Good games aren’t that hard to make. At least that’s the impression you get from Fable II, a title about as simple and effective as any need be. As it happens, of course, it’s a false impression; classics aren’t made overnight, not even for the mighty Peter Molyneux, the man who brought us Syndicate, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper. He is indeed a name in the industry (and a name with an OBE lest we forget), yet he’s got no golden goose in the cupboard, and it’s leg-work and graft which has earned his reputation. It’s fitting then that he might add Fable II to his list of achievements, a game which so effortlessly pulls you into the large world of Albion and so successfully involves you in all manner of goings on.
Early on, what we need to know is very little. Fable II follows the formula of the original as an old fashioned coming of age story where you play the role of a hero-to-be. As such, you expect that the controls will be intuitive enough for you to wield weapons and cast spells, skills will develop, weapons upgrade and, as the main story arc develops, your requirement to triumph becomes more necessary. These aspects are dutifully present and enjoyable enough to tinker with, but to think that these are merely the bones of the game shows just how much thought has gone in. And while it’s not quite Final Fantasy scale, Fable II has a size and majesty befitting a classy end-product.
Albion and its landscapes are rich in both colour and variety. Ample regions with quests aplenty exist outside of the primary storyline – enough for weeks of gameplay. These will develop your character in skill, shape and reputation, but won’t affect how quickly you get through the main content. So, if you wish to put things on hold, become married and have kids, or buy a house and sleep with prostitutes, you can do it. Further, should you wish your canine companion to be the best attack dog and treasure hunter in the land, you can train him to be so. If you want to pull pints in the local inn; make weapons; become a rare book collector; commission statues of yourself; find out what’s behind each of the game’s 20 demon gates; make yourself a property magnate, or even learn the ‘kiss my arse’ expression, then you can.
Choice is the premium value of this game and even at its core this is reflected in the decisions which help make your hero lovable and chivalrous, scary, monstrous and rogue-like or anywhere in between. After all, your main objective is to purge Albion of evil. That you might do it by being evil yourself seems merely something the world’s citizens will have to learn to live with. And live with you they do; reacting to your appearance, actions and reputation, AI is rarely ever so attentive. Likewise, battling hordes of enemies with melee, ranged and spell attacks is rarely so fun, and – slightly negatively – managing to ignore where the story would have you go next, rarely so easy. And this is perhaps the one downside. With almost too much content available, it’s easy to get lost in periphery quests and challenges and lose track of what can be an anti-climactic primary thread. But then, luckily, Fable II‘s well-crafted world weaves plenty of others as well.