Originally published November 14, 2008 at 5:57 p.m., updated November 14, 2008 at 5:57 p.m.
For several years during the last generation of consoles, Peter Molyneaux hyped the original Fable as "the greatest game ever made". Once it came out, gamers quickly realized that many of his promises didn't wind up in the final version. While it was a solid action/RPG experience, it was a victim of its own hype and obviously not the greatest game of all time. This past July, I got the opportunity to sit down with Molyneaux and play some co-op Fable II. I could tell by the way he was explaining the game to me that he had a genuine passion for this title, but I took everything with a grain of salt based on the promises of the original.
Thankfully, Fable II delivers. It's an incredibly varied gaming experience, and no two people will have the same stories to tell once their time with it is over. The original had a decent amount of "good/evil" decisions to make, but Fable II takes it a bit further. Instead of just black and white moral decisions, you'll also have varying levels of attractiveness and purity. These can be altered by clothes you wear, expressions you make towards others, and even the prices you set at stores you own.
If you only paid attention to the main quest and ran through the game without stopping to look around, you might think of it as an above-average action/RPG. It's the little details that make the game great. There's a wealth of unique events and conversations, and you're offered complete freedom to do everything at your own pace. For instance, I married a bartender and moved into a little house in a gypsy camp. I got her pregnant (and named the baby "The Mistake), and we started raising the child. While I was out on my next adventure, I met another woman and married her. I decided to move into the house directly next door to my other family. A lesser game wouldn't address this awkward situation, but Fable II did so in hilarious fashion. After having sex with my second wife, the first wife confronted her as we left the house. They got into an argument over me, and my first wife took the baby and skipped town. I never found out where my first wife went, but I took Wife #2 to the "Temple of Shadows" and sacrificed her to the cult by beheading. These situations are ridiculous, but they happen often and they're all fascinating to witness.
The combat is noticibly improved over the original. Fable II introduces ranged weapons and an all-new magic system. As you level up your magic abilities, it increases the number of spells you can cast. It's not complicated in the least, as the spell you cast is directly based on how long you hold in the B button. Tap it and you'll use the weakest spell. Hold it and you'll access increasingly powerful spells depending on how long the button is pressed. Making this even better is the fact that there are no "magic points" or limit to your spellcasting.
I spent about 30 minutes or so playing the game with Molyneaux at E3, and he probably spent 20 of them talking about the fact that your character would have a dog. I thought this would be another overhyped feature, but it actually adds a lot to the experience. The dog will sniff out treasure and digging spots, and even help you in battle. By finding different dog training books, you can make him a better treasure hunter. It adds a noticable feeling of companionship as you run through the countrysides of Albion, and it's a better game for it.
Another great feature is property ownership. You can purchase almost any building you see in the game, whether it be a house, furniture store, pie stand, bar, or bookstore. You can adjust the prices for your goods, and you'll earn money on a regular basis whether you have the 360 turned on or not. You could go three months without playing the game, only to turn it on and find out you've made a ton of profit off of selling pies.
In addition to owning properties, you can also earn money by getting a job. You can be a blacksmith, chop wood, become a bounty hunter, and serve beer. Each of these is a decent way to make money, and it's strangely fun to see how long you can do these repetitive tasks without messing up. Serve 30 or 40 perfect beers in a row and you'll be raking in the gold in no time.
It's not exactly a technical marvel, but the art style of Fable II works great for the game. There is the occasional framerate drop, but the character models and environments are filled with personality and color. The music is great, and the voice acting is superb. You'll run across some hilarious conversations and one-liners as you travel through the various towns.
Fable II is a huge improvement over the original in every conceivable way. The first game could have never lived up to the hype Molyneaux surrounded it with, so it's good that the press around this sequel was respectively understated. It's easily the best action/RPG since Oblivion, and should be played by anyone with even a vague interest in the genre.
First Play: 8.0
Replay Value: 9.0
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