Male or Female? Good or Evil? Pure or Corrupt? Axe or Sword? Meat or Vegetable? Blonde or Brunette? These are just a few of the questions you must answer while playing Fable II.
Welcome to the fantastical world of Albion, where guns and swords live together in harmony and magic still exists, even if the town yokels believe otherwise. Albion can be a tough place to eke out a living, but there is plenty of gold to be gained, if one knows where to look. It is here, in a town called Bowerstone, that young Sparrow sets out with his (or her) elder sister, Rose, to purchase an allegedly magical music box from a traveling salesman.
Soon after acquiring said trinket, the pair are whisked away in the middle of the night to Fairfax Castle, home of Lord Lucien. He is very interested to learn that the children were able to activate the music box, a sign that the two are part of a heroic bloodline. Upon learning this, the Lord pulls out a pistol and fires it at Rose, killing her instantly. He then shoots the younger child, the force of which knocks little Sparrow backwards through a stained-glass window to the ground several stories below.
Luckily for you, the child survives the fall (thanks to that heroic ancestry) and is hidden away by a mysterious woman named Theresa. Many years pass until an older Sparrow begins the quest to avenge his (or her) sister and save Albion itself from the plans of Lord Lucien.
Fable II is all about choices, and allowing you to play the game how you want to. You are first faced with the choice of playing as a male or a female. This doesn’t really affect how the game plays out, but it is a welcome character customization option. You begin the game in childhood, accompanied by your sister. In order to get the music box, you must earn five gold pieces by completing a few small requests from some of the people around the “Old Town” section of Bowerstone.
How you complete these tasks has a lasting impact on how you will find the town later on in the game. Clear some beetles out of a local warehouse and find a few lost warrants for the town guard, and you will return to find that Old Town has prospered during your years away. However, if you smash all the stock in the warehouse and give the lost warrants to the local thug instead, you will later find that your childhood home has turned into a retched hive full of scum and villainy. This is just one early example of how your actions can influence the world of Albion.
Fable II is not a difficult game. You will very rarely find yourself on the brink of death, and even then death only means being knocked out for a few seconds. You’ll quickly be back on your feet to continue the fight with only a few scars to remind you that you were momentarily defeated in battle. Most of the enemies in the game are easily overcome, and even when you run across a more difficult battle, you will most likely possess several potions and food items to keep your health up. The main storyline can be plowed through in a fairly short amount of time, but then you would be missing the point of the game (not to mention a large amount of content). You will find the world of Albion much more alive and compelling by letting yourself get sucked in to the various things outside the main quest.
Fable II allows you to really embrace the “role-playing” part of an RPG and make yourself a part of Albion, if you choose to do so. It is possible to get married, have a family, find a job, and buy a house. You can do this in whatever order you choose, although everything becomes much easier when you have a ton of cash lying around. The streets of Albion are full of greedy individuals, so throwing expensive gifts around is the easiest way to get people to like you. You can also perform several different “Expressions” to influence how everyone reacts to you. Dancing a jig or farting has a much different effect on the populace than performing pelvic thrusts, growling, or flipping the bird. Some of these expressions can be done for an extended amount of time, but there can be unintended, and sometimes hilarious, consequences if you mess them up. Depending on what kind of a character you are playing as (and how famous you are), the townsfolk will react to you differently. They will definitely let you know what they think about your outfit or your recent murder spree.
There are several ways to make money in Albion. First of all, you can earn gold from completing certain quests, but usually not very much and not every quest will net you income. There is also a lot of treasure scattered about the world. Finding it is made slightly easier by your trusty Treasure Detector 3000, also known as man’s best friend. Your faithful canine companion follows you around wherever you go. It will bark whenever treasure is nearby, whether buried in the ground or in a rusty chest that you are already in the process of opening. Most likely, you will also need to take on a few odd jobs to earn yourself some gold. I found bartending to be the easiest job to earn gold quickly while working at the blacksmith was fairly time-consuming for a relatively small reward. Extorting money from local shopkeepers and stealing from the homes of law-abiding citizens is also a money-making option.
This is all well and good, however jobs, thieving, quests, and treasure hunting will only get you so far. The real way to make money in Albion is real estate. Almost every shop, stall, house, and inn that you come across is up for sale. Once you have purchased a building, you earn gold from your store’s profits or rent payments from tenants. You can leave prices as they are, or you can choose to raise or lower them to affect your bottom line. Raise prices too high, and the citizens of Albion will start to complain. Slash prices at the local pub, and they will love you for it. However you decide to set your prices, the game will award you with your profits every five minutes, and your character will even amass gold while the console is powered off.
Now that I’ve spent all this time describing a lot of the ancillary things in Fable II, let’s move on to the actual questing and character development in the game. Fighting in battles and completing quests will earn you experience points, similar to most other RPGs. Aside from general experience, your character will gain knowledge in three combat-related areas: Strength, Skill, and Will. Strength is earned by fighting with melee weapons such as a sword. Skill is amassed by using a crossbow or a gun, and Will is learned through the use of various magic spells. There are many aspects of your character to upgrade from increasing your total amount of health to the amount of damage done with melee weapons to learning new combat skills. You are also able to learn many different spells such as Raise Dead, Shock, and the insanely useful Time Control.
Combat can initially be fairly simple, although the magic system allows for a fair amount of strategy and depth. Mashing the X button will swing your melee weapon around while the Y button is used for ranged attacks. Holding a button down will use a more powerful, charged attack. Magic is handled a bit differently from the other types of combat. Each spell that you learn can be upgraded up to five times. Once unlocked, spells can be assigned to one of five increasingly powerful casting slots. All of the spells you have learned can be switched around at any time to suit whatever situation you find yourself in.
Holding the B button will begin powering up your spells, eventually charging up to the highest level. Releasing the button will cast whatever spell you have assigned to the slot that you charged up to. The ability to cast spells on an area (more powerful spells cover more space) or to target a specific enemy adds another level of depth to the use of Will. Except in very rare instances, you cannot be interrupted while charging a spell. This creates a tradeoff between trying to cast a high-level spell before taking too much damage from enemy attacks while doing so. Personally, I found that using a second level Time Control spell to slow down time before trying to cast a higher-level spell could be a very useful strategy.
Completing different quests in the game will net you renown, making you more and more famous throughout Albion. Certain missions will unlock as you become more well-known or as you complete undertakings related to the main story. Once you complete the main narrative, you can still run around Albion completing tasks, searching for treasure, or taking on jobs. In fact, there are a few missions that only open up after you have finished the central tale.
Fable II is comprised of many different ingredients. It doesn’t do everything perfectly, but it does so many things well, making the whole experience become more than the sum of its parts. Albion is a living, breathing place (with a cheeky sense of humor) that is shaped by the decisions you make, and that world kept compelling me to come back for more.
Final Grade: A-
Knothole Island DLC:
The downloadable Knothole Island add-on puts a few more entries on the list of things to do in Albion. It seems that the people on Knothole Island are having a little trouble with their weather, and they require a hero to fix things for them. The island has a few new stores, including a “mystery box” store in which you have to trade specific items from the mainland for each box. The shops include a ton of new items only found on Knothole Island such as height-changing potions, unique weapon augments and several goofy new outfits.
Knothole Island is good if you want just a little bit more to enjoy in Fable II. The quests unlock as you finish the major story missions, meshing seamlessly into the game for new characters. However, the island experience doesn’t last very long if you go there after completing the main game as the quests are very easily completed using a fully-upgraded character.
Final Grade (Knothole Island): B-