Monday, 27 October 2008

Fable 2 Review - (Xbox 360)

The blood is jetting across the cobblestones of Bowerstone market like salt water smashing against the cliffs of the shore during a harsh storm. Children are screaming and begging for their lives only moments after begging for my autograph, but I cannot hear them. Town guards are swarming and uselessly trying to stop me like bees sacrificing their lives in vain to prevent the bear taking their prize. Townsfolk run around like headless chickens desperate to flee but finding nothing but the escape of death from the invisible force of my rifle. The blacksmith made a dash for the main gate. That bastard had ripped me off for months. I'd toiled endless nights for a pittance under him, only to have him hand me to the town guard when I took the meagre 20 gold in the till after a hard night's work as compensation for his slavery. No longer would he play tyrant.


His head flew off like a bottle rocket, propelled by the fountain of blood desperate to escape the mortal confines of his puny and aging body. I reloaded. The fishwife I married who I had left hidden in the gypsy caravan park in the cheapest home I could find cowered in fear below the her tatty stall, clinging to the bridge in an attempt to press ever further into it. She was desperately seeking it's strength to protect her from the coming death she faced at the hands of her once beloved. His once noble blond hair had become greasy and black, his skin and face greyed out with death, rot and decay. I had finished with her now. She had grown me the son and heir I had desired since that whore in the country hadn't been able to provide. I'd hidden her with the gypsies to keep her away from the prying eyes of my peers and my other spouse but her cries for more money and attention had to come to an end. As the runic blue lines of a magic abuser cut across my body, glowing more brightly than my bloodlust soaked eyes, I leveled my rifle at her head.

It wasn't always like this.

I was once a good man. I came into the world a homeless orphan, yet I always chose to help others. My sister was murdered for my troubles. I continued to risk my life for them and suffered grevious wounds. When I ate the food I bought from them to heal my wounds, I grew fat. When I put up the rent of the properties I owned to help buy me the weapons and gear I needed to save these people from tryanny they turned on me and scorned me, as my gut rolled out and flies circled my stench. I was good, yet hated. I gave, yet was not rewarded. As I toiled day after day to reduce the rent to earn their favour they began to love me, yet I began to hate them. Every piece of gold I spared them was a scar on my body that could have been avoided, had I been able to afford the right weapon. My face and body became pure and fresh as my soul descended into a frenzy of hatred and contempt. On the outside I looked like peace itself but inside, I hungered for chaos.

Fable 2, as you might have gathered, is a very, very, VERY good game. It is an RPG like no other. Whilst not perfect (and what is in this turbulent world of ours?) it comes as close as one can come to the sun before being burned. It takes Oblivion aside and bloodies his nose, mocking and laughing, daring the King to strike the pretender back to test how far his power really goes. The gameplay itself is very like the original Fable, but far more in-depth. Good and evil still matter but thanks to the purity and corruption options, you can degrade or purify the appearance of your character in more subtle ways than before. Time has advanced and some of the whimsical nature of the original has been lost to make way for a regency period technological parade. You can buy rifles and pistols but they are more steam age than space age. The clothing you buy is closer to Brunel than to Armani. The game manages to feel advanced from the original yet occupy it's own period of time and character without feeling like just another Lord of the Rings rip off. It also interweaves events in the last game into the history of this one which to anybody who finished the original Fable is a rather sweet bonus.

The real marvel of the game is just how much you can do. Have children, have wives, raise the dead, sacrifice the living or you can just kick chickens for a laugh. It's up to you. Some aspects of the game don't work too well, such as the multiplayer. Whilst good fun, you cannot bring your own character into a friends game. You can only make a 'henchman' with your characters stats and bring him over. Any gold or experience you earn in a co op game will be taken back with you into your single player game, but it is a rather hollow experience. The camera doesn't help - in single player you can adjust the camera however you like but in co-op it is locked. If you move to far away from your partner your movement is stunted which is rather lame. I can understand the need to do this when two people share a screen, but it's almost as if Lionhead didn't actually understand what the Internet was.

Still, it's good for a laugh but you can tell that Fable 2 is a single player game and it is far more rewarding to treat it as such. One good thing about the multiplayer is the orb system. When a friend is in the same part of the game as you and you are logged into Xbox live, you can see an orb with his gamerpic on it floating around. Automatically you can chat to him despite not having launched a co-op game and you can walk up to the orb and start a co-op session in a snap. Be careful not to set the options to allow ALL members of Xbox Live onto your screen though as you will be swarmed with thousands of snotty bratty yank teens talking about if they have pubes yet and how great High School Musical 3 is. Not all Americans or Xbox Live members are like this, but the majority on live are bad enough to foul the pool for everybody else so keep it friends only if you like not being deaf or insane.

The game still plays well though. You can't die which does remove some element of challenge from the title as well as respect for the achievements you get, of which their are plenty. You get a 5 point achievement for pretty much everything in Fable 2, but that's not a bad thing as it really encourages you to do more things in the game. Still, not being able to die means you can't gloat as much about an achievement anybody could earn if they grinded enough. The game still makes you not want to die by rewarding you - should you be knocked out you will suffer a hideous scar so you will avoid it if possible. To earn the most experience and level up your character quickly, you have to fight well and not just sit there grinning whilst being pummelled. The threat of death is removed, but the urge not to fail is still there which is a rather good piece of genius by Lionhead. There is some limitation in where you can go and how expansive some environments are (expect plenty of loading screens between areas) but you can warp between them and you can explore a LOT more than you could in the original Fable.

Small fences are no longer insurmountable obstacles and can be vaulted over. You can swim. You can jump off most ledges unless the fall is an incredible distance. You can get lost in Albion which whilst not as big as Cyrodiil it is far more detailed and unlike Oblivion, it is not just all the same. Each area feels unique and often beautiful in an original way. The dog whom you cannot get rid of always feels useful as he will smell out treasures for you to dig up and will attack downed foes for you. He can also be upgraded with dog books available from various stores and his appearance changes with yours. He never feels out of place and whilst it may seem an odd addition, it fits in very well with the feel of the game. Expect more single player RPGs to have canine companions in the future.

This game is good, despite the few flaws it has, including a few reportedly game breaking bugs I haven't encountered. I recommend you buy it if you can, despite the fact the market is so busy at the moment. Many good games are coming out this month and the next but sadly, nobody has the time and money to play them all. Gems will be forgotten, this cannot be avoided. We can only choose which gems we keep, and Fable 2 is such a gem. On the upside, we can always buy the good games we miss this year in the middle of the next when nothing is being released by the thick headed publishers who do not realise we are no longer children sucking at Santa's teat who wait until Christmas to get games.

Now you know what I know about Fable 2. I'm still here with the rifle at my wife's head, pondering what to do next. I haven't decided how my story will end. The the real question however is: how will you end yours?

Review by: Edwin Jones

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