Rose-Tinted Gamepad: Fable II

Although the Fable series is perhaps most known for the over the top promises and demos of infectiously ambitious and excitable creator, Peter Molyneux, it still remains to me one of the best games produced by a British studio and definitely the jewel in Lionhead’s already sparkling crown. With humour abound, a somewhat engaging plot (let’s just not talk about the ending…), lively characters and a wonderfully charming soundtrack, Fable II improved upon the original in pretty much every way. Most of this is probably due to the inclusion of a fully interactive dog companion who accompanies you on your adventure throughout the mysterious land of Albion, all the way from your humble beginnings at Bower Lake to the endgame at the Tattered Spire. The Fable series holds a special place in my gaming heart mainly due to the fact that you cannot argue that it is anything but a fantastically British game. It matches the capacity that the British seem to possess for the ‘gift of the gab’, which is typified in the gaming tour de force that is the great Peter Molyneux (the personality behind both Lionhead games and the Fable series). Molyneux is now well known for over-selling his games, making wildly unreasonable promises, but for some bizarre reason, everyone seems to love him for it. He’s passionate. And somehow his earnest enthusiasm always manages to convince that this game will be the best one yet…and then it doesn’t quite deliver. Enter Fable II. I am still convinced to this day that Peter Molyneux is the reason Lionhead does so well, because he can talk his way out of anything in his charming Guildford accent and pass off his wild claims with a charming smile and a few words to the effect of ‘got a bit over-excited’. But the thing is that Peter Molyneux is just an exceptionally passionate individual that puts his heart and soul into things in that typical British way; perhaps it’s never fantastic, but it definitely is always good value for money. And so it is with Fable II.

The plot of Fable II is quite simple as it stands, but to me this is the primary strength of the writing, leaving an uncluttered story that leaves plenty of room was engaging characters and witty humour. You begin as a street urchin in the chilly winter streets of Bowerstone named little Sparrow who is under the wing of his older sister, eventually becoming the saviour of Albion either out of a duty to the people or revenge for your sister’s death. This makes it sound like a bog-standard fantasy game where the heroes are either whiter than white, or mysterious individuals with dark and chequered histories. Yes, you can channel this if you like, but it’s much more fun to run around wearing silly clothes, chucking fireballs about the place; you can also kick chickens until you get tired of the surprised squawking (unlike other games where savagely kicking chickens if punished severely, a la The Legend of Zelda). Fable II is deliberately stuffed full of fantasy and RPG tropes such as this, as Lionhead are definitely a studio that likes to poke fun at as many people as they are able, which leads to some hilarious comments made by the living breathing residents of Albion who are content to amble around while you conduct your hero-business. The game follows a linear main quest path, but there are also myriad quests offered by the residents of Albion which can lead to some interesting and downright strange plotlines. One of these involves a Frankenstein-esque experiment where a grave keeper wishes to resurrect a past mayor of Bowerstone and make her his loving wife.

This neatly leads us to the moral choice system, which is just one of many intriguing features that Fable II possesses, which as per usual was over-hyped a little by Molyneux but is still a very well done moral system with subtle shades of morality being offered over the good/evil archetypes. For instance it is possible to be evil but maintain a high level of purity or be a good character but be corrupt. In the quest mentioned above, incidentally called “Love Hurts”, it is possible to convince the newly resurrected Lady Grey to fall in love with the player instead of the hapless grave keeper, which would provide a ‘bad’ outcome and give you points in the relevant morality.

To attain, as mentioned above, a corrupt but good character, you would have to utilise the expression system which is used to, well, express yourself to the peoples of Albion. In this case corruption can be attained by excessive belching and farting in public, or other vulgar and degrading behaviours, which can be controlled to vary length and volume of belches and farts (but be careful when you’re farting that you don’t…well…strain yourself too much). This also brings us around to your dog, your constant and loveable companion who can provide entertainment to Albion while also helping you to find treasure, warning of enemies and generally being adorable. The dog is responsive to the expressions that you perform and can be taught tricks via books that you can buy from vendors or find in chests scattered around Albion. The dog is also one of the better features in game along with the expressions system and it is immensely satisfying teaching your dogs’ tricks, or following the barks and growls to buried treasure. Personally, I came to love this dog intimately, we fought together and sadly he died when we were together. When offered the choice to resurrect him at the end-game, however, I elected to save the people of Albion to complete the game and unlock the achievement, but then simply revert to an earlier save to continue messing about in Albion with my constant companion.

There are also a dizzying array of customisation option within the game and it is a lot of fun trying them all out, or attempting to unlock of the achievements involving clothing, make-up, and tattoos. Social customisation is also included, providing the opportunity to get married and have children in a picturesque townhouse perhaps, or maybe Fairfax Castle? This is all well and good, but there is the option for having multiple wives, or even prostitutes, so make sure you keep yourself organised and you nose clean! You don’t want any of those STI’s (yes, there are STI’s included in the game, and even a counter to tell you how many you’ve contracted), do you? There is also the chance for you to become a budding landlord, and own pretty much every property in Albion, which enables you to rent out the ones you and/or your family are not living in and make huge profits. Which you can then spend on collecting every book, piece of clothing, weapon, potion, item of food or augment you can get your hands on. The scope of collecting in Fable II is extraordinary and completionists will be in a world of wonder such is the variety of items, all of which have humourous, witty descriptions, some of which will make you laugh out loud. One post end-game quest has you plumbing the depths of Fairfax Castle, which you will now be able to purchase because you’re rolling in rent money from your new property empire, for a rumoured experimental potion which will, well…change your plumbing, but I’ll not spoil that particular mystery for you! But trust me, you will laugh when you discover what it is.

For all of these reasons, and many more which I don’t have the space to tell you about, including the bread-crumb quest trail, Reaver, Garth, the gargoyles, the beautiful soundtrack, and the really quite good DLC, Fable II is still for me one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Even in the light of the sequel, Fable III, which did some things better, I still have a soft spot for this hilarious, fun and sometimes challenging game which presented you with agonisingly tricky moral choices and a fantastic array of ways to express your individual playing style. Fable II will always remain one of my favourites, which despite it’s problems, just did it for me in a way that I haven’t experienced since.

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