When the original Fable on the Xbox was in development, Peter Molyneux, the lead director, promised it would be the greatest RPG ever made. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and Molyneux’s subsequent claims were greeted with suspicion and doubt by a community now well-versed in his enthusiastic rhetoric.
When Fable 2 was announced, Molyneux admitted he may have over-promised with its predecessor, spouting features that weren’t even implemented yet. However, despite his humble confessions, Molyneux then went on to state Fable 2 would redeem his former claims and be the greatest RPG ever made, at the second attempt.
So is Fable 2 what Molyneux promised and many hoped for? Or has the irrepressible Englishman duped the masses again?
Albion and the Age of Heroes
Set in the Tolkienesque world of Albion, Fable 2 sees a young street urchin, Little Sparrow, thrust into the life of a hero who embarks on a quest to thwart the despotic Lord Lucien and avenge the death of his/her sister.
It’s a solid story with Dickensian roots, as Sparrow roams the run-down streets of Bowestone, flirting with honesty and corruption depending on the gamer’s disposition, before being adopted by the blind soothsayer Theresa, who sets him/her on their path towards bringing back the Age of Heroes. From there, the player will embark on a quest that spans the entire length of Albion, growing from a small child to a battle-hardened warrior in the process. The conclusion does feel a little anti-climatic, but it’s surprisingly thought-provoking, and is a bold way to end a game.
What’s most impressive about the story is the way in which the player can interact with it. They can’t neccesarily alter its course or trajectory, but they can leave their own mark on its history. Early on in the game, they’re approached by a cockney thug who promises them a gold piece and a welcome place in the criminal underworld if they ignore a quest to recover some arrest warrants that have gone missing.
If the gamer decides to agree to the thug’s request, when they return to Bowerstone later in the game, they’ll find that region overrun with crime and poverty. However, if they chose to to recover the arrest warrants and hand them in to the local sheriff, their return will yield a more welcome sight. It’s moments like these that lend weight to Molyneux’s claims, as they do have a lasting impact on the player and will make them think more about the choices they make in Albion.
Fable 2 rewards choice. A player can either become a noble do-gooder or a notorious criminal, no better than the villian they seek to overthrow. Fable 2 introduces the concepts of purity and corruption to complement the morality system, so players can dabble in morally ambiguous, Robin Hood-type heroes.
Fable 2’s Dog
One of Peter Molyneux’s earliest claims for Fable 2 was that a player would feel far deeper emotions whilst playing his game than they had in any other. He specifically referred to love and affection, emotions almost unheard of in the testosterone-fulled, competitive world of gaming.
The vessel for this feature would be a dog. Throughout Fable 2, a player is always accompanied by their loyal pooch, who’ll sniff out treasure, alert them of imminent danger, and even pee on people if instructed to do so. Any player who isn’t emotionally-challenged will soon find themselves growing attached to their canine companion. He’s brave, loyal and a little stupid. Perfect ingredients for what Lionhead were cooking up.
In many ways it redeems Molyneux’s public image as the dog does evoke emotions thus far unprecedented in gaming. The game continues to test a player’s emotional fortitude, forcing them to make difficult decisions they may ponder over for several minutes.
Not all of these emotion-driven features are perfect, however. The family mechanic, for instance, lacks depth and is prone to annoying technical glitches. Instances in the story where characters die lack a bit of dramatic punch and are poorly directed and animated.
Fable 2’s One-Button Combat
Fable 2 not only attempts to introduce deeper emotions into RPGs, it also tries to make them more accessible to the casual crowd. Fable 2 restricts its sword, magic and ranged combat to one-button each. It may seem like Lionhead is dumbing down the combat system, but what they have actually done is to make it easy to learn but hard to master.
There are hidden depths to be uncovered, such as combining the different attacks or learning the rhythm system for chaining combos together. Practise pays off, but almost anyone can pick up and play Fable 2 with relative ease.
Bolstering Lionhead’s accessibility attempts are a bread-crumb trail that helps to guide players through the world, and a co-operative mechanic that means they can meet up with their friends in Albion and embark on quests together.
Fable 2 Review
Fable 2 is an excellent game, and comes much closer to reaching Molyneux’s claims than any of his earlier efforts have. It’s not quite the best RPG ever made, but it’s charming and endearing and will challenge a player more than most games will.