Fable 2 for the XBOX 360 is an action RPG leaning heavily upon true role-playing elements such as character development and life-choices, rather than upon stat development often used in video game RPGs to give an impression of role-playing without the complicated programming overhead. Fable 2 ranks as one of the, if not the, most authentic role playing title that I have ever played and definitely one of the best in the genre. This is not a console RPG even though it is on a console (also known as a Japanese RPG a la Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, etc.) This is a true RPG in the same vein as Morrowind, Oblivion, Baulder’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, etc., but Fable 2 contains character-driven elements that make it stand out compared to those more stat focused titles.
What Fable 2 does incredibly well is blending the storytelling common to linear console RPGs with the freedom and openness of true RPGs. One aspect of Fable 2 which I did not like and detracted from the openness is that the “open areas” between game regions are only theoretical – you “warp” from region to region and within each region there are carefully designed “paths” so that you cannot just wander and explore unimpeded. You are stuck within one of thirteen pre-defined regions and within each of those you are blocked and barricades from being able to wander completely freely. This limits your freedom in the game as you must discover a path leading from each region to the next. This also cuts down game play time.
Fable 2 does a great job of taking a primary storyline which is mostly linear and weaving it into a player-chosen course of events that allows the player a great amount of freedom within the game while allowing for a strong storyline. As a player in Fable 2 you get to make a lot of decisions about how your character is going to behave and these decisions not only effect the way in which other characters will react to you but also your appearance (and your dog’s appearance as well.)
The game itself lies almost entirely in the side quests and free play and not within the primary quest. If you only want to complete the game as quickly as possible you can but if you want to spend a lot of time exploring Albion, the Fable gameworld, finding every hidden treasure and completely all of the extra quests then you are free to do so. The game really gives you a great degree of latitude.
My Fable 2 experience lasted approximately 38 hours. I tend to be a slow player taking the time to explore, take in the view, interact with the locals and to complete as much of the “side” game as possible. In 38 hours I completed the main quest and all quests that were completable (some always remain open for you to do again and some reoccur from time to time) and that were not evil (I was playing a “good” character.) I even completed the entire gargoyle quest which is rather time consuming.
One of the complaints that I have heard about Fable 2 is that it is very short and in truth, it is. The main storyline could be rushed through and the side quests ignored so that the game could most likely be completed in around ten to twelve hours. Even with extensive time spent doing all possible quests, jobs and more it is hard to imagine that the game would ever be stretched to more than fifty hours at the most and that is a very high number for this game. The upside is that there is some replay value in the game because of the variety of choices that you get to make as you play. My wife watched me play the majority of the game and is still interested in playing it herself with a very different character making completely different choices.
The graphics is Fable 2 are very good and really take advantage of the XBOX 360. However, because of the limited draw distance and the large amount of “backdrop” versus true, far off locations to which you can walk I found that this game was much less likely to find me walking to a great vantage point and staring off into the distance exploring the landscape and enjoying the view which I often do in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Dragon Quest VIII. But the graphics were still very good and enjoyable and did a great job of pulling you into the game.
One of my favourite aspects of Fable 2’s extensive gameplay is the option to invest in real estate. This is an aspect of the game that I expect is ignored or partially ignored by most people who play the game but I found it to be very enjoyable. You are able to save up and buy houses and businesses. A house you may choose to rent out to earn some money or you can leave the house empty and move into it yourself. You can keep a single house for yourself or have several all over Albion. Sleeping in different houses provide different bonuses to your character so they can be used strategically as well. Some quests only become available when the player owns certain properties and others can be simplified by owning the right house or business. Some properties only become available to buy (or only exist at all) after certain quests have been completed (or possibly completed in a certain way since there are multiple outcomes in the game.)
Houses can be increased in value by upgraded furnishing as well (all homes are sold furnihed in Fable 2.) This adds yet another area of the game in which a player can choose to focus or to completely ignore.
Sidequests vary from the very short and simple (stopping a hand of slavers and freeing some slaves) to extremely long and intertwined with the main storyline (Gargoyles or The Archeologist.) Some can be played over and over and some can only happen once and may require waiting for the main quest to advance before more parts of them become available. My favourite quest was Gargoyles which required carefully exploring the realm going into all of the nooks and crannies that might otherwise remain unexplored and forcing you to explore the scenary and to appreciate a lot of the extra work that went into the game that is often missed by people rushing through it. Gargoyles alone probably took me more time to complete than the main quest did. It is a very long quest.
Fable 2 also offers a jobs system allowing the character, Sparrow, to earn a living by working as a blacksmith, woodchopper, bartender, bounty hunter, etc. As you improve in your job you can make more and more money allowing you to buy better equipment, potions, food, books, real estate, etc. The jobs are basically very simple mini-games that are highly repetitive to make the money earned really feel as if you are earning the money. They can be quite time consuming and several hours could be added to the game if the player is really dedicated to earning a lot of money in this manner and wants to master several of the jobs.
Fable 2 also includes highly detailed character interactions with just about any person that you will encounter throughout the game. Depending on what you do throughout the game will change how people perceive you. You have a range of expressions that you can “perform” to make people like, dislike, fear you, etc. Make the right people fall in love with you and marriage becomes an option. Children are also an option. You can buy your spouse a house and raise children in it for special family bonuses although be prepared as your family will need a generous allowance to be able to live well.
Some characters that you will encounter can be convinced to give you free gifts if they like, fear or respect you enough. Having characters like you might reduce the price of goods if that characters owns a shop at which you shop.
One of the most interesting aspects of Fable 2 is your trusty dog. Your dog joins you while on your very first quest component and remains with you throughout your adventure although you will need to take care of him, reward him, play with him, give him treats, etc. Eventually your dog will aid you in some quests, find you buried treasure, warn you of impending attack, help finish off wounded enemies and more. No matter how many people like or dislike you, whether you are good or evil, corrupt or pure your dog is always your faithful companion helping and sometimes guiding you along. Strangers might even walk up to your dog and talk to him.
Like most XBOX 360 games, Fable 2 uses achievements which interact with systems external to the game itself. Achievements are viewable on your XBOX Live account and add to your overall gamer score. The achievement system also encourages you to try a lot of tasks within Fable 2 that might easily be ignored otherwise such as attempting a long-distance chicken kick to earn the “Chicken Kicker” achievement. Attempting to obtain all achievements will definitely increase game play time but generally add relatively little to the game’s enjoyment.
A new feature of Fable 2 that did not exist in the original title is the “golden path” – a sparkly yellow line which appears to help lead you to your next task. This system works amazingly well. You use your quest/jobs menu to tell the game which quest or job you would like to currently pursue and the game will guide you to your next location as long as it is in an area or a region in which you have been previously. This helps speed the game along while reducing pointless wandering but can lead to missing hidden items because it is so easy to ignore anything that is off of the main path. This feature can be disabled but, overall, is pretty enjoyable.
Action within Fable 2 is simple and straightforward. Three control buttons are assigned for battle so there is always a dedicated “swing melee weapong”, “fire missile weapon” and “cast readied spell” button available for use. This makes battles fast and easy and not unnecessarily complicated. This lowers the barrier of entry as there are many people who find the battle systems in RPGs overly complicated. Sparrow is updated through the use of better weapons but armor is non-existent in the game which allows for upgrading without the large time spent investigating armor and weapon options common to other RPGs. Fable 2 really focuses on the gameplay and character interactions and development and minimizes stats and equipment systems making them simple and straightforward.
Stat development in Fable 2 happens through a unique experience gaining system where experience is gained through strength (melee), skill (missile and speed) and will (magic) areas plus a general experience pool. Then the player can select how experience points will be spend within each area. It is very easy to learn and get using right away. I really like the experience system because it allows for a certain amount of player choice in development whenever enough points are accumulated but also skews development towards areas which the player uses in actual combat. Ergo, if a player always uses their melee weapon then experience will be accumulated in that area primarily. So to grow in all areas a player needs to utilize different combat methods.
While the initial game is rather short with roughly ~40 hours of gameplay depending on play style there is also downloadable content planned for Fable 2 which, at the time of this writing, is due to arrive in January, 2009. The first bit of downloadable content, the Knothole Island expansion, is expected to add one new region to Albion taking the world from 13 to 14 total regions and adding three additional complete quests to the game along with new characters with whom to interact. How much extra content will be available in the expansion waits to be seen. It could be as low as about two hours of extra gameplay or as much as about ten. I will review the expansion as soon as it is available. There are rumors that there will be expansions to the Gargoyle quest and Silver keys achievement but nothing has been confirmed.
Hopefully, in the future, additional downloadable areas will become available. Fable 2 has a lot of potentially to be a great platform for continuing gameplay.
Fable 2 offers so many different ways to enjoy the game that I think that a very wide variety of people will find it a lot of fun even though few people generally enjoy RPGs.
For those wondering, I completed Fable 2 having found all Gargoyles and achieving both Mayor and King.