a wonderfully looking and sounding but mediocre action RPG. The main story is an improvement over Fable 1 but that isn’t saying much as it is still pretty mundane average stuff. In fact you can pretty much get through it in about 9 hours, which is really bad sounding thing for those of us who have grown accustomed to playing Zelda.
However play Fable 2’s main story while completing all of the sidequests that pop up at certain points during the quest and you will find a highly rewarding experience and a world of Albion that truly feels alive. Fable 2’s sidequests are often much better and much more interesting that the actually main plot line, which is why this reviewer spent 55 hours playing and enjoying every single moment of the game before he saw the end credits. Not only did I accomplish every single sidequest, but I also made it a point to collect all of the silver keys and Gargoyles. Since Twilight Princess I hadn’t invested so much time in a single game trying to collect everything and that speaks volumes about how great Fable 2’s quests are.
That being said this game is one flawed son of a gun. The dungeons while plenty do not offer any puzzle solving challenges, only battle after battle to contend with, thankfully the combat system has been much improved. Fighting is now easy and fun, you still have to level up with physical, skill and will points. But considering I rarely ever teleported between locations and chose to fight my way from area to area the good old fashioned way (by walking and exploring) I found that it is relatively very easy to reach the level cap in at least two forms of combat (in my case with physical and shooting attacks) before even reaching halfway point in to the main story. Especially if you equip your weapons with EXP gaining augments.
The problem with this system is that usually there is no strategy at all required to beat the “bosses” if they can be called that, you can mash your way through the game and be extremely successful, I don’t mind beating run of the mill bandits and Balverines with ease, but I do have problem when I reach a supposed “boss” and I still managed to kick butt easily by simply hitting or holding down “X” all the time.
Molyneux stressed he wanted to make his Fable games accessible to the casual masses and that it is. While exploration rewards the hardcore greatly, the hardcore will find little to rejoice within the game’s simplified magic, shoot and hit system. The auto lock feature is an improvement as is the camera which now pretty much keeps the action on the screen at all times from the last entry. One thing that must be mentioned about the battles in this game is that you can’t actually die, if you do run out of HP during a battle you are automatically revived and keep on fighting until you finally managed to down your enemies. This however has the consequence of scarring which lowers your attractive score down. Which isn’t much of a problem as no matter how scarred you are, if your deeds and renown are great enough you will a have a mob of people in love following you no matter where you go.
That being said Zelda still is the king of gameplay, even though Fable 2 makes great strides forward to in its own way.
While the fighting and dungeon crawling sections of the Fable 2 fall on its face when matched up even against the elder of 3-D Zeldas Ocarina of Time, in makes up for it in other regards such as amazing amount of interesting side quests and side things to do in the game such as real state ownership.
You can buy pretty much every single property that exists in the game, which is really addicting because you can then rent them out and make money off them every five minutes of real world time. Depending on how you furnish these buildings you can actually make more than 20,000 pieces of gold every five minutes. Money was never a problem for me in the game as I kept on piling properties, and taking on jobs which are timing mini games more than anything else. Also not only do you get paid while playing but also while not playing too. As you keep earning money every five minutes regardless if your Xbox 360 is on or off.
The ability to buy everything within the game is very addicting as is the ability to pretty much do anything you want to do in the game. You can be a saint as well as you can be a ruthless mass murderer it’s all a matter of choice.
Choices have consequences but not as many consequences (are impactful) as one might think which makes the choice system look more like a nice addition than a main game play stay in the game. Only at two different points (the middle and end) during the main story line are choices given the center stage which is a shame because in those two occasions I had a lot of thinking to do.
Fable has such a variety of quests to accomplish (even if they all involved kicking some ones rear) that it kept engrossed for over 50 hours, the fact that the game doesn’t end after the main story ends is a huge plus as you can keep playing in order to finish some of the many distractions the game offers.
There are glitches here and there, as the main character at one point for about an hour began to mysteriously hover over the game world, I tried everything to get him back on the ground walking but alas I had to keep playing until the problem mysteriously solve itself.
One more thing that I would like to address is the posse or entourage that follows you around, I mean it is fun for a while to have people following you around but it gets annoying after 30 hours in. Those minor complaint aside, Fable 2 plays a lot like a hybrid of Zelda with Elder Scrolls, even though the game’s somewhat carefully designed world leans more towards the earlier than the latter, even if it doesn’t ever match the level of polish and brilliance that the Zelda console games have.
IF ACTION RPG OR ACTION ADVENTURE IS YOUR THING …
By all means dive into this, even you were turned off by the first title in the series, this installment pretty much solves every major flaw that kept the first one from being a good action RPG. A gigantic world that is very well designed, and a great of amount of content to discover this is by far the best action RPG on the 360….and considering there is no other game like this on the system it is perhaps the only one, but a worthy play none the less.
Gameplay: 9.0- The sense of wonder and discovery is always present in the game. The battle system while not as strong as Zelda’s is far superior to Oblivion’s and the original Fable. Had the dungeons been better designed and the battles had been a bit more challenging we would be talking 9.5 The dog works like a metal detector, but it was never bothersome feature at all and not really either the revolutionary feature that Molyneux so feverishly advertised.
Graphics: 9.0-Technically this isn’t the best looking 360 title out there and the repetitive human models hurt the score a bit. However the artwork is fantastic, and the colors of the world are vibrant. This is not the best looking 360 titles but it is one of the better looking games out there. Zelda should have looked this good had the Wii been more than a gamecube with a motion controller!
Music: 9.0-Albion comes to life with a wonderful score, and really solid voice acting.
Story: 7.0- If you only experience the main story, that score would likely be a 5.0 but I played every single sidequest there was to undertake and was genuinely entertained by all of the side “Plots” Albion had to offer.
Addictiveness: 10.0- Over 40 hours of action RPG goodness, many things to do, see and collect. You can play the game as a good two shoes or as an evil bastard either way you will find plenty to do different in a second or third play through!
Overall: 9.0- The original Fable was a disaster, Fable 2 was a sure fire redeeming game for charismatic designer Peter Molyneux and his team. Until the next Zelda arrives Fable probably holds the title of best action RPG of the last two years (mainly by default really). I have high expectations for Fable 3!