The cake is an analogy. Fable II Review.

One man and his dog
One man and his dog

Imagine someone promised to bake you a cake.  A strawberry cream cake, with fresh strawberries, and whipped cream.  On collecting your delicious cake though you receive a lemon drizzle cake.  The Lemon drizzle cake is great, but because you were promised strawberries and cream you can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

This was the problem that Fable had when it made its debut on the X-Box in 2004, it wasn’t a bad game, thanks to the game’s designer Peter Molyneux though it couldn’t be anything other than an anti-climax.  The game won many awards, was critically acclaimed and at the time the fastest selling game on the console.  However, Molyneux was still forced to make a public apology on the lionhead forums as the game did not contain many of the features that he had previously promised.

I have purposefully avoided everything Molyneux has had to say regarding Fable 2.  So that I could avoid the inevitable disappointment when I found out that the game would be unable to make my hair grow back, or cure cancer, or make girls like me.

Playing the game I’m afraid to say that Fable 2 has a few technical issues.  Graphically while the visuals can be breathtaking, the overall effect is often ruined by glitches, clipping issues, pixelisation, poor draw distances, and almost Halo 2-esque levels of pop-up are not uncommon.

I keep coming across little Irks all the while I’m playing this game.  I can’t close doors,  when I return from a rough day’s adventuring, take the missus upstairs for a bit of the other I find my every move being scrutinized by half a dozen friends and well-wishers.  I’ve on several occasions transported to a quest location to find I’ve already killed antagonist X and need to travel back to the quest giver, achieving little more than being forced to sit through the loading screen for the second time in two minutes.  I’m unable to sell my first home because the game still thinks it’s my marital home.  The list of flaws seems to stretch on well into the middle distance.

Ultimately though all of the faults are unimportant.  When playing Fable II all the minor irritants don’t matter.  The game as a whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

From the very outset Fable II is full of golden moments from the game’s cliched but well presented prologue you find yourself in a world in which things like graphics and load screens don’t matter, it is the world itself which matters and is constructed with such a sense of verisimilitude that even the smallest action can become a joy simply through the way the world around you reacts.

I considered the removal of the mini-map to be a step backward from the original Fable, several of the mini-map’s functions have been reintroduced though in the guise of the hero’s new canine companion.  While I met the inclusion of the dog with apprehension, I found it to be well handled and in-keeping with the overall style of the game.  Never appearing  too intrusive, it’s assistance is not essential to the play experience, but I felt enhanced it.  I suppose it depends on your opinion of dogs prior to playing Fable 2 but I took a great deal of enjoyment from simply observing my dog’s mannerisms, even just watching it tear-arsing around the countryside put a big, foolish grin on my face.

There is a real sense of drama running through the game giving it the air of a hollywood blockbuster.  The role of clothing in the game is now solely cosmetic, allowing a player to choose a look which they find appealing, without having to think about armour values (The pink frock coat over an olive green Waistcoat is mine! You can’t have it!).  The one button combat is suprisingly nuanced, while still allowing a degree of success through mashing.  The camera adds to the cinematic nature of combat highlighting blows with use of slow motion and Crash-zooms.

While I felt that graphically Fable II fell short, the sound is awesome.  The music expands on Danny Elfman’s original theme, and composer and Lionhead mainstay Russell Shaw does an excellent job without Hollywood intervention.  The dialogue is well written and the voice cast is impressive, including solid contributions from Firefly’s Ron Glass, Stephen Fry and my own personal milf de jour Zoe Wanamaker.  While some of the NPC dialogue can be overused, on several occasions they have left me laughing out loud.

I whole-heartedly recommend Fable II, as I have allowed myself to become completely enamoured with the world it creates.  There is a real sense of charm that runs all the way through this game and while i admit it has it’s flaws, it is never the less a work of flawed genious.

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