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Best of 2008 #2: Fable II

Fable II

Fable II was a game that I’d almost fallen in love with from the first screenshots. I’ve always said that the first test for how much I’ll like an RPG is its towns, and Albion’s hamlets and bustling marketplaces, all distinctive and reflective of different areas of Britain, brimming with personality, are simply beautiful.

It’s the world of Fable II that I fell in love with more than anything, as I spent as much time shopping, charming the locals, and working the property market as I did adventuring and raiding ancient tombs. The story, while interesting enough and possessing a couple of really memorable set pieces, was a means to get to new places, and given that it still has you finding whole new towns right up until the very final quest, it just keeps giving in that respect.

I only wish that it could have been more cohesive rather than a collection of unconnected areas, as other games have spoilt me there, but you can’t have everything. It’s still a pleasure just to explore it.

But for a game that’s so deliberately accessible, with a combat system that’s based on rhythm as much as anything and a main character who can’t actually die, I still found it rather daring in places. There are two parts towards the end of the story that stick in my mind that act like standalone episodes, one offering a number of interesting moral choices – a theme that’s carried through to the ending, which really does present a conundrum to even the most saintly players – and one being a wonderful change of pace in the middle of the final stretch.

I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming DLC, as much as an opportunity to return to quests that I haven’t finished as a new environment to explore. But even as a standalone game, Fable II remains one of my favourites and one that certainly won’t have seen the back of me.

Fable II is Amazing

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early frontrunner for my 2008 game of the year.

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about theĀ poor state of Japanese gaming, with particular mention of how the RPG genre was thriving in Western hands thanks to its splicing with more mainstream genres, and Fable II is an ideal demonstration of this. While JRPG developers are seemingly content to remake their sacred cows until FFXIII comes and shows them what to do next, Lionhead has picked the best tropes of the traditional RPG and discarded the rest, replacing it with cherry-picked elements from straight action games and thereby opening up a staid and traditionally hardcore genre to a new audience.

Fable II

Its simplicity is one way that it does this. Far from over-simplifying things, the controversial one-button combat – actually more like three buttons, to be fair – takes the battles away from both turn-based menu-digging and the mindless slashing of something like Oblivion. The closest comparison I can think of is a fighting game, thinking ahead as you input a three-hit melee combo followed by a rifle blast to the chops and a quick blast of fire to give yourself some room, all with only three different buttons. There’s no memorising button combos for certain spells provided you take the time to get used to how the spell-charging works, and it means combat never becomes a chore.

There’s now a minimal penalty for death, which is a small hit to your experience, and this coupled with the lack of levelling – although you do get more powerful as you trade experience for enhanced stats and spells – means that you’re never fighting the game to progress and it’s not a game that’s likely to sit unfinished because you got stuck.

But if the measure of an RPG is its towns, which is a theory that I definitely subscribe to, Fable II is right up there with the best. Coming off a spell in the wilderness to find a nice little hamlet to do some shopping and rest up has always been the best part, and good ones will guarantee that an RPG lives long in my memory, whatever flaws it may have – who didn’t love Skies of Arcadia despite the obnoxious random battles? The feeling is the same in Fable II, showing off just how beautiful the game looks. Continue reading Fable II is Amazing