Fable 2: Thematic Failures

 By Shamus Feb 3, 2009 68 comments

I mentioned in my original post on Fable 2 that the plot is insultingly simplistic, ham-fisted, and perfunctory. It’s my only gripe with what is otherwise a stellar game. I do not count the hours I spent with Fable 2 as time squandered, but I do resent the main story and its self-indulgent idiocies. The main plot of a game is a pretty big thing to screw up, and the failure here is all-encompassing. The plot fails thematically, it fails logically, it fails dramatically, and – most importantly – it fails to be entertaining. It’s a dreadful chore to endure the key moments in the story of Fable 2, and I was always relieved when I was released from the iron grip of the narrative and allowed to go back to having fun.

The art style falls near the World of Warcraft end of the spectrum, with lots of exaggerated, chunky buildings.
The art style falls near the World of Warcraft end of the spectrum, with lots of exaggerated, chunky buildings.
Interestingly, the poor writing is well-quarantined. The optional side quests are sometimes clever, sometimes hilarious, sometimes dumb but amusing. Their occasionally satirical tone was a welcome respite from the ravages of the mandatory parts of the game. In particular, I loved doing the quests with Max & Sam Spade, the two bumbling brothers who repeatedly and recklessly mess about with the dark arts and end up releasing assorted demons and curses into the world for you to clean up. They’re a blatant Sam & Max reference, their banter was amusing, and their missions were fun.

Note that there is no way to talk about this without using spoilers. The main plot has few surprises, and the ones it does have are nasty, mood-breaking fouls on the part of the writer. I’m basically spoiling something which is already ruined. I personally would have enjoyed the game more if I knew ahead of time how unfair the thing was going to be, but I do not promise this will be true for everyone. I am going to talk about end-game events here, so use your own judgment.

Spoilers begin now…

Thematically, most of Fable 2 exists somewhere between Shrek and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Sometimes there is a dash of dark humor. Sometimes things are mildly edgy or risqué. But for the most part this is a world of whimsy and storybook fantasy with a dash of adult humor. (This is a game with a very cartoonish, child-like view of morality. You earn purity points for eating veggies, corruption points for eating meat, and evil points for killing harmless woodland creatures.)

Muah ha ha ha! Hate me because I am an evil dick who shoots children! Note that here Lucian is supposedly shooting a little seven year old kid (you) who comes up to his waist, but he's aiming at eye level.  Maybe he went and got a box for you to stand on.
Muah ha ha ha! Hate me because I am an evil dick who shoots children! Note that here Lucian is supposedly shooting a little seven year old kid (you) who comes up to his waist, but he's aiming at eye level. Maybe he went and got a box for you to stand on.
The candyland storybook vibe holds true everywhere in the game except where the main character is concerned. When it comes to your avatar and the people you care about, the gloves are off. Lucian, the evil asshole of our tale, murders your pre-teen sister on-screen in the opening minutes of the game. You (an even younger child) are then shot and thrown out of a window to fall hundreds of feet onto cobblestones. As an adult, you are tortured on-screen. You are made to either murder your friend Bob, or be tortured and suffer a severe penalty to your powers. (A really harsh XP drain.) You are disfigured and permanently robbed of your youth unless you’re willing to sacrifice an innocent to take your place. Barnum, your harmless and innocent inventor friend, is murdered on-screen. At the end, Lucian traps you in a Plot Field that lets him monologue while you remain frozen and helpless. He brags that he’s just got done personally murdering your spouse and all your children (assuming you had any) and then he kills your dog in front of you. You are then shot in the face from a first-person perspective. Again.

This is a huge collection of serious, ugly deeds. These darker elements – all of which befell the good guys – often felt incongruous. It was like having the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs inserted into The Incredibles. A story about a villain who murders everyone you have ever befriended or loved does not fit in what is otherwise a world played for laughs.

Then the endgame: You get to hit the bad guy once, and then he falls and (we assume) dies off-screen. Disney villains get more comeuppance than the antagonist in Fable 2. (And Reaver, who shot Barnum and stole your youth, gets to walk away without ever having to answer for his crimes. He’s just as evil and callous as Lucian, he’s simply evil on a smaller and less ambitious scale. He saunters off with a chuckle.)

As I played, I could picture the writer churning this mess out at his computer. How can I make the player really hate my villain? I am an artless hack, so I can’t hope to accomplish this by drawing the player into the world and the plight of its inhabitants. I guess I’ll just have to annoy the hell out of them at every turn. That should do it! Lacking the skill to make a truly compelling adversary, he just buries you in layers of injustice. In the end, I ended up hating the writer, not Lucian. I felt like the game was hitting me with a brick and forcing me to hit back with a pillow.

My two best friends:  My dog, and my <em>perfectly chiseled physique.</em>
My two best friends: My dog, and my perfectly chiseled physique.
I also cry foul at the game for killing your dog. He’s a key gameplay component. I can (sort of) accept the loss of the dog as a character, but not the loss of the game content that he provides. Without him, you can’t really hope to complete all the treasure-hunting sidequests that pop up after the game is won. You get a multiple-choice ending, and one of the endings allows you to bring him back, but that decision mixes in-game and out-of-game variables. Do you want to have fun parts of the game removed and some quests locked off, or do you want to break character? You do not add tension to a story by holding gameplay elements ransom.

Likewise, the trip to the evil Spire puts you into situations where you must do evil or be tortured and endure a massive XP drain. All told, the total XP loss for cleaving to the path of righteousness is about two hours of leveling. This game sold itself on “player choices”, but choosing between playing as an evil jerk or having a huge portion of your hard-won progress pissed away isn’t exactly the kind of nuanced “choice” gamers are clamoring for.

The person who devised this tale wanted the player character to endure a preposterous level of frustration. Not even gruesome, gritty games like Kayne & Lynch or Max Payne try to heap this much suffering onto the head of the protagonist. To do so in such a gentle-looking world – and then to deny the player anything that might resemble revenge at the end – is to convey pure contempt for the audience on the part of the writer.

But most of all, I resented the way the story I hated tried to prop itself up at the expense of the gameplay I loved. A story and gameplay should be in harmony. In a bad game, they stand apart. In Fable 2, they cannibalize each other.


202020868 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.


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  1. locusts says:

    Wow, I thought the story in the first Fable game was lacking in something, but this one sounds awful. Thank you for this review with spoilers. If I had decided to get this game, play it, and found this information through the course of the story, then like you I would have been annoyed with the writer of the game. You do a great service by reviewing these games, so that I do not have to play the awful ones.

  2. B.J. says:

    This game sounds like a few of the really bad D&D games I’ve been in.

  3. Tacoman says:

    I was really excited about this game until I read that the game kills your dog. I’m not buying this game now.

    Original Fable Spoilers ahead.

    If you played the original Fable, you’d be prepared for terrible writing, but it didn’t do anything as heart wrenching as killing off all your friends. The bad guy killed your mother in front of you, but you’d already thought she was dead, and it had been predicted from about midway through the main plot that it was going to happen.

    The important choice you make there is right at the end, and it’s for the best weapon in the game. The problem was that by this time you could fist fight your way to the top of any heap, so the weapon wasn’t worth killing your sister.

  4. Hum. I wonder if you are maybe missing the underlying theory of the XP loss? I suspect the writer is trying to make it so that you have to make a genuine sacrifice to do the right thing, to create a choice between good and evil that is actually difficult. Now, this kind of thing can only succeed if the player is drawn into the story in the first place. Story works because we watch characters we care about make difficult choices, or in this case make them ourselves; but if we don’t care about the characters then we don’t care about the choices either. The XP sacrifice might have worked in a more immersive story, as it reportedly did in Bioshock, where people actually did agonise over getting a gameplay advantage by killing the little sisters. Still, perhaps a point for at least trying?

  5. @locusts: I also enjoy the reviews Shamus posts and it is a great thing he’s doing. I have a hard time, however, deciding, based on his review alone, whether to get a game or not. Having recently gotten an Xbox 360 I came here first to find some games to snatch up, only to be confounded. You get lines like,

    It’s my only gripe with what is otherwise a stellar game.

    in the same review as:

    A story and gameplay should be in harmony. In a bad game, they stand apart. In Fable 2, they cannibalize each other.

    I think you really need to read what he writes very thoroughly and really know what you’re looking for in a game.

  6. Chris says:

    The primary issue is Peter Molyneux “wanted you to feel unconditional love”, and that “in order to be good, you had to make personal sacrifice” since being good in Fable 1 was easy.

    The guy has such a black and white view of morality, though (see Black and White), that it’s still easy as a harlot to be a good guy. It’s just easier to be evil this time if you want.

    His attempt at feeling unconditional love failed, because no matter what you still feel like you’re playing a video game. Crowd reactions aren’t diverse and they all seem like computer A.I. (because they are). The closest thing is the dog, and honestly, I was expecting that you would have the choice to either save your dog or kill him, so the dog dying was no shock to me.

    I loved the game, but Lucian was such a disappointment. He COULD have been an awesome villain because of his goals. In the end, he was technically a gray area. His goals could have been relatable. However, because the game is so black and white, they made him clearly a villain instead of being someone relateable. The real choice at the end should have been whether you kill him and save the world, kill him and take over the world for yourself, or join him.

    If they ever make a Fable 3, the biggest thing they will need to tackle is the gray area. The world is simply not black and white in the manner that Fable puts it. I didn’t want to hate Lucian, but as you said, they made me hate the writer because of how much they screwed up what he could be.

  7. I played through Fable 2 this past weekend, and I had that “I HATE YOU” moment when I got to the big choice. After Lucien killed my dog. I was really upset about losing my dog (okay, and my family, but not as much as my dog). And I really wanted to kill Reaver, but I never got that chance. He’s just lucky he was important to the plot, otherwise…

    In the end, I picked the option my character would have picked, which did not include bringing back my dog. And I hated the game after that. A lot of the charm was gone, the treasure hunting was impossible, and if you didn’t have all 50 silver keys, you weren’t going to find them without your dog. So the big choice – made in character – ultimately ruined the game for me. I completed a couple of minor little quests, but in the end, I gave it up as not fun.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I still love Fable 2, and I am playing another character. But knowing what’s in store for me and knowing that I couldn’t dig up all the stuff I wanted to get in the first play though after I lost my dog, I’m more aware of getting stuff early. Of course, the drama is less shocking, but after you get through the chore of the main plot quests, there’s still hours of good game play in side-quests to enjoy.

  8. briatx says:

    Has any game dealt with moral choice in a nuanced way, though?

    I guess it’s frustrating that Fable 2 punishes you so harshly for making the good choice. At the same time, Bioshock gives you a choice and the characters say that it will affect gameplay but it doesn’t (the little sisters leave you gifts that make up for the Adam you lose by not harvesting them). That’s pretty frustrating too.

    Other games only reward you for choosing the path of perfect good or absolute depravity and don’t give you a realistic option of choosing a middle path.

    What would a game with good moral choices look like? Do we really need it to be reflected in a game mechanic at all?

  9. Shamus says:

    King of Men: You are exactly right. I would have swallowed the XP loss in a more immersive, less idiotic story.

    Actually, I think the XP loss was still too extreme. It was an awful feeling seeing those green orbs spill out, and players will feel like it’s a sacrifice even if it was a fraction of the penalty imposed. I didn’t really realize the cost until I got my powers back and realized the game had taken TWO FREAKING HOURS of combat away. (That’s how long it took me to get back to where I was before I entered the Spire.)

    Once again the writer should understand real vs. perceived threats. In subsequent games, I just ignored the evil points, my character, and my alignment, and held onto my powers. Thus the extreme penalties caused me to reject the world instead of become more invested into it.

    I guess it’s obvious that I’m still sore about it. :)

  10. Adam says:

    I wonder if you are maybe missing the underlying theory of the XP loss? I suspect the writer is trying to make it so that you have to make a genuine sacrifice to do the right thing, to create a choice between good and evil that is actually difficult. Now, this kind of thing can only succeed if the player is drawn into the story in the first place.

    That was my first thought. In theory, it sounds like a decent way to immerse the player in the story…am I willing to take penalty X in order to stay in character? In practice, it sounds like it’s not the sort of game where I’d care enough about my character for the choice to matter. It actually sounds like a fair attempt at addressing one my chief complaints with other games that offer ethical choices, including the original Fable. People turn to the dark side because it’s the easy way to power, not because, what the hell, it’s my second playthrough, may as well wear black this time. I’m sick of stealing things, backstabbing people, etc. in games not because I gain some tangible advantage but because I’m trying to build bad karma.

  11. BriatX: The best way for a game to deal in “nuanced choices” is to provide a set of choices that have tradeoffs no matter what you do, since “penalize the player for doing good” has serious gameplay issues, as Shamus pointed out. Ideally, you have the option to just not choose, too.

    Fallout 1 and 2 has a lot of these. (Can’t speak to 3 since I’ll play it when its $15 and not sooner.) In New Reno, you could choose one of three crime bosses to ally with. If you’re really good, you can get all 3, though it requires a bit of light gaming the system. You can choose to ignore them all. There’s other places where you can pick between two sides not entirely “in the right”, and while there may be an option for a “right” reconciliation, only some characters (mostly those high in Speech) will be able to pull those off.

    Note that in Fallout 1 and 2, you never face the (hat-tip to Yahtzee) “Mother Theresa vs. Baby Eating” choice. It’s always richer than that.

    As we get to the point where 3D engines are relatively solved conundrums, today’s game designers creating the hits of 2011 could do worse than go play through Fallout 2 with an eye on the design of the game. Games that aren’t “gritty post-apocalyptic RPGs” could still learn a lot from the way Fallout 2 is designed.

  12. Adam Greenbrier says:

    I haven’t finished Fable 2, but I haven’t found the darker aspects of the game to be either as jarring or, frankly, as bad as you make them out to be. Classic fables (a la Aesop) have a mix of whimsy and violence and are renowned for their black and white views of morality; it’s no accident that this game is called “Fable” and keeps those same aspects.

    I actually really appreciated that the game presents you with difficult decisions and forces you to make a choice. Having to choose between killing a friendly NPC, especially one that is so lovable, and taking a hit on your experience was a very, very good design decision because it gives the decision an heft it wouldn’t have without an in-game impact. There are so many games where doing the “right thing” is not only easy but gives you the best rewards that it was refreshing to see a game where making the right decision could have serious consequences.

  13. Nick C says:

    The best games i’ve ever seen as far as choices are concerned are The Witcher and Planescape: Torment. In The Witcher, there is not good or evil, and it’s all gray. The best choice you could hope to make was the “less” evil one.

    As for Planescape…well…It’s just perfect as it is! Planescape has lots of evil, gray, and good choices, but ultimately what makes it succeed, is that everything revolves around you, instead of just being “about” you.

  14. King of Men, I think the problem is the difference between “do evil and get a reward”, and “do good and get punished”.

  15. Arson55 says:

    I agree the writing was horrible. But I had no issues with the losing the experience, after all, it is something you can recover on your own. Now killing the dog is more of the issue because it is an important game mechanic, that you cannot replace (unless you take the one particular path).

  16. wererogue says:

    I think in the long run I’ll still be picking up Fable 2, but I tend to agree with the points you’ve made here.

    One thing I notice a lot in morality-based games is that a lot of the time there are fun rewards for taking the “evil” path, but the reward for being good is just knowing that you’ve been good. While it’s arguably a reflection on the real world (tenuous – I think there are a lot of real-world rewards for being a good person) it really makes you feel like you made the wrong choice. Overlord did this a lot, but I forgive it because the more evil (as opposed to less evil) path through the game is incredibly fun, and I was really only playing it for the goblins.

    In the games where I’ve seen morality done well, the rewards for being good have been as rewarding as the evil rewards, and you lose out here and there for being evil too. Planescape: Torment is a great example. You can’t see the whole game in one go – you have to play it again, roleplaying the alignment which lets you see the bits you missed, and when you do, it feels in character to make those choices the “right” way for your alignment. Which basically means that when you’ve played the game once, there are up to seven more stories you can play, not to mention the shades of grey in between.

    Regarding the dog: There’s a similar dog in “The Bard’s Tale”, who you can optionally adopt. He digs up treasure, flushes out game, and fights enemies without ever getting in your way.

    Spoilers: About two-thirds of the way into the game, your dog is eaten by a dragon. Plot death, nothing you can do about it. I was DEVASTATED, but carried on playing based on the strength of the game so far.

    More spoilers: A while later, there’s a puzzle in a temple room where you need to light some torches in a certain order. It’s harder than most of the puzzles so far, and can be ignored if it’s annoying you. However, if done correctly, your dog is reborn as a ghost dog, rejoining you for the rest of the game! It’s a fantastic touch, and allows the writers to jerk you about, but leaves you satisfied.

  17. LintMan says:

    I’m really getting tired of games where the good choice always has to be detrimental/painful and the evil choice is always beneficial.

    In Gal Civ II, sometimes you have to make a moral choice when you colonize a planet, and in nearly every case, the good choice means a penalty, the neautral choice a small benefit, and the evil choice a big benefit. And the situations are set up where half the time the good choice makes you think “that’s not the ‘good person’s’ choice, it’s the ‘stupid person’s’ choice”.

    In reality, doing the good/right thing is sometimes painful, but it often has its own benefits as well. On the flipside, in real life, doing the wrong/self-interested thing very often comes back to haunt you. Ie: Earn trust and perhaps you get further privelidges/responsibilities. Betray trust and lose priveleges.

    There’s a whole world of nuance that is possible and wouldn’t even be that hard to implement. And it’d be a hell of a lot better and more meaningful than “eat tofu to be good or crunchy chicks to be evil”.

  18. I’d be interested to hear more about the moronicness (moronicity? moronicapacity? moronesqueness? stupidity?) of the plot.
    It seems to start early–I’m pretty sure that if I somehow survived being shot and falling multiple stories to what should have been my death on cobblestones at age 7 or so, the vengeful hero I became would be more the cunning-guy-in-a-wheelchair type than the chiseled-physique type.

  19. Fenix says:

    Umm. For everyone who hate losing the dog because it removes the ability to finish certain quests. If you have the quest selected as your current one and head to the location of the dig spot, the light trail will guide you to the dig spot. So…. yeah.

  20. Armagrodden says:

    I think the big problem with King of Men’s view is that, while it does make the choice difficult for the gamer rather than just the character, there is absolutely no reward for doing the right thing. I had hoped there would be some kind of karmic balance wherein the good players got a better ending than the evil ones, but such is not the case. Instead, the evil players are rewarded with extra XP, wealth, and easier (or exclusive) access to certain areas of the game while being “punished” with an unpopularity that doesn’t affect your ability to interact with villagers and slightly higher prices that don’t even make a dent in the average PC’s ridiculous wealth. Conversely, the only reward for good players is that all the villagers love you, which has actually hindered me when I want to go through a narrow corridor or stairwell and it’s totally blocked by a horde of Love Zombies. You also need to be more evil to get all the expressions: the good expressions are available to those who only make it halfway up the slider, for the evil ones you have to go all the way down. In short, the game takes the extremely cynical view that the only reward for good and punishment for evil are social ones, then the game mechanics make those social interactions meaningless. The rewards for evil and punishments for good are, however, tangible and real.

    Incidentally, it is possible to resurrect your dog without making the middle choice at the Spire, but you have to shell out money for the Knothole Island expansion. I’m pretty sure your wife and kids are gone forever though.

  21. Gamercow says:

    I bought the DLC for Fable 2, because I enjoyed the sidequests of the main story, and the DLC was just that, sidequest. It was okay, but the best part was getting my dog back. It took me approximately 2 nanoseconds to decide if I wanted to sacrifice a townsperson to get him back. I then spent the next 10 minutes playing fetch.

    The XP loss in the spire didn’t bother me because I knew I could get it back very quickly in the Crucible and with XP potions. It was nowhere near 2 hours for me, but then again, I was nearly completely skilled-up before going in.

  22. Stark says:

    I think that folks are missing a basic point conveyed by the title of the game as regards it’s very black and white version of morality. The game is called “Fable”. A fable is, by definition, a story conveying a very simplistic and clear moral message. It seems to me that if you head into the game with the expectation of playing in a fable then the game makes excellent sense and comes off much better. The simplistic world view is no longer a hindrance but a tool of the story.

  23. Zolthanite says:

    The only question I have, is does cleaving to righteousness ever have a pay off in the game? Or is the path of minimal impact and being purely evil literally have the best possible outcome with no consequences, even in terms of a so-called “good ending”?

    I don’t see how an RPG telling you to make a choice between acting in-character and preserving your character stats is remotely in tune with role playing. It’s one thing if I have to sacrifice exp in D&D for some game-breaking effect that requires the loss of life force or whatever to justify what happened. It’s another thing entirely to base a choice on coercion into doing evil.

    Regardless of whether or not you can tolerate a system, it’s still bad design. MMOs are the perfect example. Grinding as a sole source of exp is bad design. The financial and exp penalties imposed in most MMOs is bad design (I prefer exp, but I still think it’s a sign of laziness). But an MMO where quest completion was the main source of exp (And actual quests, not that ‘Retrieve 12 frog skulls’ nonsense that merely hides grinding) and death isn’t a mandatory loss of character status would be a huge improvement over current games.

    @Adam Greenbreir: The problem is, Aesop’s fables had an obvious lesson in all of them. Be nice to others. Eat your peas.

    It sounds like the lesson of Fable 2 is more akin to a Lewis Black routine. “The good die young, but pricks live forever”. When the “morally corrupt” choice ALWAYS is the better option to choose, why do anything else? This seems to be more in line with “self-flagellation” than anything else.

    I’m really hoping that the writing isn’t bad enough that this truly is the case though.

  24. Shamus says:

    Actually, the “reward” for the good parts that I really wanted would be to just see SOME IMPACT of the good you did. I sacrifice my handsome good looks and vigor for that of an NPC, who is then removed from the game world forever. It’s not like I’ll ever see her milling around town, happy and enjoying life, or old and feeble.

    It’s the classic GM mistake: He expects me to take his NPCs more seriously than he does.

  25. This illustrates what’s GOOD about the “Little Sister Choice” in Bioshock. A lot of fanboys complained that you don’t get any exclusive benefits from being evil (the good path gives you an exclusive benefit and you’re otherwise just as powerful in the long run) and that you might as well be a good guy. Well, is that worse than nerfing the good path in Fable 2? I think not.

    There have been a few games to get the good/evil thing down perfectly, and they’re pretty much all games where the choice goes unmentioned in reviews because it doesn’t piss anyone off. Overlord, for example, gives you the choice of being a psychotic destroyer or being a benevolent tyrant (you’re still “bad” to a certain extent either way), and while it is possible to switch paths, you have to make the choice to do so early because it’s a pain to do later. The choice does affect the powers you gain (a spell that kills everything in a radius vs. one that only targets hostiles) and the immediate size of your army, but the real difference is aesthetic. Benevolent Overlords get respect and praise from the peasants, shiny armor, and nice castle decorations. Psychotic Overlords are feared by the peasants, have Sauron-esque armor and have gloomy castle decorations.

    Basically, it’s all I ever wanted in a Sliding Scale of Morality. If there was, say, a superhero game that let me choose between Iron Man style Fame and Punisher-style Infamy, but didn’t mess around with the stuff I earned, that would work just as well.

    An alternate take is Ultima Underworld 2, Ultima VII, and Ultima VIII. In those games you could potentially do just about anything you wanted, but certain actions would have extreme reactions from the NPCs. For example, UW2 was one of the first games that made stealing fun and challenging (and it’s no wonder that some of the same team made the Thief series later on) because the only penalty for stealing would be that NPCs might get upset. In fact, it was kind of a precursor to the Grand Theft Auto system of having more and more police come after you the worse crimes you committed: attack Lord British and you’ll (hilariously) bring down the wrath of every friendly NPC on your head. There was an unfortunate lack of long-term acknowledgment of evil deeds, but it was the early 90s and RAM was precious.

  26. Matthew Allen says:

    Shamus, the XP sacrifice to me was nothing. But that could be because I’d already maxed out almost everything that used green xp. So when I got to those parts and it warned you that you’d lose powers I got scared but said “Ok, if it’s what is needed to be good.” And then nothing changed. It pulled XP from my pool of available xp. Which was a big so… Who cares. So if you lost actual powers then damn… that does suck but I just lost xp. Sure, I had to go make more… but I’d already maxed everything that I cared to worry about.

  27. Sashas says:

    @Lintman: I thought that about GalCiv II. Eventually, a friend of mine pointed out that there is an in-game benefit to being good. Other races tend to like you more (or less) depending on how close your alignment is to theirs. Thus, a good race has an easier time allying with other good races, while an evil race has an easier time allying with other evil races. The catch: Evil races are dicks. Your odds of getting useful and helpful allies go up dramatically if you’re good.

    Is it worth it? That’s hard to say. I found that when I was trying to be good, I would generally “slip” for especially lucrative offers, and that I could get a few NICE bonuses while still being able to pick Good for free when the time came.

  28. elias says:

    I enjoyed the story. I agree that it would’ve been nice to see the effects of good deeds more.

    Though by the time I went to the Spire I’d wandered around doing enough stuff that I had plenty of extra xp sitting around and it didn’t bother me to lose it.

  29. Kevin says:

    Sorry for you having to endure that, Shamus… but happy for me because the review is so funny and entertaining to read! :)

    (Now why aren’t you writing videogames again?)

  30. Drew says:

    Two hours? It seems like you need to get more of a MMO mindset, Shamus. I used to think 2 hours was a big deal. After playing enough WoW, I’ve learned that 2 hours is an almost completely irrelevant amount of time. It’s all in the perspective I suppose. Mind you, I’m kind of disappointed in myself for feeling this way…

  31. Pinky says:

    @Madtinkerer: The thing about Bioshock was that evil was instant gratification, getting a larger reward then and there (in pure ‘experience’, it ended up being slightly more than the other path anyway) whereas being Good was sacrificing your XP for the poor, helpless little sister. After you went down this path of altruism for a while, the little sisters would leave gifts. It rewards you for being good, but you don’t know that you’ll get it when you make the decision.

    The ‘fanboys’ are complaining about a game function which relies on roleplaying, because the player should have no way to tell what the ultimate outcome of saving the innocent is. Once you know about it, it just doesn’t work.

    @Drew: An MMO mindset? We’re not talking about the latest grind-a-thon, we’re talking about a game which should rely on immersion and storytelling, not going out and killing rabbits for x hours. In RPGs, grinding is possibly the worst thing you can make players do.

    And if you think 2 hours is irrelevant, go get help. I can read The Fellowship of the Ring in 3 hours.

  32. locusts says:

    @ Michael Huxley: I do know what I want. I want a large world that I can explore with a story that allows me to feel like what I do has a point. I enjoyed Morrowind so much that despite never beating the game I have started and quested with seven characters. I enjoyed both Diablos for the exploration offered in them and then enjoyed the exploration of the skills. I enjoy RTS games for the maps and always get frustrated when I eventually have to go hit the enemy to continue to the next map.

    I am an explorer in games, but I like a really good story too. I hate platforming, FPS, and any game with a steep difficulty curve. I tend to be a casual gamer and thus the reviews allow me to understand what my friends are talking about. So I, for one, am very thankful for this service from Shamus. I now know that while Fable 2 may have a large map to explore the story will be so annoying as to make me unwilling to continually replay it. Sadly, this was my opinion of the first Fable as well.

  33. Felblood says:

    MMOs are clearly mindpoison.

    How else can you explain people so willing to piss away their lives on timesinks and grinds?

    I’m not opposed to a little gindinding if it’s fun, but when I’m just cranking out levels so I can go do something else, I start to feel irked. I earned my fun when I earned the money to pay for the game, I don’t want to earn it twice.

  34. Stuart says:

    Even in the original fable there was no real choice about which path to go down:

    1) Be good – grow up into that wrinkly, bruised old man…you can barely hold your breath never mind that sword – all for the sake of a tiny halo.

    2) Be bad – kill endless swarms of guards until you are a hulking, daemonic brute; towering over the villagers as they scream in fear – and look pretty bad-ass to boot!

    yeah…

  35. acronix says:

    I think we should note that Fable is not an RPG, it´s an action-game that pretends to be an RPG. You get levels, you get skills, you get “yes” and “no” in dialogues. That´s what many developers think roleplaying is about. This ends in shallow choices, stupid plots and unbalanced rewards.
    Some of the gaming community is to blame, since a lot of them enjoy and ASK for games like this. They don´t mind if the plot is so good a book could be written of it, or if it just a generic “save the princess” as long as it has shiny graphics and lots of button smashing. At the same time, it is some kind of vicious circle: developers make this kind of game because gamers play this kind of games; but gamers play this kind of game because developers only make this kind of game.

    If you ask me, Fable and its sucessor would be a lot better if they avoided a main storyline and concentrate fully on sidequesting, which is obviously where most of the writting effort was put. Maybe so much effor that the writers colapsed in a catatonic state once they had to write the main plot.

    EDIT: Let´s not forget that Molineux and his crew advertised the game as having “deep” choices, and that outcomes of those choices wouldn´t be apparent immediatelly…which is exactly what they are. Except for the deep part.

  36. LintMan says:

    @Sashas: Yes, the good-aligned races are a bit better liked over all and have better quality allies, but that’s one of the perks of the good alignment. Neutral and evil alignments get different but arguably equally useful or better perks in their own way.

    In game-balance terms, the good-alignment perks don’t seem substantially better to me to justify their “cost” over the other alignments. And in role-playing terms, the good alignment choice frequently only seems reasonable if you equate “good” with “Star Trek political correctness turned up to 1000″.

  37. Danel says:

    As seems to be the general standard, being good in Fable 2 tends to reward you in the long run: it leads to a booming in-game economy that lets you earn a lot more money, over time, once you’ve started buying property. Of course, it makes it more expensive for you to buy property in the first place, and it also makes equipment more expensive, but it really pays off the long-run. Especially since you continue earning rent even while you’re not playing.

    Similarly, a few moral choices pay off. In the prologue, you can choose between returning some lost criminal files to a guard or letting a criminal see that they’re ‘lost’; if you help the guard once you return as an adult he’s become sheriff and cleaned up that section of town. Later on, you can also choose to give money to Barnum (sob) to build up another town; help him, and it’ll become a thriving speck of civilisation (and valuable property) later.

  38. Xellos says:

    I didn’t read everything posted yet so I don’t know if this was already mentioned, but I want to point out that exp loss in Fable 2 is rather minor because you can easily buy potions of exp (of the various types) nearly every day and replay that silly arena whenever you wish. Maybe still to a person with a much tighter schedule that would seem to still be too harsh, but I found it irrelevant because of the accumulated potions of whatnot that I had available. Does this make it fair or, more to the point, fun? No, it’s still stupid, but I felt the whole massive amount of time spent in the tower being unable to do anything interesting (or make any choice other than kill X guy or lose Y exp) was far more a punishment than the exp loss. Maybe it’s just me…

  39. Jeff says:

    Evil should be easier, with rewards.
    Good should be harder, with better long term rewards.

    Or is that the Force?

    I really just wanted to say, Re: Bard’s Tale, I loved my ghost dog.

    I notice nobody really cares if your mother/father/siblings get murdered in games. I suspect this is both a factor of the uncanny valley, and that they’re not actually our relatives. Our character has his mom, but in the back of our mind, she’s not our mom, she’s the character’s mom. We can be annoyed and angered, but feel no real sympathy. The valued pet, though, especially like a very useful dog, isn’t just our character’s pet, he’s our little digital friend. We thus have a slightly larger connection that way. We can’t choose our family, but we can choose our friends (and pets).

    That’s what I think, anyways.

  40. =Dan says:

    The entire game felt as if the choices were arbitrary. I didn’t at any time feel that my choices were really mine to make or that I was really in charge of my characters life. On top of the poor storyline for the main quest the ending was just dumb. If you have an item that can remake the world why would you be restricted to such simple choices: your family, those who died in the spire, or a million in cash. Why not all three? Why is the spire able to remake a world or the above choices?

    Oh and I am tired of the mute hero who communicates via lame expressions to people who sound like they are voiced by 3 actors. I suppose the game would be more immersive if I felt any connection to the main character.

  41. Nazgul says:

    A game designer that decides that brutalizing and tormenting the player, then leaving them feeling mostly powerless and unfulfilled, really needs to take a reality check on what sort of escapism people are looking for in their video games. It sounds pretty awful to me. I won’t get anywhere near Fable 2, because I think I’d resent it at least as much as Shamus did.

  42. Blake says:

    I always play through games as an evil character. I find it far more entertaining than good characters.

    When I played through Fable 2 I had no problem killing Bob and certainly wasn’t going to give up XP to keep him alive although I think I might’ve if it had’ve been small bonus/big bonus instead of small penalty/big penalty.

    As I murdered each of the Little Sisters in Bioshock I actually felt a bit bad for it and considered saving them as I knew I’d still get some Adam out of it.

    I don’t think games should put players in a position where they feel bad regardless of what choice they make which takes me to the final decision in Fable.

    I chose the dog, I was quite angry when Lucien shot him (angry enough to run up and hit him as soon as I could only to discover I missed a bunch of plot by killing him before he could finish monologuing) and when the choice came up I actually had to get off the game and jump on the internet to check what I got out of each thing.

    I was quite surprised when both the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ options left you without the dog which had (in my eyes) played a massive part in the game and which you couldn’t complete everything without.

    That the player has to choose the ‘selfish’ option in order to keep all the gameplay mechanics feels screwy to me.

    Having said all that, I did enjoy the game more than the first and certainly don’t feel like it was a waste of my 80 Australian dollars.

    Now – onto Chrono Trigger DS :)

  43. Yar Kramer says:

    You know, I play games for the story, and for the humor when present (this is why I’ve never really been satisfied with any Portal map packs …), and I’m also allergic to, um, badly written dark-storylines and drama-for-the-hell-of-it. I have to say that, in the reasonably cheerful mood I’m in right now, I can barely imagine the rage that this game’s story would probably fill me with. Let’s just say I’d try to find ways to torture files to death, and use it on the Fable 2 install … ;)

  44. Mazinja says:

    Ah… Fable 2.

    I have to agree with pretty much everything, adding a particular gripe.

    So I just have an immense tower built on the sacrifice of hundreds of people. I had just lost my dog, and Reaver was a goddamn asshole. The tower can grant any wish. Would there have been ANY difficulty for it to grant you BOTH the “everyone” and “family” things at the same time while simultaneously dropping Reaver in the middle of a rock in the ocean? :|

    That aside? About the XP loss for not doing bad actions? I can think of one game that did that and did it much better: Baldur’s Gate 2, near the end.

    … and now I want to go ahead and replay Planescape Torment, because that game lets you choose how evil or good you can be, and the evil in that game is NASTY.

  45. Solid Jake says:

    So what happens in the end if you don’t have a family? That seem like it would make the choice a lot easier.

    Or does the game make you get married just so it can force the issue on you?

  46. Armagrodden says:

    @Danel: I didn’t notice the in-game economy so much. My friend played as evil all the way through and I played as good all the way through. The result (as of the beginning of the Reaver quest): I make roughly 15000 gold every five minutes and he makes 14500. Given that we’re both millionaires, I don’t think that 500 gold is incredibly significant.

  47. ehlijen says:

    For the XP penalty thing: Maybe the game was quite aware of how little you cared about the character at the time and so the only thing it could make you ‘loose’ was what you yourself actually put in: ie xp gathering.

    It’s immersion breaking, but given how shallow I feel many games are these days it’s one of the few ways to make some players actually care that it’s happening. Unless you count good story telling…but that requires work and writing skills…

  48. Lanthanide says:

    I haven’t read anything above, but this caught my attention:

    “It was like having the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs inserted into The Incredibles.”

    Perhaps you should go back and watch The Incredibles a bit more critically. It is actually extremely violent, as far as ‘cartoons’ for children go – many many people are pretty much killed on screen, and while there is a very good ‘family values’ storyline going on, the villains (and hapless hired goons) are treated without any mercy whatsoever.

  49. Zwebbie says:

    So maybe, after Oblivion, BioShock, Fallout3 and the Fables, it’s time to realise that a good/evil choice may not be the deepest kind of choice.

    Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines had some nice choices about keeping your vampire society secret or letting the people who knew of it live. It had a Masquerade Violation meter and a Humanity meter; five Violations and it’s game over, a low Humanity would have lose control every once in a while, which in turn would result in a Violation. Choices very often had both rewards and punishments. Letting a person who knows of your secrets go gets you +1 Humanity, but a Masquerade Violation, while killing that person results in -1 Humanity, but a Masquerade Redemption. Both have as much of a benefit as a punishment, unless you’re getting dangerously low on one of them. It’s MUCH better than it sounds anyway, because it’s still mostly a moral choice, rather than a cost-benefit analysis. Ah, VtMB, that game should be mandatory to play for every RPG designer. It also has the best ‘villain’ I’ve seen in a game so far, because he’s actually realistic.

  50. Zaxares says:

    Blah… This sounds like a totally ham-fisted approach to in-game morality. Even the Witcher, as dark as it was, was better than this! As fun as the game sounds based on Shamus’ first review, I’m staying well clear of this one.

  51. Zaxares says:

    Blah… This sounds like a totally ham-fisted approach to in-game morality. Even the Witcher, as dark as it was, was better than this! As fun as the game sounds based on Shamus’ first review, I’m staying well clear of this one.

    EDIT: Ack! Sorry for the double-post! I thought IE had frozen up on me and tried hitting the Submit button again.

  52. eleven says:

    To make the final “fight” with Lucien even more anti-climactic – if you let him keep talking about how foolish you were and how he was going to kill you, eventually Reaver shoots him, and he falls off the tower without you even getting to touch him once.

    That said, I did find it amusing. I enjoyed the game despite its faults, though they may be glaring. The most fun was to be found in breaking the economy :D

  53. elliot says:

    The loss of Xp during the spire was the fucking point Shamus, and that fact that you hated it means that Molyneux won. He used gameplay elements to simulate torture. Seriously, If the avatar was only shocked visually every time the player disobeyed, there would be no reason to care. But by taking away that which you desired, he was able to make you feel emotional distress. Molyneux tortured you on purpose.

  54. Shamus says:

    elliot: Actually, I’m capable of caring about my character WITHOUT the threat of game-crippling penalties. I know that was the point, but he was wrong.

    Two hours. Two hours of leveling to recover all the skills I’d lost. Since using those powers was the part of the game I was ENJOYING, I could either break character or stop having fun. Like I said: Cannibalizing gameplay to prop up a horrible story is an awful idea.

    A well-written story with empathetic characters wouldn’t have needed any such penalty.

  55. briatx says:

    @elliot

    Sure, that kind of loss makes you suffer at the same time that the character is suffering, but it doesn’t encourage you to identify with the character’s suffering. When your dog dies you presumably feel bad because you, as the character, care about the dog. When you lose XP you are upset because you, as a player, can’t do as much with the character. You’re not immersed in or identifying with the character at that moment; you just view him as a tool that is becoming less useful.

  56. Shamus says:

    In response to those that said it only took about 20 mins to recover the lost XP:

    Perhaps I went earlier in the development of my character, and the XP drain is a fixed amount. In which case, the longer you wait the more trivial the penalty.

    The other possibility is that my massive loss was due to the fact that I’d spent nearly all of my points. I went in with just a few hundred points in my pool – the rest had been used to buy abilities. So, the game started “cashing in” my abilities to buy points to take away from me. If it was doing so using the normal penalties you get for un-learning a skill, then most of my points were thrown away in the conversion.

    Either way: I was mad at the designer, not the bad guy, so in the end the system failed as a dramatic device. (Duh.)

  57. Dan Hemmens says:

    The game is called “Fable”. A fable is, by definition, a story conveying a very simplistic and clear moral message.

    That’s rather the problem, though. Fable doesn’t convey a clear moral message, it conveys a *stupid* moral message.

    According to Fable 2:

    The act of eating tofu is, in and of itself morally good.

    The act of eating six pieces of tofu and then shooting your wife in the face is, overall, morally neutral.

    Refusing to kill your friend when ordered is an evil act.

    Sparing somebody’s life, so that somebody else can have the pleasure of watching them die is a good act.

    The problem with “moral” decisions in Fable is that they aren’t really moral decisions at all. A moral decision is one where you say “what is the right thing to do in this situation”. In fable you instead say “do I want to be good or evil in this situation” and that’s a very different thing.

  58. Saint Rising says:

    Shamus, I really love reading your stuff, but… I have a bone or two to pick with this one. ^^; Mostly about Lucien.

    In short, Lucien is one of the villains I’ve been able to sympathize with. Somewhere in the story, you go to find his journal. If you read through this all, you’ll read some crazy stuff about what happened before he found you. It really gives a lot of insight to the character.

    Past that, I’ll agree on a lot of your points. Killing the dog was cheap. The dialogue was cool once, but lost it’s effect really quickly. And, perhaps most of all, the people who were killed off for no reason really pissed me off.

  59. Dan Hemmens says:

    I also really liked Lucien – I thought his motivations were fairly reasonable and while he does the usual pointless villain stuff, I found I could genuinely sympathise with him. There’s also an interesting (and unexplored) irony that essentially you and Lucien are both motivated by the same thing: the loss of somebody you cared about.

    Well, in theory. In practice your nameless hero seems motivated by a strong desire to fart at members of the general public.

  60. acronix says:

    @Saint Rising, Dan Hemmens:
    If you were able to sympathise with this villain, it means the writer failed. Most of his actions were tought (if we can say they were) to make the player hate him. Most of us hate the character, true. But we hate him because he is poorly developed, not because how evil his actions are. Lucien is a failure: you either sympathise with him or you hate him for the wrong reasons.

    And a lot of us hate the writer a lot more.

  61. VoodooHack says:

    Short: You’re reading too much into it.
    Long: I think you’re putting too much weight on a plot that I felt was nothing more than loose framework to mark the beginning and end of the game. Taken with that perspective, and seeing what the game actually does right, Fable 2 is one of my top game choices for 2008.

    You seem to be supremely annoyed about the aesthetic disconnects you feel exist between the art style and tone of the characters. Yet, in your mind, it seems that this annoyance has elevated itself to gargantuan proportions…to the point of dedicating a whole article to it. I’m sorry for your loss.

    I just don’t think the whole game deserves all the bile you’re slinging at it.

  62. Paracelsus says:

    To be honest, by the time I got to the spire, I had so much green XP, I didn’t matter how much I lost :S

  63. Scorched Jawa says:

    A few things:

    1.) I’ve played through the Spire part as both evil and good. The experience you lose staying good comes back when you release the Hero of Will; he kills off the Commandant, gets all his “experience” back, and gives you all the leftovers (your experience that was drained). Doing evil in that part of the game, there isn’t any leftover experience.

    2.) Yes, it sucks that you lose your dog. The latest DLC rectifies that, however, as there’s a shrine that just wants you to sacrifice someone (just use the first person you see) as soon as you get to the new area to get your dog back. Now, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a moronic move on Lionhead’s part to kill off a vital part of the gameplay, but it does help those of us (I picked the “Save the People” option) that didn’t know that your pup was killed off with two out of the three choices.

    3.) The DLC is… underwhelming. New clothing options are terrible, the new potions still don’t allow you to trim your physique down (they allow you to get fat/skinny, tall/short; I wanted to trim down the bulging muscles on my femme fatale so that she didn’t look like a cross-dressing Arnold), the Red Dragon was nerfed (you could shoot that pistol like a machine gun), and the sidequest for that area is annoying. Really, the only benefits of the DLC is the ability to bring back your dog (if you lost him), one good augment (there are more, but they pretty much heave chunks) and 3 or 4 slot weapons.

  64. acabaca says:

    wererogue: “One thing I notice a lot in morality-based games is that a lot of the time there are fun rewards for taking the “evil” path, but the reward for being good is just knowing that you’ve been good.”

    Really? Because I have been noticing the opposite. Planescape: Torment, one of those games people laud as the masters of the moral gameplay, punishes you for being evil, and I don’t mean in an organic way, the same way real life might (people hating you and so on) – it punishes you by being designed in such a way that the rewards of evil quests are always smaller than the rewards for good quests, and there are fewer of them. The best weapon in the game is for good characters only, good characters fight an easier second-to-last boss and so on. Torment is not alone. In Baldur’s Gate series it’s stupid to even try playing an evil character, since if your karma is in the low end of the spectrum the game will teleport armed guards behind your back every time you enter a new area. The worst you can do is “surly and opportunistic”.

    In my opinion, a good designer’s rule of thumb is “no good deed goes unpunished”. The reason doing good in real life is difficult is because the real life tends to punish us for it: looking out for your own benefit is evil, making sacrifices for others is good. In most RPG’s though there is no sacrifice involved, quite the opposite in fact: you get rewarded for doing good with fun (= a new quest), material rewards, and the virtual adulation of the game world. This is all well and good if you want your game to have the morality of a children’s storybook, but if you’re aiming for any kind of actual moral depth, at least the material rewards for being evil should always be greater than being good. Good comes only from sacrifice.

    (Then there’s the Witcher mode, giving the player only choices that have no clear good or evil.)

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