Fable II Review
Fable II is the best game I've played this year. “Spah-ROING!” See? That's the sound of me, jumping on the Fable II love bus. There's room for everyone—you coming? You say you need a little more to go on before you lay your $60 down? You're one tough customer, but I hear you. Well then, sit back and let me tell you about one of the best action RPG's you'll ever play.
Fable II is of course, the sequel to 2004's Fable, and as good as the original title was, this one goes it one or two better. It bears a strong family resemblance to its predecessor. You start the game as a young orphan, living a harsh life on the streets of Bowerstone. You and your older sister Rose dream of living in the nearby castle owned by Lucien Fairfax, Lord of Bowerstone. One day, your lives are changed forever when a traveling salesman sells you a magic music box. This momentous purchase sets you upon the Hero's path. Guided by a mysterious blind seer who takes you to the mythical Heroes Guild, you become a warrior and set out to get your revenge on Lucien Fairfax.
Stopping Lucien is not something you can do alone, but Heroes aren't as plentiful as they used to be; to find the last three in existence—the Heroes of Strength, Will and Skill—you'll have to hoof it all over Albion. Luckily, the seer has some ideas about where you should look, and when she designates an objective for you, a handy golden trail points the way. This trail can be turned off, but let me warn you: Albion is big. I mean really big. You could be running aimlessly for a long time without some kind of pointer and what's the point of that? I say get to the good stuff as soon as possible. To keep you company on the road you have a faithful canine companion that can warn you of danger by growling, and if you accidentally stumble into a nest of assassins, he'll fight fiercely by your side. You can name him, put fancy collars on him, give him treats, play fetch with him, heal him with doggie elixirs, or if you choose, be mean to him. If you do though, may he bite you someplace sensitive.
Navigating the world of Fable II is quick and easy. You can run anywhere, and if you want to go faster, you can hold the A button down to sprint. For even faster travel, you can go by carriage, but the easiest way is by selecting regions in the Pause menu. Once you've visited an area, it's marked on your map and you can return to it at any time. Time passes when you travel, both in game and in real life; which brings up my one gripe about travel in Fable II—the loading screens. You'll want to be jumping from one location to another and whether you run between areas, or use the Pause menu method to get to them, you'll have to sit through a long loading screen. I suggest you use the time productively. Do some jumping jacks or learn another language.
Now don't think you'll be running around Albion willy nilly. You're on a Quest, by cracky! Actually, you're on a lot of them. In addition to your Primary quest, Fable II is full of funny and interesting Secondary quests that you won't want to miss. These quests often have an obvious moral alignment. Saving villagers from slavery for instance, is a Good quest, while sacrificing them at the Temple of Shadows is an Evil one. Depending on which type of quest you do, you'll increase your Good or Evil alignment; choose carefully because you'll have to deal with the consequences. Each type of quest adds to your Renown rating as well, which determines how famous you are in a given area. This means that good or bad, people everywhere will know what who you are and what you've done, and will react accordingly.
Alignment is the heart of Fable II's RPG system. You can play like a saint by aiding citizens in need, play like a devil by terrorizing everyone, or play both ends against the middle, depending on what's convenient for you. If you commit crimes when someone's watching, the guards will force you to pay a fine or do community service. If it's widely known that you're a criminal, people will not only hurl insults at you, they'll charge you more for items unless you can convince them to give you a “fear” discount. Oh, and even if they're scared of you, be prepared to pay top dollar for real estate.
On the other hand, if you skip around Albion doing nothing but good deeds, the townspeople will mob you, plying you with gifts. If you want to encourage that, press the right bumper to bring up the Expression Wheel and try doing a thumbs up or blowing someone a kiss. (Note: belching and farting isn't as effective.) Once someone's captivated by you, give them a ring and pop the question. To ahem...consummate the marriage, buy a house and drag your spouse into it. There, “use” the bed to have all the unprotected sex you want! But only if you're hoping soon after to hear the pitter pat of little feet. Yup, you can have kids in Fable II. (Funny though; I had husbands in several different towns, but I was never able to have more than one kid. Hrm....could it have anything to do with my tendency to sacrifice husbands at the Temple of Shadows?)
Aside from your behavior, your appearance plays a big part in the way people react to you. Improve your attractiveness rating by going to a salon, buying new clothes, or getting certain tattoos. Things that negatively affect your Attractiveness include a high Corruption level, too many scars (gained whenever you get knocked out in combat) or being too fat. The fat thing is crazy—I ate a total of three times during the first half of the game, ballooned up, and had to endure all manner of “fat” comments from passersby until I ate enough celery to work it off. I suggest using potions, not food to heal unless you dig having thunder thighs. Anyway, those guys at Lionhead have some interesting ideas about attractiveness, especially when it comes to clothing. To get the highest possible Attractiveness rating, my lady Hero had to wear a Three Musketeers-like hat, a pink cropped jacket, a corset, thigh-high boots and a pair of brown daisy duke shorts. Tall, muscular and covered with scars, she looked like a Pussycat Doll gone horribly wrong.
Even when people are insulting you, you should talk to them because they're endlessly entertaining. There are some hilariously scary characters too, like the male prostitutes of Bloodstone. I dare you to resist a half-naked slob cooing suggestively, “Hey, you wanna make some cookies?” It's cool that Lionhead has a sense of humor about gender issues. You can play as male or female, non-player characters can be either gay or straight; you can proposition anyone you want, and if the mood takes you, feel free to cross-dress!
Whether you're man, woman or something in between, you won't want to spend all your time in town. The wilderness between towns is full of highwaymen and assassins so if you're heading out there, you better be well-trained and well-equipped. Every time you get into a scrap, you earn experience points which are represented by glowing orbs that spurt out of enemies as you beat the...cotton candy out of them. These orbs come in four varieties: Strength, Skill, Will and General and can be spent on upgrading your abilities in the Pause menu. So many skills—so little time. How do you choose from such a mouthwatering array?
It depends on the kind of character you want to play. If you spend most of your points on Strength abilities, you'll become an expert at using weapons like axes, swords, hammers and maces. You'll also get taller and bulkier, lengthen your health meter and learn to perform powerful flourishes and counterattacks. If you're not interested in looking like Andre the Giant, you can spend your points on Skill abilities. These are primarily related to ranged weaponry like pistols, rifles and crossbows as well as improving Targeting, Accuracy and Speed. Lastly, if weaponry doesn't appeal to you as much as say, searing your enemies with flames that shoot from your hands, spend your points on Will abilities. With these, you can blast your enemies with powerful elemental attacks. Upgrading this branch also makes blue glowing runes appear all over your face and body.
Secondary quests, social interactions, shopping, gaining experience and leveling—Fable II has so much to offer, you're likely to get distracted from the main storyline, as good as it is. And that's OK because the game allows you to explore and do things in your own time. In addition to the quest system, Fable II has a number of entertaining mini-games. Some of them come in the form of Jobs like bartending, wood chopping or blacksmithing, all simple rhythm games that serve as your primary means of earning money.
But what if you just don't see yourself as a working stiff? In that case, hunt down a Game Master. You'll find them wandering roads and sitting in pubs offering the roulette-like game Keystone, the slot-machine-ish Spinner Box and the card game Fortune's Tower—all of them completely addictive. And they're not just fun, they're profitable. Let me offer you some advice—once you've hit the Spinnerbox jackpot, make your money work for you. Unless you want to chop a lot of dad-blamed wood, that is. Invest in real estate; buy homes and businesses in the towns, furnish them all fancy-like, rent them out, set the prices, and pretty soon you'll have a good chunk of change coming to you nice and regular.
Having a steady cash flow is essential so you'll have the leisure time to do all the extras Albion has to offer. Things like hunting for treasure, shooting gargoyles, and solving the mysterious demon doors and expression statues. Treasure can be found in random chests, most of them lying out in the open. Your dog is great at alerting you to those, as well as finding good spots to dig up valuable stuff. Good things aren't only found on land, though, so keep an eye out for diving spots in rivers and lakes. And if you find silver keys floating in hidden areas, grab 'em because they'll enable you to open special chests containing even better items like weapon augments.
To find a mythical gargoyle treasure trove, you have to shoot every gargoyle you see and that's not as easy as it sounds. Gargoyles are stone monster heads decorating bridges and buildings, that mock you when you walk past. So if you're creeping through a mine shaft and suddenly you hear, “I'd ask ye to shoot me, but ye'd probably poke yer eye out!”, you'll know a gargoyle is nearby. Make sure you shoot it and shut its smarmy mouth.
Don't relax even if you've shot all the gargoyles because they aren't the only inanimate pranksters in Albion. The demon doors—man, those things scare the bejeezus out of me. It never fails. I'll be bookin' it down a forest path and suddenly this almost-camouflaged stone head looms out at me and I nearly soil my daisy dukes. Anyway, demon doors offer access to secret areas if you can do whatever it is they want. Expression statues are similar to demon doors; they require you to perform a certain Expression in front of them. If you do the right expression, they reveal secrets to you. If you do the wrong one, they clock you in the head.
Fable II is a lovingly-crafted game in every detail of the intriguing storyline, the creative level design, the mood-setting soundtrack and the gorgeous graphics. It's an especially close race between the high-quality sound and the art. Danny Elfman's Fable theme sets the tone for the rest of the score, which sounds like something from a Tim Burton movie. All of it, from the rustic violin of the Gypsy Camp to the ethereal harp of Bower Lake, is fanciful and romantic. The voice acting is amazing too, and includes the talents of Stephen Fry from V for Vendetta, Ron Glass, who was Shepherd on Firefly and Serenity, and Zoe Wannamaker, who plays Madame Hooch, the Quidditch coach from the Harry Potter series.
Not to be outdone, the graphics are stunning. The cutscenes are incredibly beautiful and the environments are impressively varied and seem to have been carefully constructed with beauty, context and game play in mind—no cutting corners here. The only downside would be the look of the characters, which are somewhat awkward and not quite up to the level of their surroundings. For instance, my orphan girl seemed to have a 10 year old body and a 25 year old face. Yeesh.
Fable II is primarily a single-player game but if you can talk a friend into being your henchman, you can play co-op either locally or via Xbox Live. Henchmen earn experience and gold but can't buy anything. That hardly sounds fair, but if you attach your henchman to your own existing Hero, you can transfer any henchman gold you earn to him or her.
In spite of frequent load times and imperfect characters, Fable II is in all respects, a new high watermark in single-player action RPG's. It has everything a gamer hopes for: tons of content, a sense of humor, an immersive world, visceral combat, a fun RPG system, and the highest quality sound and graphics. So jump in—the Fable II love bus always has room for one more.
The Good: This is one of the best quality titles released this year in terms of audio, graphics, story and game play.
The Bad: Load times can be excessive and characters are not quite up to par with the rest of the graphics.