I was one of the people who didn't mind Fable, even though PM promised a lot of things it was clear from the outset that Lionhead weren't able to deliver on a lot of features for the original game, yet, I still enjoyed it. It was tongue in cheek, it had a fairly interesting story and the graphics were quite pretty for the time. So now we're back in Albion once again and the world has changed, the old hero from Fable is no more and new places have sprung up to replace the likes of Oakvale and Bowerstone's manor (once owned by Lady Grey).
Yet in many ways playing Fable 2 can be likened to playing Fable as it was meant to be, or even Fable 1.5. Since you progress from childhood to adult (again) in a set of circumstances that sees you make some tough choices along the way.
Let me elaborate. Fable 2 is easy to control, whilst the main character's movement can feel a little 'floaty' - the combat is solidly done enough and it's possible for a complete stranger to video games, especially a 'combat' heavy rpg like Fable 2, to pick up a controller and press the face buttons to perform their moves. X is the sword, Y is the gun and B is magic. It's that simple. There are slightly more complex moves (flourishes) available with the sword and a few tricks with the gun.
By holding down X you can block, pushing the left stick in a direction and holding down X allows you (when you've earnt it) to perform said flourish and garner much more xp in battles than you normally would. Each time you fight an opponent, or a group, you get experience orbs (xp) that allow you to put points into your three core attributes at any time (as long as you have enough). Strength, Skill and Will are the main focus groups.
Strength contains all of the sub-skills that give your character power in combat or more life, Skill contains the dexterity based stuff that speeds you up and allows you to focus your firearm attacks, zoom in and sub-target body parts. Will is for magic and contains the numerous spells that are reminiscent of Fable's spell-list. By holding down B you can charge up your spells to the next level and get a bigger/better/more powerful effect.
That's the combat and skill system in a nut-shell.
Fable 2 differs from Fable in terms of scope and approach to the core mechanics of the 3d action rpg. For a start, there's only a small mini-map of the area to use to keep your bearings, the rest of the game leads you through the story or current quest (and there are tonnes) by giving you what PM describes as the: golden breadcrumb trail, likening Fable 2 to an adult fairy tale more than a hardcore rpg. This glimmering golden line appears and guides you to the next objective and part of the main story.
Of course you can actually choose to ignore it and wander off (this is to be recommended) to find treasures and hidden items throughout the world. It's packed with things to discover and there are nine Demon Doors to open this time around, each holding a unique area behind it and sometimes a Legendary weapon as well. To help you in this task you have your faithful furred companion, the dog. The dog is more than just a bog-standard sidekick though; he's actually quite a simulation in terms of AI, perhaps too good.
The dog can perform tricks to help you wow onlookers, he can learn expressions and he can find hidden treasures (dig spots) as well as point out cunningly hidden treasure chests and special quest items. He'll growl when enemies are near and as your character evolves, so does he. If you're good, you'll end up with a golden furred companion, if you're evil, you'll end up with a nasty mutt indeed. He'll even attack enemies when they get knocked down as long as he's got a high enough combat skill. You can teach him tricks from the Bowerstone Bookstore, or books that you discover lying around.
He never gets under your feet but he can be a little annoying when all you want to do is get from A->B and there's a bunch of hidden treasures, dig spots and the like around. Stopping every five seconds because he's barking to attract your attention gets a little tedious after a while. Of course you could ignore him, but then you might miss out on something like an augment (for your weapons) which is a magical stone that gives your weapons special powers. Or alternatively you could miss out on digging up a condom.
As previously mentioned Fable 2's Albion is a larger world, with much more to do. There are some quests that aren't open until you finish the core story as well and they bring interesting rewards. There are some quests that are repeatable and of course you have to do them to earn Renown, this will give you access to new expressions and allow you to progress further in the story. There are no gold coins in wooden chests and barrels this time, your main source of gold is either as a reward as part of a quest or from doing jobs in Albion's major regions. Jobs such as Blacksmithing bring high rewards fairly quickly, allowing you to build up enough cash to buy shops and houses. With shops and houses there's profit to be made from managing the prices and rent.
You gain gold every 5 minutes based on how much you own property wise in rent, and shops in terms of profit. You can also gamble in three unique games as long as you can find a Gamesmaster. These fellows let you play Spinnerbox - a game of chance where it's just a case of spinning three or more wheels to match symbols. Keystone, a curious little game where you're betting on an arch of stones to make money before the thing collapses and Fortune's Tower, where you have to get to the bottom of the card tower avoiding bad luck cards. Each game comes with the rules clearly laid out.
Fable 2 is also compatible with Fable 2 Pub Games, the Xbox Live Arcade game that came out before the core game. This lets you earn unique items for use in Fable 2 and gives you a chance to merge your Fable 2 character with the pub games character, porting gold that you make in Pub Games back to Fable 2. PM calls it emergent gameplay and whilst it might sound like a fancy word, it works pretty well. Fable 2 also lets you earn gold whilst you're offline. Every hour (we think) you're awarded a sum of gold based on property and shops that you own.
Turn off Fable 2 for example and go to sleep come back tomorrow and you may well find you've earned in excess of 140,000 gold whilst you've been away. Leave it off for a week and you're going to be rolling in those coins. If that's not enough PM and the team at Lionhead have created a world that rewards the explorer and those diligent enough to poke around every nook and cranny of Albion will find there's some nice loot to be had.
Albion is a world that won't remain static either, based on your actions at certain pivotal moments in the story, you can transform a gutter town into a thing of beauty or let it rot like the cesspool that you want it to be. You can help or hinder the guards by taking Bounty Hunting jobs or Civilian Displacement missions. You can be a true hero or just an angry anti-hero with a score to settle using people as tools to get to the final goal. There really is a fair bit of choice even if it's simple stuff. You can transform an area by spending lots of money on it, raise the economy and you'll change the way the traders price their wares and the quality of their goods.
You can influence people in a similar way, perform the right expressions and they'll be putty in your hands. Of course this can lead to a lot of people falling in love with you, following you around Bowerstone with doe-like eyes and twittering incessantly about how they really want a ring. As your life transforms you can live it how you want, a free spirit on the road with just you and your dog. Or you can choose to raise a family, marry a man or a woman (no matter your gender) or just sleep around (having protected or unprotected sex).
Fable 2 allows you to play as a male or female character too.
Fable 2 is a nice looking game, it's got some gorgeous vistas and because it has a day/night cycle there are some stunning visual moments (there can be some frame drop from the special effects, but it's minor). The main character graphics aren't bad at all and as expected from PM and Lionhead, the animations for the game are top notch. The combat is well animated and becomes more fluid when you gain flourishes and learn the tricks of the combat system. The architecture and model design is also top-notch, there are several unique characters to look out for and some of the models are amusing. Visit Bloodstone for instance and look at the male prostitute there.
To marry with the visual aspect, the audio aspect is likewise excellent with some beautiful spot effects and ambient sounds. Lionhead has taken a great deal of time and effort to reward the player who explores or loiters around a camp or city at night. There are some truly choice moments of dialogue that can be heard only when folks are sleeping in their beds during the late hours of Albion's night time. The voice acting is quality along with performances from the likes of Stephen Fry (Reaver) and Zoe Wanamaker (Theresa), even Ron Glass is along for the ride (Shepherd Book from Firefly) as Garth the magician.
There are some moments where the dialogue gets repeated from the various minor npcs, but for the most part they offer different speeches. It's usually when they desire a good time or marriage that things repeat, or when you perform an expression that they like. I can forgive Lionhead for this since the game is pretty massive to begin with and the voice acting simply lends even more life to a world that could be extremely barren without it. As for the music, the Danny Elfman Fable theme is there in all its glory and the rest of the music compares favourably to that and matches it nicely.
The AI is good, there are a few moments where the dog seems to become confused but these are few and far between. The enemy AI varies depending on the creature or human opponent and they have various levels of morale, something like Hobbes will run away if pressed too hard. Certain bandits won't budge even if you slaughter their friends and colleagues.
Finally Lionhead have given players a chance to play online with each other or on the same screen cooperatively if a friend pops around to play. The catch is that you're a guest in the other heroes' world and whilst your character abilities are those of your hero - your appearance and weapons are those of the henchman you can choose from when you bring up the multiplayer screen. There are no lobbies and everything is jump-in/jump-out in design. You can set your ambient orbs (representations of other players in the game, to everyone, or just friends only), converse, trade and interact with them.
See a friend, you can ask them to join your world.
You can choose how much gold and xp you award to your henchman and they will gain a portion of your income every 5 minutes as well.
There are a few lag issues with the game until you apply the update, even then they don't go away fully. It is however a great game to play with a friend and whilst you're not the central hero if you join another person's session, it's still a right step forwards in terms of cooperative multiplayer, since you can combine certain Will spells with another player to create combination magic as well as cooperatively battle enemies with flourishes and style.
There's one more feature that I've left until last, it's called 'Safety' and it is there to prevent accidental death/maiming of npcs and so on in your game. It's also there to stop people from coming into your Fable 2 session and ruining your world. With Safety off a player can rampage through Albion and kill people, end your married life and basically destroy your character's ideal world. Now it's all well and good if you're an evil sod bent on bringing fear into the populace's hearts, but, if you're a good guy it's going to be hard to repair the damage that's been done. You have been warned.
So whilst it isn't a perfect game, it's a fun one and it's a good one and if you can't be bothered to read the review above as to why. Yes, it's worth getting, especially if you like a darker kind of fairy tale where you are definitely the central character. It's obviously setup for a sequel and Lionhead have said its part of a trilogy so we'll have to see where and how that goes.
With dlc (downloadable content) looming on the horizon as well only time will tell.