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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
eter Molyneux has always been one to talk a big game, but it rarely ever translates to big results. Sure, the original “Fable” was pretty groundbreaking in its utilization of the good and evil alignment system, but the fact that you couldn’t operate somewhere in the middle left much to be desired. With the release of “Fable II,” however, it appears that all of the pre-game hype was completely warranted. Not only has Molyneux succeeded in including everything he wanted the first time around, but he’s also managed to make good on all of the promises he made for this game as well. Your chosen alignment still works in the same way – do good things and you’ll be idolized by your fellow citizens, or be a villainous tyrant and strike fear into their hearts – but the depth in which you can decide goes a long way in making “Fable II” one of the best fantasy RPGs ever made.
It’s been 500 years since the events of the last game and Albion is a very different place. Guns have since been introduced into the world and condoms are imperative to those wishing to avoid any unwanted children or STDs. But more on that later. As the game opens, you’re still a youngster, and a particularly unlucky one at that. Not only are you struggling to survive under the guidance of your older sister, but a bird has just shit on your head. When a traveling salesman sells you a magical music box with the ability to grant its owner one wish, you and your sister pray for the chance to live in a castle. At first, it doesn’t seem like it worked, but when Lord Lucien suddenly invites you to Albion Castle, your wildest dreams appear to have come true. What you don’t know, however, is that Lucien suspects one of you of being a legendary Hero, and in order to get rid of the risk that it brings, he shoots you and your sister dead. Luckily, a stray dog comes to your rescue, and 10 years later, you’re recruited by a woman named Theresa to track down Albion’s other three Heroes in order to put a stop to Lucien's plan to resurrect the Spire.
Those familiar with the control scheme of the original “Fable” won’t find too many differences here, but the magic system does seem much easier to use. There are eight spells in all, with each one capable of being upgraded five levels. The higher the level, the longer it takes to charge. Spells can be a little difficult to access in the heat of the battle, as you can never really tell what you’re choosing based on the icon it’s been given, so take it from me and focus on just one or two spells like Inferno and Force Push. It’s all you’re ever going to use anyway, and it’ll allow you to spend those experience points on beefing up your character’s other attributes.
The two things that really make “Fable II” such a cutting-edge experience, though, have to do with your many relationships in the world of Albion. The first is with your trusty dog (yes, the same one who saved your life ten years earlier), who you can name after attaching a collar. The collar you’re presented with at the beginning of the game doesn’t have any special abilities, but there are some available that do add bonuses to your character. Additionally, you can teach your dog new tricks or train him to be more proficient at treasure hunting and combat with books available at the local bookstore or from those you find along your journey. Your companion’s main function, however, is to be your loyal friend. That includes helping you find buried treasure and aiding you in combat, but it also means that you always have someone at your side, even when you’re in the worst possible situation. That may not seem like something most gamers would necessarily care about, but believe me – you’ll have a soft spot for your furry friend long before the game has ended.
The other relationship worth mentioning is the one you create with the opposite sex, or, if you so choose, any sex at all. Seducing women doesn’t take long (most melt like butter after a few muscle flexes and pick-up lines), but it’s the events that take place afterwards that really make the difference. The original “Fable” allowed you to marry, but that was about it. In “Fable II,” you can marry as many women or men as you want, because both bigamy and gay marriage are totally legal, and as long as your wives never cross paths, there won’t be any drama around the household.
You can also sleep with anyone you want, though there are consequences. For starters, you’re going to want to stock up on condoms, because unprotected sex results in lots of babies and STDs. I had sex with my wife the night of our honeymoon, and by the next morning, she was knocked up and I had crabs. If you do choose to get married, you’ll also need to buy a house for your family to live in and decide on a daily allowance for your wife. Apart from that, relationships aren’t difficult to upkeep. Every once in a while, your wife will call on you demanding sex, or wanting to give you a present, but they never get in the way of your journey. They also seem to be fine with your status as a ladies man, because if you’re as handsome and virtuous as me, you’ll have women swooning over you at all times.
This leads to one of the game’s only problems: crowds. At some points, there are just too many people in one place at one time. While visiting my wife in our caravan located in the gypsy village where I grew up, I was bombarded with no fewer than eight women hitting on me – with my wife in the same room. When I finally got sick and tired of all the women talking, I made a run to get out, only to be blocked from leaving the house. Of course, you can always just quick travel from any location via the menu screen, but when you’re in one building and want to walk over to the next one, that shouldn’t be necessary. There needs to be a way to push people out of the way. That, or make it possible to lock doors so they can’t walk in to begin with.
My other major criticism is more of a personal grievance than anything else, but the trail of gold pixie dust that the game provides you to follow from quest to quest is way too easy to lose. This usually happens when you’re running, but it’s annoying nonetheless, especially when you’re forced to stop and stand there for a minute while the game reconfigures the trail. If the developers were to fix this minor glitch, they’d also have the opportunity to implement a different system all together – namely, the ability to turn the trail on or off. Too many people have complained about the game’s length compared to other likeminded games, and if there was an option to turn off the trail, the game would easily stretch beyond the 20-hour range.
Minor annoyances aside, it’s hard to find any reason not to play “Fable II.” The story isn’t great, but it’s good enough to hold your interest, and while load times can often be dreadful, the game makes up for it with hilarious anecdotes that appear on the bottom of the screen as you wait. In fact, the game’s humor is one of its strengths, and one of the many things that sets it apart from every other fantasy RPG before it. Add to that some enjoyable action and adventure components, the opportunity to control how you live your life, and the best damn digital pup since “Nintendogs,” and it’s easy to see why “Fable II” is the perfect candidate for Best Game of the Year.