Review: Fable II

FableII.jpg To say I’m shocked by all the accolades Fable II has been compiling since releasing in October is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, Fable II isn’t a bad game by any means. In fact, I found it strangely addictive and rather enjoyable overall. But to me there’s no denying that it really is just another critically over-hyped mediocre game. It’s worth checking out for sure, but putting it in the “best game of 2008” conversation? I don’t think so!

I suppose my main point of contention is that Fable II really isn’t very much of an upgrade on the first game. Actually, I don’t know if it is an upgrade at all, or necessarily even an evolutionary step up from the original. All of the flaws I recall from before – the superficial sense of choice and consequence to your actions, throw-away narrative and lacking replay value being my big three criticisms – are still in Fable II, unfixed. Worse yet, the game is wildly unpolished, littered with long load times, a spotty frame rate, AI path-finding bugs, sloppy character animations and various other imperfections that while never glaring on their own are collectively unforgivable, especially for a production of this magnitude. The interface is awfully cumbersome as well. I literally found myself dreading having to open up the quest log, inventory or emote selection because of how slow-moving and downright unintuitive the menu navigation was.

The leading disappointment continues to be the lack of consequence to your actions. Rather than focus on a strong narrative storyline (there is a main story, but it’s short and uninteresting), Fable II basically wants you to make the game what you want it to be. The idea, like the original, is ambitious, but once again Peter Molyneux and his Lionhead team have come up short delivering on its potential. You have the freedom to perform a wide range of good or evil deeds, and depending on your chosen path the surrounding world perceives you accordingly and your hero’s physical appearance changes with age to reflect his/her alignment.

But sadly – again like the original – this system of character evolution is nothing more than a facade. None of your actions lead to truly meaningful moral consequences. If you follow the path of good, citizens will cheer you as you pass by and gather around as you flaunt what a hero you are. But if you go down the path of evil, villagers will shun you and children will run away in fear. And, well… that’s about it. The results of your deeds are often hilarious, but there’s no sense that your actions are ever really impacting the game world.

Something else I found myself disappointed by was the game’s nonexistent level of difficulty. Simply put, you can’t die. When your health bar runs out you respawn right where you were with no significant penalty. Your hero gains a battle scare and you lose some experience points, that’s it. This lack of challenge directly impacts the rest of the game too. The character progression system – which is the same color-coded orb system from the original that sees you using colored orbs gathered from defeated enemies to build up your character’s strength, will and speed paths – and all the options to outfit and customize your character verge on pointless. With no fear of death, there’s no point sinking extensive time into growing your hero’s abilities.

I don’t want to sound TOO down on Fable II though, because as I said earlier it’s an incredibly fun game despite its many faults. The combat – although exceedingly simple with one button for melee attacks, one button for ranged attacks and one button for magic – has a smooth and fluid feel to it that is gratifying and often downright addictive. The addition of the AI dog companion also turned out to be a grander innovation than I thought it would be. Maybe it’s just because I’m a pet lover, but having a furry canine friend running alongside on my adventures added this subtle emotional link to the game world that I wasn’t expecting. He sniffs out treasure, barks and growls when enemies are near, and is always up for a good game of fetch. And when he runs off your heart jumps into your throat and a sense of panic takes hold as you wonder where he’s gone.

While graphically dated from a technical standpoint, Fable II pulls off an attractive look thanks to its enchanting storybook art direction and charming cartoony vibe. Fable II’s presentation of Albion is also vastly improved over the original in terms of scope and scale with a far more open-ended structure that’s less impeded by frequent loading screens (the fewer loads that do exist are still noticeably long though). Audio was a strong component to the first game, and so is it with Fable II as well, particularly the majestic soundtrack.

Peter Molyneux promised the world with the original Fable, and by most accounts the game was ultimately a disappointment. A solid action-RPG, yes, but still a disappointment compared to what it was supposed to be. And alas, the same pattern of disappointment has befallen Fable II. I won’t deny that Fable II is a fun experience — and that’s what matters most — but I also can’t and won’t sit here and forgive the numerous design flaws, polish issues and general lack of lasting appeal that sap the game’s grand ambitions.

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Pros:
+ Satisfying combat system
+ Charming art style
+ Dog companion adds unique emotional attachment
+ Excellent soundtrack
+ Some fun mini-games

Cons:
– Weak, short-lived storyline
– Impact on game world is still superficial
– Ridiculously unpolished
– Way too easy
– Slow, clunky interface

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: 10/21/08
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-2

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!