Fable 2 Part 1: A Bird Crapped on Your Head

  By Shamus   Feb 4, 2009   57 comments

“Railroading” is a dirty word in a tabletop RPG. Players come to the game with the expectation that they will have some input into the shape of the world besides rolling the dice to stab things. Computer games are delivered and mediated by an uncreative computer, and so we have to accept a certain degree of railroading. A good railroader will make the process natural: The player will be forced to do that which most people would choose to do of their own volition. As long as their actions make sense and fit with their goals, the lack of freedom is usually grudgingly tolerated. (Although we are always clamoring for more freedom whenever we can get it.)

A bad railroader will use their power over the player character to force the PC to do things they would never choose to do on their own. Their (mostly illusory) autonomy is negated so that their character can be conscripted in service of the plot. The player will be forced to ally themselves with people they want to kill, surrender when they would rather fight, show mercy when they would rather have vengeance, blunder into obvious traps, and listen to villainous diatribes rather than simply taking action. This is Fable 2. The game touts “choices with consequences”, but the choices you are allowed to make in-game are never germane to the plot. They’re usually artificially binary good / evil decisions that have no impact on the main story. You won’t be allowed to make any choices that deviate from your predetermined role as a clueless mute doormat.

As before, this will roll right over the plot without regard to spoiler warnings. Proceed at your own risk.

This is Rose, your doomed sister in Fable 2. Uh, the one on the right, that is.
This is Rose, your doomed sister in Fable 2. Uh, the one on the right, that is.
Fable 2 begins with a bird crapping on your head. This is a very appropriate way to begin the game, as what follows is an epic journey through nonsense and madness as the writer contorts the game world in every possible way in order to have his fun at your expense. By the time the tale is over, he will have done a lot worse than just flinging crap at you. (The bird crap becomes your in-game symbol. When you buy property, a blob of white bird crap appears over the marker to denote it as yours.)

You and your sister are street urchins living in the squalor of Bowerstone Old Town. You are seven and your sister is twelve. (Rough guess.) A traveling swindler is selling “magic” items in the streets, one of which is a “wish-granting” box. A strange robed woman named Theresa is there, and convinces your sister to buy the box before leaving mysteriously. Your sister makes a wish and activates the box. It fizzles and disappears.

Good evening Jeeves, my mute brother and I are here to see Lord Lucian so he can fill us with plot exposition and bullets.
Good evening Jeeves, my mute brother and I are here to see Lord Lucian so he can fill us with plot exposition and bullets.
That night, Lord Lucian summons the two of you to his castle. Since your sister’s wish was to live in a castle, it seems like her wish is coming true.

Then Lord Lucian concludes that both of you are heroes. (Supernaturally strong and durable people with the ability to use magic. Heroes are exceptionally rare.) He’s been reading a prophesy that there will be three heroes he needs for his plans, and a fourth that will stop him. Since you and your sister aren’t one of the three, he shoots you both. Sis dies, and you get blasted out of a window.

Sheesh. Well, at least we know who the bad guy is.

Theresa shows up, saves you, and then raises you in a gypsy camp for the next ten years.

Hey Theresa, thanks so much for hooking us up with that magic box that led to my sister’s death. Thanks also for making us quest for the five gold – a huge sum for us, and peanuts for you.

This is the magic box, with Rose’s wish – Castle Fairfax – looming large in the background.
This is the magic box, with Rose’s wish – Castle Fairfax – looming large in the background.
Now more or less fully grown, she sets you on the path to whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.

You do a little combat tutorial, and then you return to Bowerstone. Theresa takes you to the shore and points out into the ocean. Lord Lucian has begun building a huge tower. The Spire. One was supposedly built hundreds of years ago. A Spire is said to grant wishes. Last time, the Spire went off like a nuke and took the entire kingdom off the map. People have since assumed that the explosion was the result of the wish. Whoever made the wish wanted to wipe the world clean and start over, as it were.

Theresa is a classic author-insertion know-it-all plot exposition character. Sometimes she can predict the most subtle outcomes of chaotic events, and sometimes she can’t find her own ass with the help of a Tome of Ass Finding.

Case in point: She knew the magic box was magic. She knew you and your sister were heroes. She knew what Lucian was up to. But… she let the two of you go to his castle anyway? She was willing to risk that both of you would die? Or did she know that you would survive? And if she could predict something as dicey as that, then why was she ever caught by surprise? (Unless we are to believe that all of your setbacks were also part of her plan. Which makes her just as evil as Lucian.)

She could have taken both of you back to the gypsy camp, right then and there. Then she would have had two heroes at her disposal, instead of one.

Theresa then directs you on a quest to round up these three other heroes. One is a huge warrior, another is a powerful magic user, and the last is an incredible marksman. (Strength, Skill, and Will (magic) are the three areas of leveling up you can do in the game. As the “fourth” Hero, all three types of power are available to you, as opposed to the other Heroes you meet, who are each focused on a single discipline.)

So, you know where your nemesis is, but instead of just rowing out there and kicking his ass, you embark on a globe-trotting adventure to round up the three X of Y. Now, if we’re willing to spot the writer some undeserved credit we can say that this whole scheme is part of a huge plot on the part of Theresa, but there is no justification in the world for you going along with it. You can’t ask what the hell these other heroes are for. You can’t just sneak into the Spire and assassinate Lucian. You can’t do anything but unquestioningly obey Theresa, no matter how daft she sounds, how suspiciously she behaves, or how much her directives are at odds with your goal of getting revenge.

She points right at Lucian’s Spire, tells you where he is, and then tells you to go through fire, blood, and darkness in the opposite direction. She never even tries to excuse this course of action.

The first Hero you are to find is Hammer. I will leave her character archetype and her weapon of choice to your imagination. You journey to Oakfield. The bridge is out, and you must detour through a monster-infested cave and fight waves of bandits.

You finally reach Oakfield and do some other questing. Eventually you meet Hammer.

Hammer is a huge woman. 6’6, muscular, and bulky. She’s impossible to miss. Oakfield is a miniscule town. But you won’t find her anywhere in it until you complete a few arbitrary quests.

Lucian’s lackey shows up to kidnap her, but ends up killing her father instead. She kills the guy and joins your team.

It’s been ten years since Lucian blasted you out of a window, leaving you with nothing to live for but revenge. Nothing has happened for ten years. Yet when you get to Oakfield to recruit Hammer, Lucian just happens to get there at about the same time.

Theresa then teleports in, and teleports away with Hammer.

Wait a minute… Theresa can teleport? And take other people with her?!? This seems like something that could be really handy. Like, that would have been tremendously helpful when the bridge was out.

Bitch.

To be continued…


20201757 comments. It's getting crowded in here.


  1. Mari says:

    Grammar police: In the first box, I think you meant “exorcise” instead of “exercise” unless your nitpicks needed a workout.

  2. Shamus says:

    Is it me, or do I seem to be making blunders like that MORE regularly? Or maybe people are just letting me know more.

    Fixed.

  3. Jeremiah says:

    Like when you said “A good railroader with make the process natural…”? :)

    Glad you’re doing this series. I’d been considering renting or borrowing this game. At least now I know not to expect much if I do.

  4. Shamus says:

    Wow. Blunders in 2 out of the first 3 paragraphs.

    Maybe this is due to my increased output lately. Maybe I’m getting old and senile.

    On the upside, I have a column coming up in the Escapist this Friday, and that one went through an editor without incident.

  5. Annon says:

    I think a large part of the problem here is that many gamers–and following this trend, many artists who make games–think of story in gaming the same way as story in pornography. It’s there because it has to be, not because it germane to the art’s purpose.

    Here you have the result, at least from what I can tell from your ranting.

  6. Jeremiah says:

    Ooh. Can you tell us anything about the column? Or do we have to wait until Friday?

  7. Rob G says:

    Yeah, Fable 2’s main quest is really weird. Go wherever you want, do whatever you want in a humourous fantasy world, except for in the main quest, which is unflinchingly rigid & serious.

    And Theresa teleporting pissed me off too. She makes this big deal “Ooh, a Cullis Gate, you can teleport back to Bower Lake” then just teleports around at will.

  8. Robyrt says:

    As an alternative theory, perhaps the story was grafted onto an existing set of level designs. I haven’t played Fable 2, but from your description it’s like a writer was hired to add foreshadowing, plot devices, etc. to a game structure that already featured a “collect the X heroes of Y” design.

  9. Moshi says:

    Thank the Nine you’re here to point out the crime against humanity Fable II calls a plot.

  10. acronix says:

    @Annon:
    I think you have it right. That kind of thinking can work in games like Diablo, whose plot serves as an excuse to slash monster in a dungeon. But Fable was going to be a “deep” RPG-action game, which means the main plot is crucial. The developers screwed up it in an EPIC proportion.
    It´s common sense: if the player is needed to go through some kind of unskippable parts, then those parts must be engaging and rewarding. If you can´t achieve that, then at least you should try to make it not annoying, so that at least the player can have fun and advance in the rest of the game without worrying that his character will be jerked around every three steps taken on the main plot, while at the same time don´t having you any choice to defend himself.

    Hell, I´d say the plot of Fable II is even worst than Harry Potter fan fiction .

  11. edcalaban says:

    I have to admit, the one piece of railroading that could have been interesting was being forced to work with the Hero of Skill (who’s name escapes me). It’s an effective case of having to work with someone who’s morally ambiguous at best and an evil sob at worst. The fact that I can’t touch him after the main quest, however, is massively annoying. It would have been awesome to be forced to work with someone and then have a chance to betray them later!

  12. For all its faults, a 6’6″, muscle-bound WOMAN named Hammer sounds pretty darn progressive for an NPC in a video game!

    Is she wearing a chain mail bikini?

    Leslee

  13. Mari says:

    @Leslee – Yeah, quite progressive considering that when Molineaux started blabbing about Fable 2 and the most common question was “will I be able to choose the main character’s gender this time?” he essentially dismissed that idea as no good in public forums because (not an exact quote but this was the gist) “girls don’t play video games so why would you need to choose your gender?” Clearly that was changed later (possibly because of a minor outcry within the gamer blog community?) but I’m thinking Molineaux isn’t getting any points from me for progressive thinking.

    @Shamus – I have noticed the number of errors going up in your posts but assumed it was due to higher-volume output coupled with that whole having a life thing. It doesn’t particularly bother me but you’re so good-natured about it when people point out the mistakes that I figured I could let my inner grammarian slip through a little bit.

  14. Wonderduck says:

    Fable 2 begins with a bird crapping on your head.

    If there’s one thing guaranteed to turn me off a game…

  15. Shamus says:

    Leslee: Hammer is covered in sensible armor from head to toe. She is NOT a male fantasy character. She’s “big-boned” to the extreme.

    She has more depth than any of the other characters (which isn’t saying much at all) and in the end she’s my favorite of the main characters. (Which also isn’t saying much.) The writer actually tries a tiny bit of character development with her as she goes from pacifist monk to warrior, and he manages to not screw it up. It’s not deep or anything, but her modest arc fits within the world and adds a bit to it.

  16. Dev Null says:

    A bad railroader will use their power over the player character to force the PC to do things they would never choose to do on their own. Their (mostly illusory) autonomy is negated so that their character can be conscripted in service of the plot.

    And a _really_ bad railroader will force you to do things out of character in service of the plot, and then fail to tell an interesting story with the plot anyways. This to me is the worst crime – I prefer interactive fiction in a game, but I’ll settle for fiction at all (wrapped around a little gameplay) so long as its not BAD fiction.

    Though if you’re going to do the railroad tell-me-a-story version, its better never to give me an illusion of freedom in the first place; that way I’m not disappointed when you jerk it out from under my feet.

  17. Dev Null says:

    As an aside, have I gone blind or has the link for the RSS feed on the _comments_ gone away?

    I like to subscribe when I make a comment (seems rude not to listen to other folks if I’m going to make them listen to me) but I’ll unsubscribe again if a later days topic isn’t my cup of tea and/or I haven’t got time to read them all. So the link on the page was quite handy for me (I’d still love it if it was possible to subscribe to a per-post comments feed.)

  18. GreyDuck says:

    (The bird crap becomes your in-game symbol. When you buy property, a blob of white bird crap appears over the marker to denote it as yours.)

    Please, PLEASE tell me you’re joking about this… Oy.

  19. elias says:

    I thought the symbol denoting ownership was a rolled up scroll (the deed). I’ll check the manual when I get home.

    Also, I’m pretty sure the name is spelled “Lucien.”

  20. Solid Jake says:

    Hammer is covered in sensible armor from head to toe. She is NOT a male fantasy character. She’s “big-boned” to the extreme.

    She’s certainly MY fantasy character :3

    I was seriously disappointed when I was told that you couldn’t marry her. I figured after Briar Rose they’d have learned not to make the plot characters off-limits, but NOOO…

  21. quicksilver_502 says:

    the one part of the plot i did like was when your a guard in the spire. i liked the way it feels like a long time is passing and you end up kinda dehumanised. well, when your evil anyway. being good in the spire is simply very very annoying.

  22. Hotsauce says:

    “She was willing to risk that both of you would die? Or did she know that you would survive? And if she could predict something as dicey as that, then why was she ever caught by surprise? (Unless we are to believe that all of your setbacks were also part of her plan. Which makes her just as evil as Lucian.)”

    You know, and I recognize that I’m treading on dangerous ground here so keep in mind that this is tongue-in-cheek, I can’t help but notice that if you replace “Theresa” with “God”, you have the crux of a lot of people’s atheism.

    I guess I’m just saying that we all live in a poorly written videogame.

  23. nilus says:

    Not to debate the oh so crappy plot of Fable 2 but my understanding is that Lucian saw the circle glow when you and your sister were standing on it. It seemed to me he assumed your sister was the hero, thus killing her for sure. He then shot you out the window assuming you would die. Which you would have unless you had the blood of a Hero in you(or some such nonsense).

  24. Mister JTA says:

    ‘Tome of Ass Finding’

    Win.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  25. David V.S. says:

    Having not played this game I must now ask: was the “wish box” a hoax? If Rose wished that she could live in a castle but was promptly killed it certainly seems so. But then why would Theresa want her to use it at all?

  26. krellen says:

    Theresa doesn’t happen to be blind, does she?

    Because if so, I think she’s supposed to be the hero’s sister from Fable 1.

  27. Annon says:

    Yeah, I’m kinda wondering how the wish was worded. Did she say she wanted “to live out the rest of her days” in the castle, or something similar? ‘Cause then the wish was actually granted–a tacky old trope, but still not quite so bad…

  28. phiend says:

    I kept thinking that Theresa was going to turn on me and end up being another bad guy, and somehow redeem a little of the horrible plot. But no she is just a soulless whimsical bitch with as much depth of character as a Popsicle stick.

  29. Kevin says:

    If it were a D&D game, anyone I know would have already quit playing.

    Wait. So Lucien knows he needs 3 heroes, has two in his house, and doesn’t know where any of the rest of them are? I am seeing no motive at all for Lucien not to be nice to you and Rose and make you the first two heroes. Even if he knows for a fact that one of you will turn on him, he still gets the other one.

  30. Colonel Slate says:

    @Krellen

    I too was thinking this, apparently she is blind

    And I’ve been reading spoilers all over the internet, considering I never plan to play Fable 2, but I’ll wait for Shamus’s next post before I say anything.

  31. Sharnuo says:

    Thank you so much, I have been waiting for this. Ever since me and my brother played Fable 2 we have been dying to hear someone berate it for the utter atrocity that was the overarching plot.

    We thought “We where gypped out of like 50 bucks for this?!”

  32. Josh says:

    Since there’s you, plus the three other heroes, it would appear that your sister was not a hero.

  33. Zolthanite says:

    This plot is shaping up to be quite classy indeed.

    @Kevin
    Given the game’s creativity, it’s probably just the obvious “He’s just THAT EVIL” justification that works nicely for killing anyone at random.

    Kudos for pointing out the multiple heroes part. I took it for granted that Heroes implied there are only 4 in the world, not that there are Heroes in the multiple, X-Men sense.

  34. pffh says:

    Hmm I’ve always thought of fable 1 and 2 as satires of the fantast rpg clichés.

    I mean you have every single cliché in the book in both games, tongue and cheek and/or dark humor in the sidequests along with a childlike look on morality and goofy graphics just to mention a couple of things.

  35. Luvian says:

    @Josh

    Which would explain why she died from a single bullet, while you survived being shot AND falling from the mountain castle’s tower all the way do to the paved road.

    About Theresa no doing anything to stop you and your sister from going to the castle. In my opinion she did it so you would have a reason to hate Lucien and take him out at the ideal moment. Of course she probably could have killed him herself, seeing as she can teleport at will and is a seer who can see the future.

  36. Arson55 says:

    Kevin, he needs three specific heroes…I think. Neither you nor your sister are one of them…if I’m right.

    And as for Teressa being the sister from the first game…maybe. I find it an odd coincidence otherwise, but this game takes place long after the first one. But then she is a fantasy character so they’re allowed to live hundreds of years…I guess.

    But seriously, Shamus, this plot is so horrible it isn’t worth picking apart. For me, it just makes more sense to shake my head and give up. But then maybe the plot of this game crushed my soul. I played it awhile back though so I’ve recovered. I mean it is a bad thing when you make the first Fable appear good. I thought both Fables were moderately fun games, but they failed every other way imaginable. Especially when it comes to the writing.

  37. Mordiceius says:

    You talk about Teresa being a huge dick about the thing with your sister and how it almost makes her more evil than Lucien. You’ll probably talk about it more in the next parts but, one thing that they subtly do is make Teresa’s skin more dark gray as the game progresses (if your character becomes evil, your skin becomes a dark gray). Perhaps a hint of things to come? Plus the last words you have with her are peculiar in themselves.

  38. Rival Wombat says:

    The blind seer is a pretty common archetype in games. Theresa’s an example of it done wrong, where as you can see Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic 2 as a much more reasonable use of the archetype.

    Eh, spoiler warning, about the magic box, but apparently it works but in the Wishmaster school of wish granting. Rose got to live in the castle for about six minutes(Most of that a boring walk though a long hallway) then spent some amount of time dieing in the castle, then persumebly dissolved into the ether like every body in this game.

    The end of the game consist of a pace destroying idyllic dream sequence where you are forced to perform utterly pointless quest like shooting bottles, kicking chickens and getting rid of beetles in a field, before you get the magic box again, carry it into the spire and use it to weaken Lucian.. who then can be killed with a single bullet. A total jerk dose it, if you don’t get around to it.

    Yep. You never get a satisfying final battle. No great struggle to stop the big bad evil guy. Just watching someone you hate shoot him, after playing what amounts to the childhood sequence part 2: Electric Boogaloo.

  39. K says:

    Hotsauce: The videogame we live in is only poor if a character such as Theresa exists ;)

  40. Mark says:

    Fable 2’s plot is best ignored. It provides interesting setpieces and colorful NPCs. Since the bulk of the game is in sidequests, which really are good, and the DLC packs they’re going to keep adding just tilt that balance even further, skipping the game because the storyline is bad is doing yourself a disservice.

  41. LintMan says:

    Mister JTA wrote:
    “‘Tome of Ass Finding’

    Win.

    Looking forward to the next installment!”

    `Tome of Ass Finding, Vol II’?

    :)

  42. Leon says:

    After killing Lucien, the ONLY TWO THINGS that I wanted to do were
    1) shoot the Skill guy in the face and
    2) marry Hammer
    And I didn’t get to do either.

    What’s even more annoying is that if you let Lucien finish his speech, Skill-Douche kills him and makes a snide comment amounting to “Can we go home now?”

  43. Blake says:

    I’m pretty certain Theresa is meant to be your sister from the first game. I assumed it the moment she first showed up as she’s a blind seeress dressed like the Scarlet Robe (your mother in the first game) and it fits fine into the Fable universe.

    It explains how she knows all about the old kingdom stuff, how she knows all about the heroes guild and why she has such mastery over her will powers.

    I hadn’t noticed her getting greyer over the course of the game but I wouldn’t be surprised. She always seemed motivated by her own goals not those of the player. I wonder what she’s going to do with the spire in the expansion (which will no doubt be happening)

  44. Taellosse says:

    I always assumed that Theresa could only teleport to where you were (because you’ve got the guild seal) and back to the ruined guild again, not anywhere she wanted at will. Of course, that may have just been me justifying a massive plot hole so as to avoid uncontrollable twitching.

  45. David V.S. says:

    Blake,

    Theresa is the sister of the hero from the first game, according to the Art Director (John McCormack), quoted in Wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fable_II

  46. Avilan the Grey says:

    And i thought the main plot in FO3 was weak.
    Oh God.

    Btw speaking of plot holes etc: In Oblivion there was a way to save the kingdom for certain: Never start the main quest. I don’t know if that is a plot hole per se, but it is definitely the best thing you can do for the world. Yes, the emperor of one nation has been murdered, but the empire seems to work anyway, at least good enough and as long as you don’t put your heroic nose where it doesn’t belong, everything will be just fine…

    Makes you wish for the same in this game…

  47. Danel says:

    To clarify: there are multiple Heroes in the world of Fable (much like mutants in the world of X-Men). In the first game, there was a Heroes’ Guild which tracked them down and trained them, much like Xavier’s Academy; unlike Xavier’s Academy, the Heroes’ Guild didn’t give a crap whether they used their skill or training to defend the mundane populace or brutally murder them, justifying this on the grounds that they were helping each Hero towards their own personal destiny, whatever that might be (I believe this was one of Shamus’ complaints about the original Fable).

    Backstory given out prior to the release of Fable 2 revealed that things went slightly awry with this little scheme when someone invented firearms; the mundane populace, rather upset about the whole brutal murder thing, razed the Heroes’ Guild and set about killing every Hero they could find.

    By the time of Fable 2, things have settled down a bit. There are Heroes scattered around, but they generally keep their heads down, and without the training the Guild used to give simply aren’t as powerful. Mostly, they’re bandit leaders and the like. Lucien needs three specific Heroes – and finding any Heroes at all is hard enough that he leaps at the chance to grab two.

    The game so strongly implies that Theresa is, if in actually evil, at least manipulating an uncertain number of things for her own mysteeeerious ends, that the real question is why the hell you’d put up with her. Railroading.

    In many ways, she comes across like a worse-written version of Kreia from KOTOR 2.

  48. Dan Hemmens says:

    In many ways, she comes across like a worse-written version of Kreia from KOTOR 2.

    I don’t normally do the “fixed your typo” thing but that sentence should really read:

    “In all conceivable ways, she comes across like a worse-written version of Kreia from KOTOR 2.”

  49. ima420r says:

    “The bird crap becomes your in-game symbol. When you buy property, a blob of white bird crap appears over the marker to denote it as yours.”

    Not true. When you buy shops and houses you see a deed rolled up and tied with a ribbon.

  50. Blue Painted says:

    @Mister JTA
    @LintMan

    “Tome of Ass Finding Vol II, – Using Both Hands”

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  52. Arvilino says:

    I think the reason a spire Guide kills Hammers’ Father was Theresas’ plot to get her to fight(because she was a pacifist before it happened and Theresa says herself that they needed to find a way to get her to fight).

  53. Will It Work says:

    Seconded on everything above, but there doesn’t seem to be a choice: like it or not, KreiaTherea is the lesser and more personable of the two evils.

    And I hated the Sacrifice ending. Especially playing woman with family, yeah I go for neutral ending every time.

  54. HLK says:

    Theresa IS Kreia, she even has the same voice actress. They just copy-pasted the character and wrote her in their own crappy fashion.

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