Fable II was undoubtedly one of the biggest games released on the Xbox 360 in 2008. From the stable of the infamous Peter Molyneux, the now defunct Lionhead Studios, Fable II pledged to rectify all those broken promises from the first release in the series. With the analogous comparison to that of the acorn freely growing into a tree within world of Fable – a feat which the first title clearly failed to accomplish – Fable II was suggested to offer an unprecedented, believable world in that of Albion. And this is while Molyneux himself claimed he had learnt from his mistakes.

Hindsight is 20-20, so they say. It was later clear that Molyneux’s grand over-promising had gone nowhere. Subsequent games created by the auteur still present big promises and little fire. However, with Fable II, the letdowns of the first Fable are considered water under-the bridge. The game, despite failing to live-up to the complexity that had been promised, was considered to be a worthwhile adventure through a pleasantly constructed world. Lionhead Studios had been given the chance to expand this world. To create a believable Albion within which the player could create peace, or wreak havoc. And throughout all of the adventures within, there’s no denying that Molyneux and Lionhead Studios have acknowledged the fan’s criticisms.

Fable II screenshot

Fable Means Story

The introductory script of the siblings sets the scene of a fantasy world perfectly. It has clearly been inspired by motion pictures of a similar ilk. In this opening segment, the choice between good and evil, right and wrong, are quite obvious. They act as a nice demonstration of how basic decisions will affect future outcomes.

The main storyline is coupled with a world which quite clearly revolves directly around the player. As a big part of the title’s remit, the world of Albion reacts to your deeds. Both good and bad. The player’s character model will change. Not only with age while progressing through the storyline, but also to become twisted and grotesque through evil actions. Or light and jolly through virtue. The changes in environment that are affected by your decisions become more apparent when progressing through the story, too. Come two-thirds progression a player pure of heart may well see little other than sun-drenched vistas and crisp green grass. Whereas a corrupted player is likely to see dark and gloomy rain drenched streets.

‘Will you go and adventure, or stay home and raise a family?’ asked the pre-release hype. The answer is, of course, you will go and adventure. For while the alternate ideals of gameplay may be very clever, they are side attractions and nothing more. There’s simply not enough depth – not enough things to do – to make your world of Albion one within which you are nothing but a humble family man.

Fable II screenshot

It’s Your Fable, But Not Yours Alone

It is incredibly good fun to toy with the townsfolk or free a slum from the peril of bandits. However,each transition the game goes through to alter the world is executed with strong ties to traditional videogame conventions. It’s not hard to draw parallels between getting a girl to marry you and running delivery missions in Animal Crossing. Or finding a new spell in The Legend of Zelda. The experience has been placed there for you to enjoy; by playing through it you are simply moving through stages the developers had anticipated.

There’s no denying that Lionhead Studios crafted the most reactionary world ever seen in a videogame. But Albion is just that: reactionary. Never has the saying “the world revolves around you” been more appropriate. On the most basic level, dancing in the streets will soon attract an audience. All of whom will have a similar opinion on your activities. Should you then begin picking on one individual, taunting and hurling abuse, you shall fall in the opinions of all the gathered townsfolk.

Moving back-and-forth for several minutes, exiting and re-entering a town will allow the player to see the strings of this elaborate puppet show. It’s not hard to picture all your actions as to-ing and fro-ing a placemarker on a meter which controls the overall mood of Albion as a whole.

The co-operative mode is quite simply a huge disappointment. Far from the go-anywhere, do-anything gameplay we were promised. The second player is tethered directly to the first, unable to affect anything other than combat or basic social interactions. Without even being able to bring across their own character model – although your combat statistics remain intact – it’s quite clear that the gameplay mode places the newcomer into the first player’s save data and nothing more.

Fable II screenshot

Did Someone Say Zelda?

Playing as a third-person adventure game, Fable II draws inspiration from classic The Legend of Zelda titles. The construction of the game’s quests and dungeons, environments and principles of its combat have all been directly lifted. Though given a 2008 sheen. The X button controls melee attacks, with timing and the left analogue stick selecting from the available Move Set. Y button fires your ranged weapon and the B button controls magic. A surprising amount of depth is entrenched in the system, especially when coupled with combat bonuses for experience and the slow-motion moments symbolising the game’s variant of a Critical Strike – again, as is seen in many The Legend Of Zelda titles.

The game operates in a more linear fashion than expected. There are designated points at which you’re “allowed” to complete side-quests and raise your family. All without affecting the main quest.

The title looks very pleasant; a similar looking world to that of Overlord. Chunky character models and varied locales make for interesting journeys and missions, and each character in the main quest has been particularly well presented. The sound quality too is of a high standard, with many famous British performers adopting roles of varying significance. Hearing Zoë Wanamaker announce, “You now have enough experience to use the ‘Kiss my Arse’ Expression,” is a moment most British gamers will never forget.

There is little quite like Fable II coming to consoles at present. Fable II isn’t in itself wasn’t revolutionary, but it stands as a pioneer for a genre we’ve seen little of since. The upcoming Fable reboot may well be perfectly timed to capitalise on this. We can only hope it delivers on the promise of a reactive world to a far greater extent than Fable III managed to deliver.

Categories: Games