Roaming through the sprawling jade forests of Albion, a world as rich in colour as it is character, a worried grandmother pleads with me to rescue her missing grandson. Being the gentlemen that I am I’m all to keen to oblige and after she’s handed me a note explaining to Grandson that I can be trusted I leave her in assurance Grandson will be safe. Fighting through a shadowed cave haunted by Hollow Men (think zombies with unconventional melee weaponry) I discover Grandson. Sporting a top hat the height of a small child and a long sword, the forty-something year old adventurer embarks on a verbal crusade against Grandmother and we then go forth together in discovering a valuable treasure. Booty in hand he and I brawl through the caves, two desperado thrill seekers, outnumbered yet determined caught in the eyes of death. As freedom rises over the horizon I swing my torso-sized cleaver through the relentless torrent of Hollow Men. Somewhere during this ballet of death I accidentally kill Grandson. After the fighting seizes I leave the cave hesitant, my character is notoriously good (as all my RPG incarnations are). Shamefully I’ve stolen Grandsons top hat and as I leave the cave I’m greeted by another verbal mugging. You see, Grandma thinks I’m Grandson. Oh my. She goes on to wish me happy birthday and concludes this misadventure by bestowing upon me a gold augment that will transport to me a steady stream of riches.
For all it’s simplicity in design Fable 2 boasts something rare. It has a unique and perpetual sense of humour. Albion is a world where kicking chickens forges friendships, where murder charges disappear after a brief spell of community service, and engaging in three way sex with Bloodstones finest prostitutes is encouraged. The second offering from the Fable series is far more accessible than the recent slough of RPG’s, yet the dedicated player will find ample reward for exploring all that Albion has to offer. Which is a lot.
After a fleeting prologue played through the eyes of your younger self, characters are established and ten years pass and as an adult the hero begins a quest for vengeance. Unlike Fallout 3 or Mass Effect, the character customization at the start extends no further than which gender you wish to play as, though there are plenty of options in game to alter the hero’s appearance. You are Sparrow (though the name tends not to stick) and the world of Albion is now free to roam in typical RPG fashion.
Whilst the main quest offers a surprisingly interesting narrative, spanning the majority of the main locations of Albion, whilst climaxing in an explosively emotional and rewarding finale, Fable II is a slow burner. The first hours are decisively underwhelming, with limited funds, weapons, and a combat system as undemanding as repeatedly pressing the X button, first impressions sway unfavorably. Leveling is equally simplistic. Experience is divided into four categories (Strength, Skill, and Will, the games magic, and an Overall XP), which can be spent as the player sees fit. Each category is limited, with less than a dozen spells, and the other sections dedicated to elements relating to power, weapon abilities, and health. It’s incredibly basic, especially in the face of Fallout 3 with its extensive perks and leveling mechanic.
But its’ simplicity, which at first hinders initial impressions, is perhaps Fable’s greatest success. The game is subtly immersive, it will hook you whilst you’re complaining about meaningless tasks such as the various jobs scattered about Albion. They’re dull to the point of extremity, yet can easily be ignored because gold can be made through real estate (almost every building is available to buy and rent out, or profit from if it is a shop), or infusing your weapon with a particular augment. In a similar vein to Crackdown, your dog (more on this in a moment) is constantly alerting you to hidden treasures, or dig spots most commonly the haunt of buried riches. Of course selling the items found during the many quests is another way to increase the size of your wallet. Fable II is extensive, hugely. It’s a depth that can be waded across without noticing, yet for the devoted and enthusiastic hero Fable offers a colossal wealth of choice and a diverse range of abilities and tasks outside of the typical quests.
Choice is the fuel of Fable II, it runs through its veins like children the streets of Bowerstone. Where your character calls home, what food he eats, how he treats the many residents of Albion (all who act in accordance to the way you act toward them), whether he raises the price of a pint in Bloodstones local, who he marries, whether or not to engage in protected or unprotected sex, and an oceanic amount of other choices, all with their own impact on the world, are left to the player.
The extreme depth and accessibility is made better due to the games drifting score (enchanting like Oblivion) and the impressive graphical flare on display. Cut scenes haven’t been this visually arresting since Ninja Gaiden. The varied locations of Albion all boast the same quaint visual touch and whilst it could easily be compared to World of Warcraft’s Azeroth, Albion is graphically more impressive as well as a welcome break from the washed wastelands of Fallout, or the monochrome palettes of other recent titles.
There are some issues, particularly with the residents of Albion. Character models are reused often, and the like/dislike system, orchestrated through both your personal dealings with characters, and your interactions with the wider world, comes off a little too simple. It’s made worse by the frequent hoard of villagers, with little else to do but chase you asking for autographs, or wedding rings, swarm you chanting the same lines (the overtly British accents quickly begin to grate, even with Stephen Fry helming a character). Even more frustrating is the ridiculously sensitive interact button, which requires the hero to be almost perfectly aligned to his interest before it will accept his presence. However in the overriding glare of such an accomplishment, these are issues that rarely cause more than minor nuisance.
Fable II glows through its accessibility. For many players the main quest will be all Albion has to offer, and for them the game is a compelling, entertaining RPG. For those who will take advantage, explore and immerse themselves in Albion, Fable II is an absolute joy, one that cannot be missed.