Let’s get it out of the way: Fable 1 was seen as a big disappointment by gamers, but it was still accepted as a fun game in spite of the flaws. Developers don’t live up to promises all the time. Games fall flat of their expectations. Gamers don’t quite get what they want (but, then again, the game community is nigh impossible to consistantly please). It happens. Good developers learn from their mistakes and tend to improve with the next go.
Somehow, Fable 2 managed to be more disappointing to me, nor was it quite as fun. Peter Molyneux and the people of Lionhead are creative and very capable developers. Though some might disagree with the label, I’d definitely place them in the catagory of “good developers.” So, if they are, in fact, good developers, why does Fable 2 not really seem to make any noteable improvements? Sure, they make little additions here or there, but very little seems to have improved either the sandbox feel or the RPG elements. In some cases, it seems as if there’s been regression in the gameplay between the original and the sequel. In others, it just feels as if nothing was really added by doing it.
One of only two worthwhile improvement I can see the game introduced is the world itself. The original Fable was often mocked for how claustrophobic its world was. When travelling, you were often just stuck on a narrow path, fenced off on both sides, just moving in a straight line. I don’t even remember there being any hills. Fable 2’s presentation of the fanciful world of Britain Albion, several centuries removed from the previous, thankfully features more variation. Instead of narrow paths between locations, you have several large fields that are full of hills, lakes, buildings, and all sorts of features you’d expect in the fields of a good Zelda-clone. There are a couple of locations that retain the feel of Fable 1’s narrow pathways, and most of the dungeons are like this, but the vast majority of your time in Fable 2 is either spent in these open fields or in the fairly open towns. In opening the world up, Fable 2 does offer a lot more in the way of exploration, even if there isn’t quite much to find around the world, it’s still nice to be able to run around the rather beautiful landscape.
The only other significant addition is that the game allows multiplayer. At any point past the initial chapter of the game, you are able to either have somebody jump into the game offline and online with either a custom helper or their own character. From the get-go, you can set how much of a share of the spoils of war your friend can take back, should they be using their own character, or you can opt to keep it all to yourself. You are also able to jump into another player’s game and be the guest in their world. Multiplayer really doesn’t change all that much about the game, which almost lead me to put this in the pointless addition section, but, then again, co-op in action-RPGs is usually pretty fun.
In the realm of changes that don’t feel like they make any contributions, the dog is probably going to be the first thing you’ll notice in Fable 2. The dog is there with you from the very beginning, largely doing nothing of importance. Oh, sure, he finds burried treasure for you, but it’s very seldom of any importance. In theory he helps out in battle, but I always found chasing his tail more immediate of a concern than his master being under attack. He is also able to help you find your next objective, but the game gives you plenty of alternatives to where it really doesn’t matter that he has that function. What’s left is just another NPC that you can interact with, but never can get to stop following you, making the hero’s more explicit adventures very awkward.
Well, you never caught a rabbit, so...
Did you know that you can have children? Of course you do. You played this months ago. Peter Molyneux wouldn’t shut up about it when he would gush about how you could start a family. It’s one of the game’s main “features”, yet, after having four children, it became painfully obvious that there wasn’t any purpose to procreation in Albion. Before a certain point in the game, they are locked as infants. After said point, they jump from being infants to instantly being old enough for middle school, no matter when they were born. As infants, there’s really not much interaction to be done. They are in their crib, they cry or giggle whenever you do anything around them, and that’s about it. When they become children…well, it’s roughly the same thing. They act as any other NPC, outside of expecting you to have brought them back a gift every time you leave the house. That’s it. They don’t grow up, leading lives of their own, and have you to become Grandpa/Grandma Hero. You can’t teach them anything. You can’t really take them on an adventure and have them be of any use. Honestly, outside of a single quest which only triggers randomly, your children hardly leave the area of their home if you don’t take them anywhere. Effectively, all they really serve the purpose of is being a novelty and unlocking an achievement. As an amusing aside, while the game does have contraceptives for safe sex, pregnancy can only happen if you’re married, making extra-marital sex almost completely safe…if you ignore the STDs that don’t actually do anything, that is.
You still can't do this
Almost meaningless addition number 3 is that the real estate portion of the game has been expanded to where you can now buy businesses and change around the prices of items. The same can be done for any house you buy and put up for rent. The only purposes this really serves is earning you more money, making shopping less expensive, effecting town economy, and making you either purer (for lowering rent) or corrupt (for getting more money out). Perk 1 is kind of meaningless, since, once you have enough money to buy buildings, you pretty have enough money to buy everything you’ll ever actually need, thus all your money is really just there to buy more buildings. This ties into perk 2. Yes, you can buy a shop to lower the item cost. However, with the money it costs to buy shops with the expensive items, you could have bought the expensive items to begin with. Town economy just deals with what you have available, but I never quite saw anything better become available in a town with a better economy. It also nets you more money, but, again, money is kind of pointless at that point in the game.
Purity/Corruption is a pointless addition itself. Previously, you had a good-evil system that changed how you looked and how the people of the world viewed you. Apparently, Lionhead liked the idea so much that they decided the game could use it twice over. Thus, on top of Good/Evil, you now have the Purity/Corrupt system. Why they didn’t go for an ethics (re: law/chaos) system like any other game wishing to do more than just morality is beyond me. Purity and Corruption don’t really seem all that different from Good and Evil in concept, and the game really doesn’t seem to be able to make much of a difference between them either. Good acts tend to also make you purer, while evil acts tend to corrupt you. As such, you’re never really going to find yourself as an Evil but Pure individual and the only way to be Good and Corrupt is if you happen to eat a ton of meaty foods (as, apparently, eating meat is a corrupt action). Once again, it doesn’t really add anything significant to the experience, other than another stat that you have to watch.
One major change that I felt was a step backwards was the way the game handles its sidequests. Previously, the game had a billboard that you had to travel to to check on to see what was available. Upon selecting a job, you could choose to boast about how you would complete it, adding on extra conditions to the completion of the quest. In a game that was rather on the easy side, this both added a bit of extra challenge to the RPG aspect, as well as made the sandbox aspect of the game more enjoyable, as it would improve your standing in the world if you lived up to your boasts. This is completely gone in Fable 2. Now, you’ve just got a list of quests in your questbook that automatically updates whenever something new becomes available, and boasting is completely out. Now you simply do the quests and get your rewards. Since you can’t really fail quests still, the added challenge of the boasting would have been nice.
There’s one addition to the game that I’m rather unsure on what to classify it as, though I’m definitely not a fan. Instead of gaining money from combat, the main (and only) way to really earn money before you start earning income from your business deals, are doing little sidejobs represented by reflex-based minigames. On one hand, they kind of detract from the RPG-side of the game. On the other hand, they feel somewhat like they add to the sandbox-side of the game, giving you more to do than adventuring or being a business mogul, though the gameworld doesn’t actually reflect it if you become a master craftsman at whatever the job is. They are actually a pretty decent way of scoring a lot of money early on, as it doesn’t take long to gain ranks and better payment. In a way, they actually kind of break the game, as it is possible to earn enough money through them to begin to start buying out and renting properties, thus earning a sizable income early on to where you never have to worry about equipment.
There’s also a “change” they included that I kind of felt went entirely to waste. One of the most infamous features that was planned for Fable 1 was that, for example, if you knocked an acorn down from a tree, it would grow into a tree over time, reflecting that the world of Fable was constantly in motion. It was missed when it didn’t turn up in the final game, and it’s also why what this game does feels nothing more than a gigantic cocktease. When you return to your childhood home after leaving it in the initial chapter and growing up, you find that it has changed based around your previous actions. The game then brags to you about how every action you take has an effect on the future, making it seem as if this long desired feature from the first game has finally been realized. It is readily apparent early on that this is not the case, time is still very much frozen in Albion, and there’s really not anything that causes any permanent changes that reflect your actions. Then the game decides to throw in an event that skips the story forward a decade, with you effectively being out of the picture. Upon your return, the cocktease begins anew. You find that the town that you sailed from to begin your separation from Albion has changed depending on if you made an investment or not. Either it is still the shanty town, full of rogues and other less-than-desirable individuals, it was before or it has become a respectful town, full of nice houses and happy families. You venture out into the world to see what else is changed, only to find that the rest of Albion is pretty much the same as you left it, with the only exception being any of your children that you sired before leaving have now grown from babies to school aged and a single monestary has become a little bigger (and, even then, it’s only the building and not the actual group itself). All the NPCs and general townspeople you knew before look exactly as they did as you left them. Even the NPCs that were children before you left for a decade remain the same as they were before. Feeling satisfied that the game has cockteased you twice on the subject, it goes back to having no real sense of progression of time.
Other changes that don’t fit in with either discussions include the ability to choose your gender or the switch from bows to guns. Gender is something that should have probably been there to begin with, and the only difference it makes is that you are the one that gets pregnant. Guns really aren’t all that different from the bows of Fable 1. If it wasn’t for the different gun types having different rates of fire, range, and reloading speeds, it’d largely be a cosmetic change. You get scarred from dying, but since you rarely ever die and are typically clothed, you’ll probably completely miss this feature. Your leveling also doesn’t factor into your aging, which is a minor plus.
Something else bragged about the game is about how little non-interactive cutscenes there are. However, what this amounts to is that you are just able to move the camera around during events and walk around whenever there is any exposition or background events. While you are generally locked out of doing anything else, as the game effectively freezes your action interface, you are occasionally able to respond to events with an expression or two. This aspect is rarely ever used, however. It is a rather pointless addition, however, since the game is also a bit buggy, there is the possibility that the game can actually forget to take you out of custcene mode, freezing you from being able to interact with anybody outside of emoting to them, meaning you can’t actually enter combat or anything else. Plus, since the game autosaves pretty frequently and you are unable to keep backup saves….do the math.
Aesthetically, I’ve already mentioned that the game looks nice. I’m actually willing to say that it looks impressive. Outside of the game’s dungeons, the world’s different locations all have a very fairytale feel to them, making them very nice to explore. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the artstyle of the characters, they all look good and animate very smoothly. The sound is virtually the same as Fable 1’s. It’s the same fanciful music, with the same cheesy generic british accents. Character development doesn’t seem as interesting, but, at the same time, I think it’s virtually the same as before. Some how, combat feels like it’s taken a hit. Spellcasting doesn’t play as simple as it used to, and ranged combat is more trouble than its worth if you’re not sneaking around.
Now, I know I’ve just spent a great deal of time complaining about Fable 2’s many flaws. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad game. Like its predecessor, it’s a competent action-RPG (at least when it’s not throwing game ending bugs at you) and the sandbox elements are at least a distraction, even if they are fairly pointless. There’s also a sizable amount of content to keep you playing long enough to where you’ll never feel ripped off. While I probably wouldn’t have payed $60 for it, I could easily see people who loved the first one being perfectly cool with that pricepoint. Ultimately, my biggest complaint is that, outside of a couple of areas, the game really doesn’t feel like it made any improvements over the original, when there was plenty to be made.
I hope Fable 3 will actually attempt to try some significant new ideas, but who am I kidding? They’ll just throw in a horse that you can teach tricks, attatch to a carriage, and make money money giving people rides, and we’ll eat it all up.