Fable 2 Review - January 21

A runaway commercial hit for the original Xbox, Peter Molyneux’s action adventure epic was a flawed but unstoppably popular title. An open letter of apology for unfulfilled promises and a console generation later, we arrive at Fable 2.

It must be such a nightmare for the folks at Lionhead to try and keep up with the demands made of them by their infamous lead designer. Molyneux has made it no secret that he likes to push the envelope and try out new ideas. But not all of his experiments have worked out for the best! Looking back on the original Fable, you find a game that was very much a victim of its own ambition. The technology available back in the day had a tough time elevating it beyond a linear button masher that lacked replayability. At the time, it was seen as a cutting edge effort. Who would have thought a (sort of) RPG Action Adventure would capture the loving attention of the gaming masses? This was undoubtedly an achievement in itself, especially with all those first person shooters dominating the charts. So, when sales figures flew through the roof, all eyes were soon on Microsoft for news of the next chapter.

That news came and went, and so here we are. First things first, you should know that Fable 2 has embraced the next gen tradition of being bigger, prettier and more accessible. This sequel would fall flat on its face if it didn’t demonstrate that sufficient leaps and bounds had been made. Thankfully, Fable 2 has upped the visual stakes in almost every area. To be honest, we expected nothing less. The primary colour graphics don’t produce the same wow factor as say, Far Cry 2, but they are still impressive. The well faked sense of scale of the Xbox original has been replaced by areas that really are that huge. And now, exploration doesn’t end when the road does; new context sensitive actions let you climb over that fence, dive off that bridge, and vault over that barrel like never before! There are glitches here and there, and you should watch out for those annoying frame rate drops that crop up now and again. But Fable 2 is a noticeably prettier game. Lionhead have created an Albion that has a much better sense of its own identity; a world that’s heavily populated and bursting with collectibles. It’s not the best looking thing you can buy for Xbox 360, but it’s got a charming visual style that’s second to none.

Luckily, you can't die.

So there you have it. The presentation is consistent and generally very nice throughout. At least that’s ticked one box. Now we move on to the story. You begin life as a small boy, struggling for survival on the streets of a town called Bowerstone. A fateful encounter with the main villain of the tale, Lord Lucian, sets you on your path of becoming the hero. It’s during the opening section of the game that Lionhead introduces you to the morality system, based on the choices that influence your good/evil alignment. These take the form of specific decisions that you must make as you encounter different people and accept new quests. The consequences of your decisions weigh in on your characters appearance and influence how others perceive you. Although it hasn’t moved on very much from Fable 1, it’s a fun and quite in-depth feature that gives a feeling of progression to the whole experience. When you combine this with a combat system that encourages you to use all of the tools at your disposal, a much better targeting system, and a fantastic set of controls, you get a single player experience that is a pleasure to play from start to finish.

A major problem with the first Fable was the length of the main quest. Although there were plenty of secondary objectives and other distractions to keep you busy, the whole thing felt like it came to an end much too quickly. Needless to say, this was very disappointing. It’s a huge shame then that you can plough through the main events of Fable 2 in almost no time at all. What makes this so frustrating is that the story is actually quite good. It is much easier to follow this time around. There are some cut scenes thrown in to emphasize the important bits, and the voice talent Lionhead managed to secure (including Stephan Fry and Zoe Wanamaker) helps to show off the much higher production values. But there just isn’t enough story content out of the box for my liking. The potential for downloadable expansions here is obviously huge, and may become crucial should interest in the game begin to falter.

Now that's a foreboding house.

Now we move onto to the fresh additions Lionhead have made to the series. They certainly made some interesting choices, to say the least. First up, we have the dog. Yes, the very same loyal sidekick that seemed to be the topic of choice whenever Molyneux was doing the promotional rounds for Fable 2. Needless to say, it’s a big part of the game, and what makes it so effective is that it doesn’t force you to devote a lot of time to it. Unlike a lot of A.I. “partners” that have graced many games of late, Lionhead’s take on a man’s best friend can very much take care of himself, in a pleasing variety of situations. There’s a great deal of hidden treasure lying buried in the fields of Albion, and you can be sure that whenever you get close your canine companion will lead you to its location. The dog can also be augmented with new abilities, and it will reflect your good/evil standing through its own set of unique visual changes. It’s also wonderfully animated, during both context sensitive actions and its standard behavioral patterns. There’s even a dedicated section in the new expressions wheel that lets you stroke, discipline, reward, and even play fetch with the dog. Perhaps most crucially, he will attack anyone who deems you a threat, and is an asset in almost any combat situation. It has been so well made that it does nothing but add to the game in so many ways.

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Lionhead Studios