Fable II

Fable II
Fable II Cover
Platforms Xbox 360
Genre Lackluster action RPG
Score 4  Clock score of 4
Buy from Amazon

This was not a great way to kick off 2011, Fable II is a below average action RPG that exhibits all the same qualities of nearly every other Peter Molyneux game: far too much ambition in a totally lackluster package.

Fable II was released in October of 2008 to much hype, praise, and handfuls of cash. I'm apparently in the critic minority by not enjoying Fable II as it has a Metacritic rating of 89 and received Game of the Year award honors from outlets X-Play and Joystiq in a year that featured Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Metal Gear Solid 4 (if my respect for G4 could have gone any lower, it just has). But that is their opinion, and this is mine.

I'm going to try and keep my full reviews a bit shorter this year, I spent an extraordinary amount of time writing them in 2010 (what with there being about 30 of them and all), and I would like to focus my efforts back to the first hour reviews where it belongs. Speaking of first hour reviews, here's Fable II's.


Gameplay: 3

Simple combat combined with laggy controls and user interface makes Fable II a very difficult game to stomach at times. But let's take it apart one piece at a time.

Combat is broken up into three types of attacks: melee, range, and magic; the X, Y, and B buttons respectively. You're rewarded melee experience if you kill a baddie with your sword, range experience if you kill an enemy with your gun, and the same with magic, so you can tailor your playstyle to whatever kind of hero you want to be. Theoretically. I wanted to be a range shooter from the start so I just shot guys from a distance for the first few hours. This worked okay, albeit slow, until I started getting overwhelmed. Shooting was just way too slow compared to pulling the sword out and hacking away at a large group of enemies at once.

So I became a mainly melee fighter then, but that means every battle is you spamming the X button over and over until someone dies. You can hold the X button for a second to unleash a larger attack, but other than that, there is really no thinking required. Sometimes you will lose a lot of health due to getting surrounded and you'll have to drink a potion, but combat is just easy and dumb. I only died once and that was early in the game before I realized the centimeter long red bar was my health.

The Fable series is well known for interacting with people, but it is executed poorly in Fable II. You learn actions like burp and pose through various unexplained ways throughout the game, and then you use these on the townsfolk. Navigating the action menu is atrociously awful: hold L trigger to target someone, hold R bumper to open the pop-up action menu, and then use the left thumbstick and the A button to select your action. The action menu has a habit of appearing very slowly and is just one of the many points in the game which features noticeable lag.

Fable 2 Child Bowerstone dog

You can also execute some actions via the D-pad, but you're very brave if you dare use this feature. The D-pad is also used for playing with your dog and healing yourself with consumables, but there's no rhyme or reason what the D-pad will perform at any time. The game will complain that your dog needs healing, so you stare at it trying to get the quick dog heal button to appear, and when it finally does, you press the heal button only to have it change to self-healing a split-second before, and you've just wasted a consumable. Ugh.

Regular menu navigation is also very poor. This is apparent from the second time you load up the game as the default option on the main menu is always New Game. Not Continue which would make sense, but New Game. The menus are a problem throughout Fable II, as just doing something like using a recently bought food item takes about 10 button presses across laggy menus. Just out-and-out bad design.

There are also some mini-games that you're encouraged to do to make money, for example blacksmithing swords or pouring drinks. These are the best example of lazy and laggy game design. A little ball blips back and forth, in and out of a safe zone, and you're supposed to press the A button when it's in the safe zone. But the controls are so unresponsive you have to actually press the button about a half-second before you're in the safe zone. Hard to explain, but here's a video of some blacksmithing (though it's hard to show the bad controls via video too).

Fable 2 Castle Fairfax Lucien

Fun Factor: 4

I believe Fable II's biggest flaw is its bad level design. Every single quest is supplied with a golden trail to follow telling you exactly where to go. I see no other reason they decided to have this trail on by default except that they found through play-testing that no one knew where to go. Mass Effect doesn't have this trail, World of Warcraft doesn't either, I just don't understand why they feel this is necessary, especially since most dungeon areas are very linear.

Outside the simple and laggy gameplay, there is a bit of fun to be had in Fable II. If you like playing The Sims, you may enjoy some aspects of the Fable series such as interacting with people, but after farting on a group of people for the 10th time, I became quickly bored with it. I did get married and have a kid, even dabbled in real estate, but the quality of everything you can do is just so low. There is a LOT to do though, so maybe you'll find something to tickle your fancy.

I know I kind of ripped on the battle system above, but the combat can be kind of fun just for the sheer enjoyment of its hack and slashing. Not a ton of fun, but enough to make me long for a battle after the super long and boring monologues every quest-giver supplies.

Graphics and Sound: 5

Fable II looks and sounds okay. The voice acting is pretty good with some recognizable actors that fit their role well, the biggest being Ron Glass, Shepherd Book from Firefly. I guess Stephen Fry is also one of the main characters, but his character receives so little game time it's laughable. The soundtrack can be impressive at times, but everything is brought down by the bad sound design. People in the street are constantly saying something whether it's slightly relevant or not, and the job mini-games are made worse by people congratulating you on how well you're pouring their beer. Unsurprisingly, the sound effects are also laggy.

The game is visually pretty but features plenty of graphical and texture bugs that really stand out. Fog is an issue, and the camera seems at odds with itself at times. I just wasn't impressed with Fable II's graphics at all.

Fable 2 Bowerstone

Story: 2

Fable II's generic hero-collection plot ranges from boring to insipid. You begin the game as a child, just like in the original Fable, and after a somewhat surprising turn of events, the game fast forwards to young-adulthood and we're off on the simplest adventure ever. The overall goal of the game is to bring together three other heroes to help defeat the Big Bad. The magical, unexplained guide tells you all this right away and that's the entire game. The plot structure is incredibly thin and tired, and once you collect the third hero, the game is essentially over. The final boss is just an extra large version of a normal enemy, there's some more events where you run around and magical stuff happens for no explained reason, and then the credits roll.

The middle of the game features what appears to be an attempt to mix the story up a bit, but it's an overused twist and while a game like Infinite Space pulls it off deftly, Fable II bumbles it from start to finish. There's no sense of consequence or pacing, just some words on the screen updating you on what's really going on. Sorry I'm being so vague, but it's Fable II's most interesting plot point (even though it is executed poorly) and I don't want to spoil it.

There are also a bunch of side quests to entertain yourself with, but their rewards are usually just so pointless I was forcing myself to participate them late in the game. The biggest problem with the stories of these quests is how they're delivered. All the information is dumped on you up front or at the end in giant monologues by the quest-giver. While the voice acting can be entertaining and the writing decent, the pacing of their monologues was horribly slow. I found myself sadly skipping their "conversations" most of the time unless it was a main quest.

Overall: 4

Well, this turned out longer than I'd like it but I guess there was a lot to complain about Fable II. This is a below average game on the threshold of bad, and everything seems to have gone even worse than the typical Molyneux affair. At least with Populous, Black and White, and Fable there were some new and interesting concepts introduced. Skip this game, and I'll be letting you know about Fable III soon too, I don't have high hopes.