Fable 2 is all about choice. Whether you decide to be an evil tyrant or a kind-hearted soul, the way your story pans out is in direct relationship to your choices in and out of the game.
After all, the main plot is rather basic, and charging through at breakneck pace will see you finishing the game in a surprisingly short amount of time. However, it seems clear that Peter Molyneux’s plan was for the player to take their time and explore the world around them.
And what a world it is. The team at Lionhead have created a masterpiece and while it lacks graphical power in comparison to the recently released Fallout 3, the land of Albion is beautiful. The sunlight effects are a treat, as the burning sun at midday or at sunset really change the way the environment feels. Accompanying this is the gorgeous sound track, which is one of the best I have ever heard, fitting in perfectly with the landscape. Its’ release on iTunes also emphasises the quality of the score. The art design is another plus point, with the architecture feeling similar to the original, yet with a distinct darker tone. It really feels like a jaunt back to the renaissance England, something that is never really achieved in American developed games.
Set 500 years after the original, you play as a sprightly young hero/heroine. There is no real need to have knowledge of the previous game, yet there are references to the past that will be of interest to those fond of the Fable universe. In fact, there is no real need to have any knowledge of the plot of Fable 2, since it is ridiculously run-of-the-mill. In effect, a bad guy needs to be defeated to save the world. Any embellishment on the plot other then that would give away spoilers, but to be honest, the ‘twists and turns’ are all predictable. The real emotional depth comes from the residents of Albion.
It is these small characters and your interaction with them that makes this game fantastic. While it may seem too easy to dance and fart your way to fame and glory, there is a real sense of pride when you come home from exploring and are chased around the town by adoring fans. Or by sword-brandishing guards. While these characters have no impact on the central plot, their reaction to you has greater importance. One time while I was walking the streets of Oakfield, a small child asked me for my autograph. It may have been a small gesture from the wee nipper, but it altered my choices, as I was just about to raise the prices in the shops I owned in order to raise cash, yet sacrifice my fame.
The balance between being good and bad was successful in the original Fable, yet has been improved for the sequel. Choices never seem overly emphasised or stereotypical and on many occasions I had to pause the game to think about how my reactions might affect my image. The more you are liked, the more discounts you get in shops, and yet scaring the public is also entertaining. The technical side of these choices are neatly integrated into gameplay, with stats floating above villagers’ heads, akin to The Sims. However, the overall menu system is a complete mess. Upgrading your character and dog takes a large amount of effort, and the map is confusing and small. On numerous occasions I had to squint at it in order to find a specific shop. Molyneux’s technique to lead you around the world via a golden trail of ‘bread crumbs’ works well though, eradicating the need of a mini-map while playing and fitting in subtly with the picturesque scenery. It inspires exploring, as you always know that when you are done scurrying through the woods you can always turn around and follow the trail towards your quest. Or horny wife. (No joke – I was once informed that something important had happened with my family to discover it plainly said ‘Wife: Wants Sex.’)
Apart from this magical trail, your main companion on your adventure is your dog. While it was promised to be a canine chum that you felt real emotion towards, I never cared whether it was there or not. It is, however, an impressive tool, finding treasure and attacking enemies. The ability to develop it alongside your own character was a smart move by the developers though, as it allows the two to grow at the same time. Unfortunately, I just didn’t feel that bond. However, if Nintendogs was your cup of tea then you will probably enjoy his company.
The wealth of things to do in Fable 2 though wipes out all these negative points. There always seems to be new quests to do, new people to meet or new items and experience to gain. The depth is staggering and the structure of the game is beneficial as it allows the player to create their own individual adventure. The style of fighting is simplistic, with single buttons assigned to physical slashes with swords, magical attacks and ranged attacks with bows and guns. The system works well though, as experience from battles automatically assign to the categories you fought with, which can then be spent on upgrades for that type of style. If your character dies, then you simply lose a small amount of experience and regenerate straight away. The benefits of this mean that Fable 2 can be enjoyed by people new to RPGs, as the lack of confusing statistics move the focus to the moral side of the character. After all, the main character in Fable 2 is Albion itself, as the world is so engrossing and your choices are so profound. Your ability to change the lives of those around you is so addictive that it is difficult to stop playing, and a game that makes you do that is a game worth buying. The few minor flaws can’t stop this game being a masterpiece.