on Feb 10, 2009
|If you skipped the earlier posts for fear of spoilers, then I will point out that Fable 2 won an award.|
There is a lot to do between plot points, and when it comes time to endure a little plot in order to open up the next playground you can comfort yourself with the fact that you can hold down a button to skip most of the dialog. I realize this sounds like heresy coming from a “story is king” gamer like myself, and I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself liking the thing.
I often talk about games having lots of “activities”. MMO games in particular. Fable 2 has many activities, and while a few of them exist for their own sake, most are interconnected in ways that lead you naturally from one activity to another. Doing trade runs leads to buying better clothing which leads to being more attractive which leads to flirting with villagers which leads to rounding up more expressions and emotes to use which leads to romance which leads to getting married which leads to buying a house which leads to getting involved in real estate which leads to redecorating houses to alter the local property values and economy which leads back to trading… etc. This is a playground with a lot of fun toys.
|This game is ridiculously good looking. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a title with strong art direction and stylized scenery. If I have to look at one more (attempted) photorealistic medieval fantasy setting I may never stop weeping.|
The freedom and choice Peter Molyneux promised us is here in the sidequests and gameplay mechanics. Yes, you can go on a murder rampage like in GTA. But unlike in GTA, your violence will have lasting consequences. Smash up and murder in one part of town, it it will become poorer. Or you can dump a bunch of money into a section of the city and watch it flourish. (In fact, it dips its toe into the ideas I talk about here.)
|This is Gunslinger, my virtuous English gentleman. Other characters include Fearmonger, the exceedingly rude demon-man, and Conjurer, the morally flexible barefoot spellsword enchantress. This game offers a lot of freedom to customize your character. (And yes you can be female this time.) These are not fixed character classes, but simply character concepts I cooked up and was able to create using the mechanics provided.|
The sad thing about the the plot is that it didn’t need to be this bad. In fact, I think the central problem with the plot is not the insulting simplicity or the fact that the entire work is perforated with plot holes, the problem with the story is that it just had the wrong tone.
|Righty-o, let’s give these undead blighters what-for! And stop calling me Charlie!|
If the main plot had been in tune with this sort of thing this may well have been one of my all-time favorite games. Like Galaxy Quest, Mystery Men, Shrek, or Shaun of the Dead, the sidequests are not pure comedic spoofs as much as fun adventures that both embrace and mock the conventions of the genre. Yes, this is a little silly, but it’s fun, isn’t it? Then you hit the main plot and the game switches gears to get all dark and gritty, and suddenly the writer is railroading the player in order to force them to endure the next tragedy. The game becomes the very worst example of the stuff it just got done mocking. The sly satire is suddenly gone, and we’re left with ham-fisted injustice and dead innocents. (Imagine if Shrek came home to find Fiona and Donkey murdered. That is exactly the wrong note that Fable 2 keeps nailing over and over again. The sudden shift in tone is what kills the story.)
This game would have been a blast if they retained the exact same plot, but re-tuned the dialog so that it was done in a spirit of fun instead of spitefulness. Plot holes become a lot less important when they work as part of a joke. I don’t mean the plot needs to be Disney-esqe childish, it just needs to do its thing with a wink instead of a maniacal laugh. Theresa could have come off like The Sphinx from Mystery men: An idiot know-it-all who speaks in lame riddles and tautologies. Lucian could have been just as I portrayed him: A rampaging ass of a man with more malice than brains. Take out Reaver’s murder of Barnum and have him endure some humiliation at the end. Then take out the “I murdered your spouse and children” bit and give the player an unambiguously happy ending. Bingo. You’ve got Game of the Year.
That is not hyperbole. Ignoring the story, this is the best game Peter Molyneux has ever made. If you can ignore the story. This is crucial to your enjoyment of the game, and one of the reasons I provided the lengthy plot analysis. I would not dare send you in the direction of this game unprepared.
Lamentations over the plot aside, I feel compelled to give credit where it’s due. The gameplay here is a triumph, and a major step up from the original Fable. I have no doubt that even as I type this, someone at Lionhead is scrawling Fable 3 ideas on a dry-erase board. I am very curious what the result will be.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.