Peter Molyneux is back, this time with a follow up to the 2004 hit, Fable. But can a new version, aptly named Fable II, capture our gaming hearts once again? We get playing to find out.
Claimed as a sequel to the original game, Fable II is about as much of a sequel to Fable as Aliens is to Alien. There are shared elements, they exist in the same universe, but that's it. This is more of a remake to be fair with new characters and all new elements to the gameplay.
This time around you have the choice of playing a penniless street-urchin (boy or girl), compared to the penniless village boy in the first one, about to become Albion's greatest "Hero" and avenge the death of your sister.
With a setting of yesteryear you can expect the usual scenery: there's country lanes, dark haunted woods and medieval towns complete with market stalls and inns. Graphics on the Xbox were stunning at the time and Lionhead studios, the game’s developers, have worked hard to make sure Fable II lives up to the previous experience. The cutscenes are impressive and in-game the graphics are equally appealing.
Rather than fix you on a set path, the game now promises to be 10 times the size of the original map found in Fable so you can roam to your heart’s content. To keep you from wandering off into the forest never to be seen again, the game offers a glowing trail that directs you to the next task. It is as helpful as it is annoying. Helpful because it keeps the game focused on the task ahead, annoying because it's all too easy to forget about everything else. Roaming will reap you rewards, but it is hard to sometimes break from the path of least resistance.
Completing the main goal while being sidetracked at virtually every step is what the game is all about though. Like before, those sidetracks will take you on the path of becoming a righteous do-gooder or an evil character: so evil you’d consider inviting a terrorist round for tea.
Right from the start you are given the choice of good or evil and depending on how you react, those choices will not only determine how your character grows (this is an RPG after all), but how people in the game interact with you.
Do good, flirt with random strangers and the love and praise starts flowing in: pick a fight and you'll soon be branded a trouble maker. You have plenty of controls and quips at your disposal.
In an interface that is rather similar to The Sims you can get your character to charm his way into a girl’s heart (although you can't be gay). Everything from wolf whistling to making them laugh is possible. The results can be rewarding, you get a sleep bonus if you're married, but frustrating as you'll have to support them. Get them pregnant (yes you really can) and you've got a family you're going to have to visit rather than sleeping your way around the game on your merry quest (you can do that as well). Allegiances can be made and broken based on how you interact.
One allegiance that sticks with you from the beginning is a friendly dog that stays by your side. There doesn't, at least in our play, seem to be a point to the dog that's by your side (he's not a pack mule able to carry kit for example), although he is helpful in keeping you company and alerting you to approaching foe.
Pets aside, the main focus as we've said is to mould your character, good or bad, as you see fit. This being a typical RPG, you have three ways to do this by developing your "Strength", "Skill" or "Will" powers.
Developing theses "paths" is done by getting into fights and battles and then collecting the experience orbs once you've defeated the enemy. As you would expect the more orbs you collect the more experience you have on upgrading your skill set and the more chance you've got of becoming that powerful wizard or warrior.
"Strength" lets you focus on hand-to-hand combat, "Skill" on range weapons and "Will" on magic, and it is easy to master the relevant skills that come with improved power.
"Will", when you've got plenty of spells under your belt, is the toughest to manage as you’ll have to start navigating a menu system to access the right spell for the right moment. It's not impossible to master, it's just not that easy to pick-up either.
Beside the single player campaign, Fable II also features a co-op mode that sees you and a chum travelling together. Rather than both being swashbuckling "Heroes", one of you will have to play a henchman. It's a nice idea, but one that's bound to cause arguments as all gold and experience orbs collected in the session go to the hero.
Molyneux has a fascination with good versus evil (Populous, Black and White, Theme Park) and its very prevalent here in Fable II. In 2004 we said of the first Fable: "Epic is an understatement, whether you like RPGs or not this is a must have Xbox game".
If you are into RPGs the same can be said for Fable II. The core element of the game hasn't really changed: it's still filled with choices to make. However while the story isn't anything original - avenging the death of a loved one, yawn - the endless possibilities and replay ability to see what would happen if you choose a different path means that RPG fans will want to keep coming back for more.
This isn't a pick-up and play title that gives you 5 minutes of gaming fix before heading out to the pub, however it is approachable enough that it's not too geeky.
Good fun that is sure to teach as well as give you hours of entertainment.