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Fable II

22 Oct 2008  by   Paul Younger

I have a confession to make: I did not like the first Fable. Yes, that much loved and cherished Xbox classic. I just could not get to grips with it and I am a closet RPG junkie. However, having followed the progress of Lionhead’s new instalment, I was hoping for something more tangible and sublime to get my RPG teeth into and I was not disappointed.Fable II casts you as the hero, male or female, in the world of Albion, but I use the term ‘hero’ loosely. Your actions as you progress will determine whether you end up being an upstanding citizen and example of righteousness to all or a total philandering toe rag, all the while being accompanied by your faithful canine companion. You start out in childhood as a guttersnipe roaming the streets of Bowerstone with your sister, doing good or evil deeds, until things take an unpleasant turn and you enter adulthood and begin your quest. The main quest’s premise does not break any new RPG ground: Albion is a world bereft of heroes, the hero’s guild having been destroyed some time ago, and your task is to unite the chosen four: yourself and three others representing strength, skill and will respectively, then take down your nemesis Lucien the games requisite ‘bad ass’.  All pretty familiar, huh?But Fable II’s strengths do not lie with the plot, it is the game’s interactive mechanics that really shine as well as its excellent sense of humour. The comparatively staid and high-brow behemoth that was Oblivion ruined my social life for months, but Fable II is not of that serious ilk. This is evident in the humour, with the initial cut-scene amusingly setting the tone for the rest of the game. You are greeted to sweeping vistas of the game world with the game camera trailing a flying bird. The bird eventually settles on a street light in the very Dickensian town of Bowerstone (your initial start point in the game) and promptly defecates on your characters young head.  Very droll indeed and this exemplifies what is in store for your hero.My foray into Albion started with me picking a female character; I don’t know why but I always pick the girls. In Oblivion I was female and don’t get me started on Final Fantasy. Now, my moral compass does not always point North and true, being more of a Sith than a Jedi, but feeling in a somewhat positive mood I set out on my adventure determined to do good and be just. Man, was that a hard thing to keep up. For a while it was OK. I occasionally blustered into a situation, said the wrong thing or acted inappropriately, thus racking up evil personality points. But that was soon rectified by my healthy derring–do. However, by the time I had reached Bloodstone, a town that is a haven for Albion’s more unsavoury types, do-gooding was wearing thin. I wanted to be bad, but it all got a little out of hand. As I had a character with an attractive personality I was able to get a number of people to follow me. This included a number of men and three women who practice the world’s oldest profession.  Yep you guessed it: strumpets! Well I took them to a room in an inn and had a gangbang. I then promptly whipped out my newly-acquired cleaver (no pun intended) and proceeded to do a Jeffrey Dahmer. Having just butchered my new bed buddies I checked my stats… I had contracted an STD, I was worried that I might be pregnant (STD equals unprotected sex) and I had just murdered the father. Karma? Maybe, but it was fun to be evil and this really sums up Fable II’s truly awesome dynamic, the ability to act and interact with all the NPCs as you wish. As in the original game you have an expression wheel, but this time there are a lot more icons which give you more options in how you talk to and treat people.Every mission in the game can be handled differently and, depending on how you act, subtle differences and nuances will be played out in the rest of your quest. Be evil and people will be afraid of you, be too evil and most merchants will run away from you in sheer terror (making acquiring goods a pain, but you could just steal them). If you get tired of adventuring you could always settle down with your beau, have some kids and get a job. Yes, there is that option – become a blacksmith and hammer out swords, feeling the heat of the forge at your back, or chop wood as a woodcutter whilst wielding your chopper and earning gold. But to me that resembles my own reality too closely so I think I am going to stick with the maiming. And if dressing up is your fetish then you are in for a treat. Like a virtual Barbie doll, dress your hero as you see fit, and you have always harboured a closet liking for cross-dressing but were too afraid to come out, now’s your chance. There is a huge selection of outfits in the game, which you swap and change around as you wish, and more often or not the clothing will convey bonus or negative (depending on how you look at it) points to your characters personality stats (e.g. wear a scary hat and you will appear more aggressive).
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Whether good or evil, you are always accompanied by your faithful pooch.  Name him as you choose, berate him, love and cherish him, ignore him, you can act how you want with your dawg. Your actions also have a direct impact on your mutt. Mine had started with a handsome coat when I was virtuous, but after my killing spree and other subsequent misdemeanours he resembled a flea-ridden tramp’s accomplice. All that was missing was a ‘no home and hungry’ sign hanging from his neck. I felt truly guilty and I have to admit I had formed a relationship with my four-legged pal. Whether or not everyone will bond with their pixellated furry friend remains to be seen – some may view him as a pain in the proverbial. But I was drawn to my ‘Bugger’ (in hindsight probably not the best name for a pet… Bugger the dog anyone?) and he does have his uses, as he can sniff out treasure for you to dig up and gets better at this as the game progresses. Although I found him somewhat flagging in combat, more often than not finding the poor fellah limping around after my more energetic battles, of which there are plenty.Combat and stating up is a straight forward simple affair. Your hero has three basic attacks: melee, ranged and magical assigned to the X, Y and B buttons respectively. These also represent your three skill classes: strength, skill and will. Equip a cutlass and you press X to attack with it, equip a crossbow and fire it with Y, equip a spell and cast it with B. Simple. Maybe too simple. You do not consume ammo or any kind or magic points when using skill and will attacks, so more often than not during the heat of battle you end up button mashing. To stat up, you gain orbs from fallen victims that correspond to the colour of the buttons on the controller. Use more strength/melee attacks you get more blue orbs etc. These orbs can then be used to boost up your three skill classes, opening up more combos, better aim, more devastating spells and so on. This does mean as the game goes on you acquire better moves and abilities, but it does not detract from the fact that the combat and stat system all seems a little too effortless. It seems that Lionhead was trying to make this game accessible to everyone. My nine-year-old could deal with this, whilst if I tried to explain to her Oblivion’s stat system, I think her head would implode.Graphically, the world of Albion is a beautiful place. There are some stunning vistas to take in on your travels and the attention to detail is great. The character customisation options and the diverse range of NPCs you encounter all add to the game. The sound is nothing to be sniffed at either -  it is beautifully rendered from the subtle unobtrusive background music to the rousing battle tunes as danger approaches or you engage in combat. The voice acting is equally impressive; the yokels are forever spouting amusing dialogue in stereotypical but hilarious regional British accents. Stephen Fry and Zoe Wannamaker even make appearances lending weight to the aural experience, voicing two of the major characters that make up the world of Albion.There is a lot more to talk about, but that would inevitably lead to spoilers. The main mission is on the short side (10 to 15 hours should see you safely through without much grief), but take your time and breathe in the sights, sounds and people of Albion and this will be substantially lengthened. The multiplayer unfortunately is a conundrum to me, as far as I am aware you can hop into other peoples worlds and play as a henchman (after all it is there world) although all the experience, gold and items you gain get transferred to your hero on your return to your game. This is achieved by turning on the show orb option in the menu. These orbs represent other players on your friend list or set it to show everybody. You then can approach an orb and if they accept you can jump into their game. I tried, but when I had the orb option on I had was a lot of other journalists following me around seeing what I was up to. I blew a number of farts in their direction courtesy of my expression wheel, then gave up and turned the option off. Once it’s up and ‘live’ properly things may be different. However, Fable II’s replay value resides in the excellent game design and choice that it offers the gamer. Play through as a goody two shoes, then go back and do it all again as a bona fide psychopath. The scope is endless.   

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