Platforms: X-Box 360
Developers: Lionhead Studios
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: October 21st, 2008
There are some games that divide you on the inside. Some games that have a lot to love, but unfortunately have a few glaring shortcomings to hinder it. There are just as many games that manage to overcome these flaws.
For me, Fable II is all of the above mentioned.
This is truly a game that divided me on the inside as to what I loved and what I thought needed work. This is largely because as I played it, I saw all that it was and all that it could have been; and it's clear that with a bit more time in the oven, it could have been even better. Which is an unfortunate truth with many games these days; but this is not about that, this is a review for this game.
We'll start with what Fable II gets right. Many players of the previous game will remember it's hype by the teams own Peter Molyneux, including many of the lofty promises made of what the game would contain upon it's release. While still a very good game, upon the original Fable's release, it was evident that many of the things teased prior to release did not make it into the final cut. Which was something of a stinging blow if you went for the game right off based on what you thought would be in it. This time around, however, many of the pre-release promises made have been held to. Your actions truly do affect the world around you more than ever before with areas morphing in good or bad ways depending on the choices you make. More importantly, the core experience from the previous iteration has been improved upon, helping make this game all the more enjoyable.
In many ways, this game is more about making a life for yourself as a character than anything else. The options that flow before you are indeed impressive; you may marry, have children, own every piece of enterable property in Albion with few exceptions, engage in bigamy, cheat on your spouse, work for extra money, earn renown with the many deeds you perform all across the land and win over the citizens of Albion. In this way, Fable II is something of a cross between a basic RPG such as the Legend of Zelda and EA megahit The Sims. You have your combat portions with such foes as bandits or creatures such as Hobbes, creatures told in local folklore to be mutated children, and Balverines, vicious humanoidesque wolverine monsters, and you have your simulation portions with wooing villagers, marrying, making nice with the locals which can lead to store discounts among other things. This game does indeed live up to the promise of your actions having consequences.
The similarities to The Sims are actually far more surprising than I had expected. Much of your interactions with villagers and attempts to win them over occur through use of expressions, which can range from scary to social to fun to flirty, depending on what affect you wish to have on people. Different villagers with different properties will react to certain expressions differently. Trying to fart in front of a serious person, for instance, is not likely to win you any favor from them. There is not even any real dialogue from your protagonist; just grunts and growls and the occasional gibberish, which again reminded me of The Sims. This is all by no means a bad thing; it all has a nice synergy and blends to create a simple yet pleasing experience with interacting with other denizens of Albion.
The graphics are asthetically pleasing, giving a nice old world feel. The graphics feel simple in some ways and somewhat cartoony in others through use of the color pallets, yet still manages to be relatively deep and always pleasing to the eye. Combat is also a somewhat in depth yet still simple and pleasing affair. Three of the four face buttons are assigned to a different attack; one for your short range weapon, one for your long range and one for your will attack, which is this universes equivilent of magic. Upon upgrading your skills or styles, you gain the ability to block by a task as simple as merely holding the short range attack button down or use a powerful, unblockable strike by holding both the short range attack button and the direction to attack in. Locking on to a target is as simple as holding the left trigger and switching the target locked onto as simple as flicking the right stick. It all helps to keep combat smooth and flowing with relatively few hitches; which helps keep adventuring as fun as winning over your villagers.
Unfortunately, the story in particular is the point where things may go a bit sour for some. A game as epic and ambitious as this one deserves a suitably epic narrative to go along with it, if only to give major help keeping players enthralled between house purchases. Fable II does not quite provide. The main story is somewhat cliche and trite; this is far from a problem in itself as even the most cliche plot in history can be made interesting, but unfortunately Fable II does not quite rise up past this device or even give much depth to it. Your sister is murdered and you are out for revenge. That's pretty much it, there's barely even a hint of complexity to the villains motives for everything he does or at least anything that doesn't sound trite.
You barely spend any time with the heroes you recruit aside from the first one; worst is the third hero whom you recruit within the last hour or so of gametime. The entire main storyline, should you choose to stick to it, could be moved through in a meager seven or eight hours. This is chicken feed for even the simplest RPG on the market; you'll rarely see one who's main plotline does not extend at least past the twenty hour mark with side quests all set aside. Even worse, many of the questions that are raised through the games plot are never truly given sufficient answers; fine if you plan to leave a couple for a sequel, but basic storytelling demands you at least wrap up several of the dangling plot threads raised within the context of the story. The first Fable had the same problem and despite this being a sequel, several of the answers to questions in the last game still are not answered here. Then there's the final showdown of the game, which I can only sufficiently describe as the ultimate anti-climax, something that if used right can be brilliant and used poorly can be horribly annoying. This game leans more towards the latter.
Despite the sins of the storyline, the core gameplay manages to shine through in the end. The experience provided through combat and making a life for yourself is truly immersive in a way few games not called The Sims offer you. There is thankfully still a lot for you to do once the meager plot has finished, with some optional quests only opening up after you have done so. Thankfully, the experience is rewarding enough to keep you coming back even after you've gone through the relatively disappointing storyline; and the DLC promises to add even more of this sort of fun in the future.
The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up
In the end, there are things to improve in this series as it goes forward. But this game has a leg up on the competition in that it's experience rewards in ways few other games of it's type do. Also, we have been promised several sequels in this slowly growing franchise, which allows Lionhead Studios a lot of time to get things right moving forward. Judging from the experience presented in this sequel, I think they can do it. Reccomended.