So we have come to the final review in the 30 Reviews in 30 Days series. While I have enjoyed writing these reviews, I am glad to be writing my final one tonight. It has bee a challenge getting these thirty reviews done, though these last five have been games I have been wanting to review for some time.
And so it all comes to a close. When I started these reviews of my top 5 games, I said they could really go in any order. While this is primarily true, if I was forced to choose just one game as my top game of all time, it would have to be the one I am reviewing today: Fable II.
So what makes Fable II such a good game?
The journey begins
Fable II starts simple enough. You and your sister are orphans in Bowerstone who take interest in a music box being sold by a traveling salesman. To earn enough money for the box, the two of you wander around the town, looking for little odd jobs. This actually plays out as the tutorial for the game, and is a good way to introduce you to the controls while keeping you within the game itself. You will be given the choice of whether to do things honorably or dishonorably, and that plays into what comes later, but I will talk more about that a little further into the review.
So you earn the money, you buy this supposedly magical music box, your sister winds it up and plays it…and nothing happens. The two of you go to sleep in your little alley home, being joined by a stray dog you helped rescue earlier.
You start out Fable II as a kid, and it is your sister’s death that really gets things started.
During the night, guards from the castle come to bring you to Lord Lucien. He seems keenly interested in you and the music box. When he determines you and your sister have the abilities to become true heroes, he decides he cannot let you live lest you ruin his plans. He kills your sister and shoots you, sending you flying out the window and falling to what he believes is your death. You are found by the dog and Theresa, a blind Seeress who takes you to live with the gypsies.
That is the start of the game. If you are not hooked by that time, you never will be, and you might as well stop playing.
Me, I was hooked. I wanted revenge on Lucien for the death of Rose, and I wanted to see just what had become of Albion since I have last been there in the original game.
I was ready to become the hero.
Choose your path
Many games give you the illusion of choice. They give you “moral dilemmas” that do not actually affect the game. Take Bioshock for example: you can choose to save the sisters or harvest them, but it does not really affect anything but the ending.
Fable II is different. The choices you make set the tone for much of what happens in the game. Play the part of the hero, and the people will love you, singing your praises and following you everywhere you go. Play the part of the villain, and they will revile you, regarding you in distaste and running when you draw your weapon or cast spells. You can also affect the way people react to you by choosing the expressions your character will use. These expressions can be held for more bonuses, but be careful; the longer you hold it, the easier it is to mess up, which will not exactly give you the outcome you intended.
The choices in this game run much deeper than how people see you, however. Remember in the beginning how I said you can choose to get the money for the music box by either honorable or dishonorable means? Well, if you chose to be honorable and help the guard, Old Town Bowerstone becomes a place of renewal, with crime at a minimum and people moving back into the area. If you choose to get it by dishonorable means, the town will be overrun with crime.
This is not the only area affected by your choices. All throughout the game, you will make pivotal decisions that will change the world around you. While not all of them will have as dramatic an impact as this, all you need to do is start sharing your game experience with other players to find out there are several subtle or not so subtle differences in their experiences.
Another thing that truly stands out when talking about Fable II is the simple and yet surprisingly deep combat. Unlike Mass Effect, Fable II‘s combat works very well. You use three buttons in combat: one for melee attacks, one for ranged attacks and one for magic.
Melee is deceptively simple. Hit the button quickly for a quick attack, hold down longer for a harder attack. Hold down for a bit and you will start the feel the controller shake, symbolizing you have charged up for a major attack. Seems simple on the face of it, but it is deeper than you might think. Timing is everything; you will find out that just trying to slash all the time does not work. You really need to vary your attack, waiting for the perfect time to hit your next strike. Sure, you can button mash, but the better and more elegant your combat, the higher the experience multiplier you receive.
Combat controls are simple yet satisfying, allowing you to blend attack types at will.
Ranged combat is also relatively simple. You hit the button quickly to shoot the target you are currently locked onto. You hold the button down to aim. As you improve your ranged attacks, you get tot a point where you have precision aiming, giving you the chance to target specific areas of your opponent’s body. One of the best achievements you can get in the game is called “Only a flesh wound,” where you shoot both arms off a Hollow Man and then shoot it in the head.
There there is magic. You can learn several different spells. Each spell has two different kind of attacks, a focus and a wide ranged attack. For example, if you target a single person with the fire spell, you throw a fireball at them. If you do not target anyone, you cast a ring of fire out from yourself. You can equip up to 5 spells, either the same or different, one for each of the various spell levels. Spells equipped at a higher level will take longer to cast but will have a greater affect.
What makes this combat so impressive is you can seamlessly switch styles of attack. You can easily shoot someone, take a swipe and someone else with the sword, and then cast the lightning spell to hit another opponent in rapid fire succession. This gives you even more depth in combat, yet is easy enough even casual gamers can pick it up.
Your best friend
It is almost funny when you hear Molyneux talk about hard hard he had to fight to get one thing included in Fable II. When he told the rest of the team at Lionhead Studios that he wanted to have a dog in the game, they thought he was crazy. In the end, however, the one thing people will say truly sets the game apart is the dog.
On the surface, the dog seems almost like a gimmick. In just a little time, however, you begin to bond with your dog. As you leave the gypsy camp, the dog will find your first treasure, a rubber ball you will dig out of the ground that, you guessed it, you can use to play fetch.
Of all the inovations of Fable II, the dog is the most impressive.
The dog really begins to become an extension of your character. He will sniff out treasure. attack enemies when they are down and even do tricks to help compliment your expressions. Oh, and heaven help the enemy who hurts your dog. The first time I heard that whelp of pain, I actually got angry and went directly after the bandit who had hurt my companion. Few games can make you feel that way about even main characters, let alone canines. It truly speaks to just how unique this game is.
A few issues
Fable II is a brilliant game, but as with many other games, it is not without its glitches. The co-op did not work anything like advertised by Molyneux, with horrible camera controls and very little chance to actually work together. It’s too bad, really. There was real potential to make this a great co-op game.
There are also a coupe of major game glitches that almost ruin the experience. I ran across one that locked up my character in a rescue quest. My wife in the game was supposed to scold my child after I rescued him and then head home, but I would get to where this was supposed to occur and nothing would happen. I finally had to find a way to keep my wife from following me into the cave by going through the crucible again, which allowed me to finish the quest normally.
One other thing people will argue ruins the game is the ending. Players who were looking for an epic battle at the end were disappointed, and many voiced their displeasure with the end. Without giving it away, I have to say I disagree with them. Not only do I think it helps bring things full circle, but I realize that the battles are not the focus of Fable II.
In the end, Fable II is all about the choices you make. the game really gets you to examine the choices you make and how they affect the world around you. The battles, the quests, they are just the vessel Molynuex and the Lionhead team use to get you to the meat of the game: choice.
Fable II is truly unlike any game I have ever played. Funny yet touching, light-hearted yet serious, it will make you really think about the choices are asked to make and how they will shape both your character and the world around you. Fable II gets a 5 out of 5.
So that’s it. Not only does that finish the reviews of my top 5 games, it brings the 30 Reviews in 30 Days to a close. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.
Who knows; I might just do something like this again sometime.