We were promised a bigger, better and more bad-ass game than ever before, well aside from the bad-ass bit, Lionhead are hardly likely to sound similar to Epic, but we get the point. Basically Fable II was supposed to expand greatly on the foundations laid by the original game, while also including modern day Next-Gen technology to make it a strong contender for X-Box 360's best RPG-Adventure game. It would be foolish to state that Fable II advances far beyond what the original game offered, because it simply doesn't, instead it feels like a welcome follow-up to a decent RPG but still with a firm emphasis on Lionhead's reluctance to correct the main flaws in the original game.
Fable II begins sometime after the events of the original game, and so any choices or decisions you made in your first visit to Albion will have been long forgotten through the passage of time. This mainly allows the developers - and us - to make a fresh start in this world which now has evolved beyond the use of swords and bows (as we now have access to pistols and rifles) with a stark change to the way people dress, act and behave. The key word here is 'change' since, along with choice, that word defines the main experience throughout our Fable II adventures.
As you progress through Fable II's content your choices will have a lasting effect on the people and the world around you, which is - like the original game, to a lesser extent - a feature that other games still lack to a certain point. Your choices actually do make an impact on the world and in that regard the developers do a good job of making you feel important. In respect to the choices and subsequent changes made, Fablle II does a very good job but the fact that the game is so good at these aspects greater highlights faults in other areas.
Fable II is best described as an RPG since essentially you have a character and can mould him/her into anything you wish them to be (within the restrictions of the game), and that goes for physical appearance along with attributes, skills and abilities. The physical side of things is well taken care of with use of the good/evil system, along with hair styles, beards and tattoos, but the attributes side can begin to lose momentum fairly quickly. It's clear that Lionhead intended for Fable II to be loved by everyone (including non-gamers) but in doing so they have sacrificed a large part of the depth one would usually expect with a game on this scale. For a start, there are very few skills/abilities to pick from with the only time they are of any importance is at the beginning of the game, since after a while you will have access to the majority of what is available anyway. Some skills lead to new in-game features such as manual aim or flourish attacks, but once you have learned all the combat features repetition quickly sets in.
It's not that Fable II's combat is in anyway bad (on the contrary, the combat feels solid and enjoyable for the most part), it's more that the competition you will face - taking the form of bandits, hobbes and balverines - lack any decent AI to ever make them more than a minor nuisance, along with the fact that the game's difficulty is extremely low even for people who wouldn't usually game. After playing Fable II for so long you will find yourself sighing and thinking of ways to avoid combat since every battle will result in the same manner (you stroll in, kill everything without breaking a sweat, move on, and repeat). Even the three different types of combat styles don't do enough to add variation to a boring battle, using all 3 at once does nothing more than to make you look cool rather than add any real flavour to a battle.
To further add to Fable II's astonishing lack of challenge, there are actually no boss battles in the game what-so-ever. Even the biggest of foes only serve to be nothing more than a tiny amount tougher than a standard pack of undead enemies, and eventually you get the feeling that you're nothing more than sledgehammer being used to open a nut-shell. A few challenging boss battles to fully utilise and appreciate the abilities we have available would have worked wonders for the game.
Fortunately a game like Fable II is more about the actual experience, rather than the challenge, and so it can be forgiven for overlooking an area of gameplay other RPGs would try balance out. And on the plus side, although the enemies are weak and puny, at least when you're cutting them to pieces you are doing so in a wonderful environment which has a very unique feel that only Lionhead know how to achieve. Each region of Albion has its own special design, which often goes hand-in-hand with the excellent music the game provides. The look and feel of Albion is something that both Fable games have done extremely well, and so it makes it a joy to explore the world whilst adventuring (and kudos to Lionhead for rewarding exploration often with chests or silver keys -- a great incentive to make players enjoy exploration).
The people you meet will alter in appearance depending on what region you're in too, with gypsies populating wooded villages, and smartly dressed snobs cluttering up the bustling streets of Bowerstone. And like the original game you can use a series of emotions and actions to make people love or hate you, or just kill them all if you have a bad day, and then pay off your bounty - if you choose to - via community service. No matter how you live your life in Fable II, the people of Albion will always have an opinion of you, and won't hold back in letting you know what they think at any given opportunity. It's a shame that the same poor AI of enemies seems to be used with the NPCs of Albion too, since while a lot of the things they say and do can be genuinely hilarious, they can also end up doing things they're not supposed to do, which can result in frustratingly long waits while a shop-keeper actually remembers he has a shop to run (and that's not his AI telling him to be lazy; that's just the AI not working properly).
You may be surprised to read that Fable II does make some impressive use of AI though, and that is with your pet dog who sticks with you from early on in the game. Sort of like Fable II as a whole, your little furry friend can often get stuck in places and not do things properly, but everything else about him you grow to adore, from his copy-cat emotions, to his ability to locate buried treasure (which is not only incredibly useful, but also removes the need to use any online guides to help you locate hidden items). In most any other game you would likely grow to hate any long-term AI companion, but Lionhead have made sure to make your pet dog something you genuinely want to have with you from start to finish.
Speaking of which, how long is Fable II from start to finish? Well, like any RPG, it's hard to put an exact figure on game-length since every person plays the game differently, however, I can clearly state that the game is far too short no matter how much content you choose to do or ignore. The main quest, for example, is so short that you really couldn't care less for each character you meet, nor will you feel any real connection to the story since Fable II doesn't make any real effort to flesh it out beyond just enough to let you know what happens next.
There are side quests and mini-games to take part in, but completing all the game's content (aside from some missions/jobs which can never be completed, only re-done over and over) still won't leave you a very impressive gametime, especially considering Lionhead reckon there's 100 hours worth of content. You'd be hard pressed to get even half that figure out of Fable II, and in doing so you would need to milk the repeatable quests a heavy amount. The original game could make up for lack of content with the inclusion of an impressive main quest, but since Fable II has a mediocre story it leaves the rest of the content looking worse than it usually would. Playing the game in co-op only reduces the playtime, since the game is so easy already, having two people do it is like the ultimate over-kill.
Playing through Fable II you will likely wonder why Lionhead felt the need to add co-op since the game is clearly geared towards solo play, and actually trying out the feature will just confirm that it was a complete waste of development time. I could go into how co-op could crash or glitch your game (before a patch is implemented) but instead of stretching out a long lecture of how co-op is basically broke and useless, I'll just highlight how the camera pretty much makes it downright unplayable. Basically you have to share the same screen with your companion player - that is to say, at the very least, split-screen isn't even an option - and so you can imagine the issues that can and will arise when you are both trying to move around and see what you're doing. One can only imagine the improved length and content of Fable II if Lionhead resisted the current bandwagon tradition of adding unnecessary multiplayer to their game. Needless to say, the "1-2 Player co-op" box on the back of Fable II's case shouldn't weigh in your purchasing decision, unless you enjoy broken multiplayer games, that is.
Because the inclusion of multiplayer has resulted in a shorter game, you may feel inclined to purchase all the best weapons, armour and buildings available in Fable II, but yet again poor design choices mean that this potentially enjoyable pathway of progress is hampered. Firstly, there is absolutely no armour in Fable II what-so-ever. The attire you can wear is purely average clothes worn by normal citizens, and adds no armour value at all. The selection of clothes isn't bad, mind, and you can custom colour them to add some unique feeling, but considering this is clearly a fantasy game with swords and monsters, armour is generally expected. Secondly, obtaining gold to buy things in Fable II is so ridiculously easy I can't possibly imagine Lionhead intended for it to be like it is. For example, all you need do is collect enough gold from doing a job (such as blacksmith -- It is advised you try and avoid Pub Games as they are completely rubbish), buy a local pub, turn the game off, come back the next day and voilá, you are now officially rich. The game rewards you gold as a form of income when you own a property, but it also does this when you're not even playing the game, so when you come back you'll find you are considerably more richer than before. Because of this - I assume - broken feature, you can buy almost the entirety of Albion not long after owning a few properties. The game actually rewards you chests with high sums of gold in Demon Doors, Silver Key chests or Gargoyle vaults but by the point you obtain these chests you will be filthy rich already, which once again suggest Lionhead mis-calculated the way gold works in their game.
Even with unique weapons to locate, and achievements to obtain, Fable II doesn't do nearly enough to offer itself as major player amongst all the other RPG/Adventure games available already. However, the constant barrage of criticisms to Fable II's lack of content, or use of it, is actually because the game is good enough to warrant us to want to keep playing, which is almost one of the highest compliments you can give to a game. Running around Bower Lake with your hero, dog in tow, with the music playing, the trees blowing, and the water rippling looks and feels amazing. Atmosphere can add so much to a game, and it works wonders for Fable II, especially when you look back on previous visits to places you've been and noticed how much your hero, your dog, and the area have changed over the course of the game.
Fable II has enough charm and humour to give it something more to offer than other X-Box 360 RPGs, and although co-op, lack and use of content, and glitches let it down, it still manages to be a game that you can fully enjoy from start to finish. It's a genuinely good game that's rough around the edges, it does some things better than its predecessor, but also some things worse, but in all it's a faithful follow-up to an X-Box classic, and comes recommended to anyone looking for an enjoyable fantasy adventure on the 360.
7 / 10