A few years ago, a new RPG from Lionhead Studios promised great adventures for XBox players. The premise was simple: create a character in the world of Albion, and tackle your quest however you wished. Want to kill villagers? Sure! Want to be a goody-too shoes? Go for it! While the game ultimately promised more than it actually delivered, many consider it to be a staple of the old XBox.
Fable II has now returned players to the realm of Albion, with promises renewed of an open world and a sprawling, epic tale. I eagerly picked the game up a few weeks ago, and started in right away. As some of you know, I’m a complete tool for open world games, so the prospect of diving into a new fantasy world that wasn’t Ivalice or something from Star Wars was very enticing.
So how did it hold up?
The first thing I noticed about Fable II was the outstanding art design. Not many games these days have an atmosphere all their own, and Albion really feels alive in the game’s opening. People talk as you run by, they live on schedules throughout the day and all of the houses shoved together really give off a Tim Burton world come to life.
The main plot of Fable II concerns the ruler of the land trying to eliminate 4 heroes of legend. And guess what. One of them is you. While this is a rather intriguing premise, it often isn’t executed well. The opening of the game is handled excellently, really building the sense of wonder and intrigue as your young hero discovers his/her gift. After that though, it takes a dive.
Much of the story is handled through cutscenes that you don’t really get to participate in. You stand around and watch other characters talk to one another, while the only input you can offer is through expressions like belching, farting or giving a thumbs up. Sure this sounds funny, but in a game built on choice and freedom, I thought I might have the opportunity to say “screw you go do your own quest” just once or twice. Instead, when it came to the story, the only choices you get are “Do you Accept? Press A.” I mean, really? That’s the extent of it?
Don’t get me wrong, some parts of the story are handled well. There is a portion where several years pass a couple of times during the game that are done really well, as is the very end. But beyond that, the actual game is a chore to plod through, and I felt like I was playing Wind Waker again because of all the fetch questing I had to do. They should call it Fable II: Run and Go Do This.
That being said, the sidequests are a lot of fun to play. Not only do you get to go on some grand adventuring to treasure islands or temples of shadows, or wipe out whole towns of villagers, you get to choose good or evil as you do this. While I was accepting a mission to massacre a whole village, cutting each person down one at a time, I thought to myself “this is what I thought this game would be like”. It’s a shame the main quest didn’t find a way to incorporate these kinds of missions and decisions.
In terms of gameplay, Fable II is maybe the buggiest/glitchiest game I’ve ever played. Seriously. Menus freeze constantly while loading up, trying to buy things from a store takes you violating a dude’s territorial bubble and mashing the A button, and there were times when my family wouldn’t talk to me but instead would stare at a wall.
It’s also just a bit too easy. There’s really no reason to become a magic user, because mashing your sword attack the entire time seems to do the trick. Beyond that, there’s no charge time for using your spells. Really. You can just use them over and over again with no penalty.
And speaking of penalties, you can erase a multitude of sins with just a few dances when it comes to villagers. The more evil or good you become, the more villagers are scared of you or drawn to you. However, just a few funny dance expressions can win them back over. So much for facing the consequences of your actions, eh?
All in all, Fable II is a really hard game to pin down. I loved the sidequesting and the distractions. Buying property and building families (or destroying them) proved to be a solid fun time. However, the main quest was such a chore, and so boring and uninteresting in terms of its presentation that the game really fell flat for me after awhile. The dog mechanic was ok, but nothing as special as it was made out to be. Throw in the fact that the game is buggy as all get out, and it’s really hard to give a good grade. When the story was great though, it was perfect, particularly at the three points that I mentioned earlier.
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