Microsoft Fable II

The original Fable promised gamers the world but upon its release many players lamented the unexplained absence of many promised features.

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Microsoft Fable II
  • Microsoft Fable II
  • Microsoft Fable II
  • Microsoft Fable II

Pros

  • Large number and variety of activities, lots of world and character customisation, stunning storybook graphics, flexible and enjoyable combat

Cons

  • Unsatisfying main campaign, enemies present little challenge, dog isn't terribly interesting, some irritating questing quirks

Bottom Line

Lots of games claim you can go anywhere and do anything inside their worlds. The trouble is, once you've eluded the cops for the umpteenth time, the whole exercise starts to feel hollow when your actions leave no lasting impact. What makes Fable II so thoroughly absorbing, despite a few notable shortcomings, is the heady illusion that every choice you make sends ripples through the world, its people, and your own simulated heart.

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Mind and Body

But as fun as it is to upgrade furniture so you can raise the rent, an adventurer's natural state is duking it out in dungeons, and Fable II's got plenty of beasties to battle. How you dispatch foes quickly becomes as much a matter of personal style as your interactions with townspeople. Will you carve through the undead with a cleaver, pick off bandits from afar with a crossbow, or turn a room full of creeps into a swirling storm of bodies and debris with a charged Vortex spell? Each type of attack earns you different colored orbs to spend on attack upgrades, and changes your physique. Strong characters become burly, skilful individuals grow tall, and magic users start to glow.

Before long I was timing my brutal melee strikes for combination bonuses and aiming for high-powered headshots with my rifle, but rarely did I ever feel like I was in real jeopardy. Part of the problem is that your eight magical spells are not constrained by any mana requirements. On the one hand, it's great fun to spam foes with charged-up inferno blasts and clouds of conjured blades, or slow time to a crawl so you can slice and dice without taking so much as a scratch, but even vicious Balverines and mysterious Shadows that absorb a dozen blows each will offer little hardship to anyone who can do more than mash buttons. I have to think this will only get easier with a partner, although co-op play won't be available until shortly after the game's release.

A Life Twice Lived

After blasting through the bitterly anticlimactic final confrontation with Lucien with — I kid you not — a single rifle blast, I had to wonder why I'd had such a good time when combat so often amounted to tearing through tissue paper. Then I returned to Bowerstone and continued the rest of my life. I went back to buying up property, helping the local guards deal with ruffians, and showing off to children. I hunted down and shot taunting gargoyle heads, installed new augmentations in expensive weaponry, and appeased demon doors to gain access to hidden treasures. I served drinks at taverns, gambled away my earnings, and commissioned more stone statues of myself in various poses.

A few hours of idle romancing, carousing, and trading later, it dawned on me: Fable II, despite its overly easy battles and disappointing dog, had become a sort of second home, comfortable and malleable. As much as the canned storyline ultimately disappointed me, there remains so much more to do, and I simple don't want to leave. Hardcore gamers looking for non-stop combat might not have the same reaction, but people looking for a well-rounded escape from the real world will get far more than their money's worth.

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