Monday, October 27, 2008

And Now I'm Playing Fable II

One of two games this fall that I'd seen fit to pre-order, (the other being Left 4 Dead) I picked up my copy of Fable II at my local Gamestop's midnight sale, joined by about fifty other eager gamers. Another great reason to pre-order was early access via XBox Live to Fable II : Pub Games, which featured all three casino-style gambling mini-games from Fable II, coupled with the ability to transfer one's winings to their hero when they got the full game.

So I started playing Fable II last week, and have progressed steadily through the game, mostly enjoying myself. It's a game that has a lot going for it, and I like it, but I can't say I think it's the second coming of Zelda or anything of the sort. It's a great game, but not an overwhelmingly groundbreaking one, which is odd considering all the digging one does in the world of Albion.

I'll try to explain why.

On the plus side, it's got a huge world to explore, but allows the player to skip over areas when it comes time to backtrack. Once you go to another area, it's added to the map, becoming only a few clicks away on the Quests / Map tab. The combat is superb, offering hack-and-slash action that's a cut above many recent releases. One button for melee, one for ranged attacks, and one for magic, with a few added abilities for each, makes combat simple and fun, yet challenging and complex at times.

The NPCs, from villagers and guards to farmers and bards, are numerous yet very similar to each other, and react to your deeds and "renown" when they see you. There are many factors which influence they attitude toward the player, and many ways to interact with them, including marriage, sex, and parenting. The whole "Sim Middle Ages" thing is complex, but not all that endearing after messing around with it for a few minutes.

The social aspects might be a feature that I grow to appreciate more in the coming weeks as I play deeper into the game, but so far the game creates no emotional pull when doing things like getting married and having children, other than a brief, narrated cutscene about those institutions, and a few lines of "welcome home" dialogue after a notable absence.

The economic aspects of owning homes and businesses is also detailed, but so far has not been enthralling. It makes for a nice investment, though, raking in rent money from one's properties while out adventuring, and even while offline to some extent, it seems. Again I caution that I'm not that far along with Fable II to safely say that there isn't more importance to the social and economic aspects later in the game, but so far they seem like minor, albeit detailed, bells and whistles.

They do factor into the game's overarching story in terms of players being able to choose good or evil paths through the world. This aspect of the game is well done, harkening back to games like Ultima IV where moral quardries would pop up from time to time, often without clear ideas of the consequences or impacts one's decisions would make. I suspect that this offers the game much replay value as well, as some quests simply cannot be done while maintaining one side or the other.

The story and characters are pretty standard fantasy fare, with tales of triumph and tragedy and mystery, but again, so far, they haven't really endeared themselves all that much. The only character so far that has done that successfully is the much-hyped NPC dog that follows one through the game. It's a marvel and well deserving of all the praise it's been getting.

I have yet to try the innovative online co-op with any of my friends, nor do I see a benefit to it at this time. Perhaps later, when I've completed the game, there may be some parts of the game that will be more fun played that way.

Some minor complaints include slow load times between zones, graphical glitching, slow menus (with another really slow clothes-changing menu a la Grand Theft Auto IV - can't anyone make one of these that works at modern speed?), and extremely tedious work mini-games of blacksmithing, woodcutting, and bartending. I'd almost believe these laborous tasks were designed by former Ultima Online designers.

Really, all gripes aside, Fable II is a pretty good adventure game with great combat and detailed social aspects. Where it bogs down, and what it lacks, are very minor complaints that won't keep anyone from having an enjoyable run through a few towns, dungeons, or wooded areas. I suspect as well that the game will have a longer replay value than most games of this genre, so it's a good value as well as a solid title.

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