Fable II, A Ten Year Reunion
I can’t believe it’s already been ten years since Fable II was released. I’ve been a fan of Lionhead Studios ever since first playing Black & White on my PC. I was such a fan of the first Fable that I was beside myself when I learned they were making another game. Another entry into the brilliant franchise that once again allows you to choose your actions for good or evil, with all of the benefits or consequences they render.
Peter Molyneux made a name for himself by creating these types of games where players could truly feel more in control of what kind of a hero they wanted to be. For the first time, not only could you choose the fighting style you wanted to develop your character into (Warrior, Ranger, Mage, or a blend of all three), but you could also decide if you wanted to be the altruistic savior or a fear-mongering villain. This not only made for a truly unique experience, but opened itself up for great replay value. I confess, I played Fable II twice back to back so I could thoroughly experience both sides of the coin, so to speak.
I loved Fable II so much that I was very eager to give it yet another playthrough before writing this anniversary piece. So now the core question remains: how does Fable II hold up after a whole decade? Put simply, it’s still very much a fun and well designed game, but with some large flaws that I had completely blocked from my memory.
The storyline of Fable II is, in my opinion, the best of the series. The first Fable ranks pretty close, but Fable II was a much larger game and was able to offer up a lot more and flesh out the main narrative a little bit better. The twists, heartbreak, deception, and splendor are all there and just as great as I remember. Some of the side quests were even better than the main story with their ridiculousness and humor. As with the other Fable games, it ends with a huge confrontation and a dramatic choice to make, for the good or ill of the world. Unlike the less-than-stellar Fable III, Fable II‘s ending really gave me a tough choice to make at the end, one that I wrestled with for quite awhile. Hence the glory of multiple playthroughs!
There were some new features to Fable II, some that worked, some that didn’t. The main addition was that of a canine companion. In the opening, you and your sister save a stray dog from being beaten and he becomes your loyal counterpart for the rest of the game. He stays by your side for most of the game, fighting enemies, alerting you to danger, and finding treasure with his keen sense of smell. This was a glorious new element to the game and one that I love to no end. Yes, occasionally his AI often makes some questionable choices and he’ll run in the wrong direction or get himself stuck somewhere, but for the most part he is always a welcome friend to have by my side.
Fable II added the use of even more gestures than were available in Fable, which seems fun and silly at first, but gets tiresome fairly quickly. When you’re trying to win over a crowd or terrify them into submission, you can access the gesture wheel to choose emotes from. The thing is, there’s almost always someone you’re trying to woo or intimidate, so watching the same animations over and over hundreds of times in a game, makes you want to start banging your head against the wall. I see the appeal of what they were aiming for, but in practice, it’s just annoying. You can even train your dog to do tricks that coincide with certain poses or actions you make and while that adds a little more humor to the mix, it still gets old quickly.
Since there’s no way to get money in the game aside from collecting rewards for beating certain quests, Fable II introduced a lovely new way to make some spare coin: getting a job. Yes, nothing says “have fun away from your daily grind at work” quite like playing an action adventure game that makes you grind for money. The jobs you can work include Bartender, Blacksmith, Woodcutter, Merchant, Assassin, Slaver, Bounty Hunter, and Landlord. The Slaver, Assassin, and Bounty Hunter jobs are by far the most interesting as they’re more of a side quest that constantly regenerates. Being a Merchant or Landlord simply means buying a shop or property and renting it out. The Blacksmith, Bartender, and Woodcutter jobs are the worst. They simply involve you pressing a button within a certain time to successfully complete the action. If you do this correctly enough times in a row, you’ll create a chain that starts adding monetary reward multipliers on it. So yes, it is a pretty good way to make some coin somewhat quickly, but boy is it boring. This was one of the features of Fable II that I chose to wipe from my memory.
You are able to get married in Fable II, even to members of the same sex. This is one aspect that I clearly remember being obnoxious. Yes, you can have sex and a family, but if you’re not constantly revisiting your home then your spouse will get angry with you and potentially divorce you. Your kids may also run off to try to be an adventurer like you, which of course fails and you’ll have to rescue them. The whole idea of having a family in Albion seems romantic, but it gets really irritating having to stop at home after every single quest (with gifts) just to keep them happy.
However, if you’re solely looking for a pleasurable tryst, there are prostitutes scattered all around Albion. Make sure you wear a condom though! Unprotected sex can lead to having a child or even an STD. Jeez, even in a fantasy world you have to take care when oscillating the unmentionables. You won’t actually see anything, but there is some humorous dialogue that you hear while the screen is black.
There’s a lot to find throughout the world of Albion. Exploration is a large portion of the fun and can lead to finding lots of hidden items like silver keys that open up special chests for big rewards, gargoyles that you can destroy, as well as nine Demon Doors to open for special weapons and elixirs. The Demon Doors were even better than I remember. Each one requires you to do something specific to open it like murder someone in front of it, or show it the full range of tricks your dog can perform. They also have funny conversations with you and I enjoyed opening every one of them.
The graphics still hold up well for the most part since the art style is slightly cartoonish. My main issue with Fable II is the drastic framerate drops and glitches throughout the game. Any time a group of enemies appear, the framerate drops down so low, it almost looks like the game is about to freeze. It does manage to pick itself back up for the most part after the initial ambush and allow you to fight them fairly fluidly, but it drops back down again any time you to try to bring the experience orbs to you. This also happens when your dog finds something. He barks to let you know there’s treasure nearby and then slowly leads you to it. He sometimes glitches onto ledges or behind walls while leading you to the treasure as well.
There’s a golden sparkly trail that illuminates the path you are to follow to reach the quest you currently have activated. Now I don’t care for games that do this as I feel it holds your hand too much. This trail is especially aggravating though as it frequently disappears then projects itself in the opposite direction. Obviously, this often leads to confusion on where to go and you end up wasting time running in circles. The good news is there is an option to turn it off. Once I had a pretty good feel of the map, that’s just what I did and I was much happier for it.
The combat is still a lot of fun in Fable II. You can make yourself big and beefy so you can wield your sword more efficiently, enhance your long range skills so can can be more accurate and deadly with a bow or gun, or delve deep into the arcane arts. While I do try to keep myself more well rounded, I still find myself leaning more heavily on magic skills. They’re the most dynamic on screen and can add a lot of strategy to fighting as well. My biggest gripe is once again the framerate. When performing spells, especially the more powerful ones, the framerate drops significantly. When doing a strong Force Push on a group of enemies, it honestly feels like they’re moving in slow motion. It still looks cool, but it severely interrupts the flow of the fight.
The musical score of Fable II is just as remarkable as I remember. Danny Elfman and Russel Shaw worked together again and created a truly wondrous soundtrack. The melodies throughout were the perfect blend of magic and whimsy. The voice acting is on point with delivering purposefully over the top performances to fit their often outrageous characters. Nearly all of the dialogue and the delivery is hilarious and one of my favorite aspects of the Fable games.
Even ten years later, Fable II is still a remarkable game, even if it does suffer from some poorly implemented ideas and framerate issues. The story, characters, quests, and oddities are all thoroughly enjoyable and delightfully charming. It’s easy to lose yourself in Albion and strive to be its champion or harbinger doom. Whether you’ve played it ten years ago or haven’t tried it yet, it’s still to this day a game that is very much worth your time.